How adaptions help him stay fast on track.
Since his near-fatal accident at the Lausitzring in 2001, the tools that racing driver Alex Zanardi uses have changed and evolved over time, but have still allowed him the chances to race against his able-bodied peers.
In 2015, he was able to take part in his first ever 24 hour endurance race at the iconic Spa-Francorchamps circuit, teaming up with fellow BMW works drivers Timo Glock and Bruno Spengler.
A total of nine engineers on the project had to maximize the efforts of all three drivers, for one of the most demanding 24-hour races in the world.
This also included the requirement for all three drivers being able to drive the car without any major compromise, and facilitate driver changes as quickly as possible.
With the majority of the car being homologated to FIA standards, there were just a handful of areas that the team needed to concentrate on, so as to enable smooth transitions for Alex to be on the pace from the moment he drove out of pit lane.
Having lost both of his legs during the accident in Germany, Alex’s pedal requirements are very different to that of a conventional driver’s.
The system works in conjunction with the new seating arrangement the engineers decided on, which aided Alex’s quick entry and exit out of the Z4.
The racing seat used for the trio was based around a carbon insert for Alex’s requirements, and was firmly connected to the car. The lumbar area was also straightened and put back slightly further for his insert that had a lumbar support, which he pumps up to ensure the best comfort possible.
The pedal box is also lower, and has several adaptions to enable all three drivers to go flat out over 24 hours, with a clear separation for Alex’s requirements.
On the right of the pedal box, the newly replaced brake pedal, using a conventional bracket and pin system, would assist Zanardi in using a more natural and efficient motion when it came to braking, through the muscles in his right hip.
He would also be able to use the full potential of his right hip, due to the left leg being provided with a welcome footrest.
The bracket and pin would connect to a revised below knee prosthesis, allowing a permanent fixed connection to the pedal through a special foot adaptor.
This was also in place to ensure that there was no excessive movement that could cause a major issue if the foot slipped off. It also ensured that the brake system would still operate as normal.
Due to a clear distinction in brake pedal performance, Zanardi would be assisted through the help of an increased brake ratio, which would give him 30% more power than both Glock and Spengler. This would also compliment his fast driving style.
Rather than using a normal accelerator pedal, a carbon-fibre ring behind his steering wheel was the best alternative, which Alex uses to work the throttle progressively through corners.
The throttle control through the engine software also adapted to his requirements, which would occur when the wheel was fitted to the car during any driver changes.
The steering wheel itself had many optimisations, which included revised button layouts and shift light positioning, as well as having a further cut away from the bottom to provide him with further rooms.
Gear change selection is also crucial, which required a change to the layout on the adapted wheel, with the provision of a paddle/button system to ensure minimum disruption to the throttle application. The paddle on the right of the wheel would change up, whilst the button would downshift.
Over the course of a race, any racer will lose weight through fluid loss, with temperature management being a major item to consider, due to Alex being a double amputee.
It’s incredibly important for the driver to be at his very best, and due to his body being unable to fully manage his core temperature for a 24-hour race, an air conditioning system was installed, in order to allow him to full function at all times.
In many respects, it takes a lot more for a driver like Alex Zanardi to have to race against the able-bodied individuals out on track, but with a quick mental learning capacity, and the ability to extract the maximum out of the race package he has, anything’s possible.
Article written by Alex Goldschmidt - photos supplied BuroSud