Alex Zanardi To Temporarily Remain In Medically Induced Coma
Officials at the Santa Maria alle Scotte hospital in Siena have confirmed that two-time CART champion, and four-time Paralympic Games gold medal winner, Alex Zanardi is set to remain in a medically induced coma until at least next week following his road accident last Friday.
Zanardi, who won the CART (now IndyCar) championship with Chip Ganassi Racing in 1997 and 1998, was airlifted to hospital after suffering a “severe head injury” during the Obiettivo Tricolore relay race in Tuscany, Italy. The Italian is said to have collided with a truck on the other side of the road, and though apparently conscious after the accident, suffered “major facial cranial trauma, a smashed face, and a deeply fractured frontal bone (forehead)” during the collision. The 53-year-old underwent delicate neurological surgery lasting three hours that same evening, and his condition was later updated to be stable, though still serious.
Following Zanardi’s fourth night in the ICU, officials at Le Scotte have confirmed there will be no effort to reduce his level of sedation to assess neurological status, and that the Italian “will remain sedated, intubated and mechanically ventilated.”
Brutally, this is far from the first serious accident the former CART champion has been involved with. At the 2001 American Memorial at the Lausitzring in Germany, and while Zanardi was battling for the lead, his Mo Nunn Racing Reynard spun across the grass while exiting pit lane onto the racing line. Forsythe Racing’s Patrick Carpentier managed to avoid the stricken Reynard, but the Canadian’s teammate Alex Tagliani was blindsided and slammed into Zanardi at close to 320kph.
In a recent interview with Formula 1’s On the Grid podcast, the Italian confirmed that he lost all but one litre of blood in his body in the aftermath and had to have his heart re-started multiple times while being airlifted to hospital. Against all the odds, Zanardi survived his horrific accident but lost both of his legs.
In a poignant demonstration, Zanardi returned to the EuroSpeedway Lasitz two years after his accident to complete the final 13 laps he failed to finish in 2001 aboard a Champ Car fitted with hand controls. Seriously, dig out the video on YouTube. It’s ‘catch in the throat’ stuff.
Amazingly, Zanardi’s story doesn’t end there. Having won 15 races and two championships during a four-year CART/IndyCar career, and after a character-building spell in Formula 1 that included runs with Jordan, Minardi, Lotus and Williams in the mid to late ‘90s, Zanardi returned to full-time competition in the European Touring Car Championship as a BMW Team Italy/Spain works driver in 2004, his 320i once again fitted with hand controls. Between 2005 and 2009, the Italian competed in the World Touring Car Championship, taking an emotional first win at Oschersleben in Germany in 2005, following that up with three more victories before calling time on his tin top career at the end of 2009. The Italian has since raced intermittently in the Blancpain Sprint Series, the DTM, and even tested with BMW’s F1 team in November 2006.
Among Zanardi’s most commendable accolades though was his commitment to handcycling, ‘training’ for which began with a 4th place finish on the 2007 New York City Marathon (he’d completed his first test only four weeks earlier). In September 2012 at the Paralympic Games in London, Zanardi won gold in the Men’s Road Time Trial (H4 category), following that up just two days later with another gold medal, this time in the Men’s Road Race. At his second Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, he took his third and fourth gold medals after victory in the Men’s Road Time Trial (H5 this time) and as part of the successful Mixed Team Relay. A silver medal in that year’s Men’s Road Race emulated the silver he’d picked up four years earlier in London on the Road Team Relay.
Zanardi’s participation in the Tuscan relay race this past week was in preparation for his third appearance at the Paralympic Games, which have been pushed back to 2021 in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Needless to say, the story of Alessandro Zanardi is one of the most inspirational motorsport has ever known, and fans around the world are hoping for the former Champion to beat the odds once again. Stay strong Alex. We’re all rooting for you!
*Images courtesy of BMW, IndyCar.com and Formula1.com