Racing champion Alessandro Zanardi is making a return to motor racing with a guest appearance behind the wheel of a BMW M4 DTM in preparation for a planned trip to the 2019 Daytona 24 Hours. BMW Motorsport is giving us a look at what they've done to the car to let Zanardi perform his best.
Zanardi is a two-time CART championship winner. In 2001, he suffered a massive crash during a CART race in Germany. The collision nearly cost him his life, and it did cost him both legs.
While it ended his open-wheel career, Zanardi returned to racing in 2003, finishing the 13 laps of the German 500 CART race he hadn't completed in 2001. He moved to racing touring cars full-time in 2004. He also took up handcycling, winning four Paralympic Gold medals and multiple World Championships medals.
The modifications to the M4 for Zanardi start with the brakes. Previously, he's used a conventional brake pedal and an artificial leg. This time, BMW has fitted a handbrake lever, located in the center console area. This required longer brake lines, but also a new master cylinder. Because he's using his hand instead of his legs, pedal effort has been reduced. Nearly 50 kg less force is required.
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A DTM car uses a standard hydraulic-actuated clutch for the race start and for pulling away from a stop. Zanardi's car uses an automated centrifugal clutch instead. Like the clutch found on a lawn tractor, it engages as it spins more quickly. This saves Zanardi from having to operate the clutch. BMW says that the clutch lets the car race to 100 km/h "roughly as fast" as a conventional clutch.
The gear change in the M4 DTM is already done using paddles on the wheel, so no changes were needed. But because he needs his hand to brake, and the downshift paddle is on the right, an extra downshift paddle has been added to the brake lever.
Letting Zanardi accelerate is a throttle ring attached to the back of the steering wheel. The ring can be operated with either hand and uses the same electronic sensors as the standard pedal.
The steering wheel gets the least of the changes. The throttle ring has been added to the back, and a DRS button has been fitted. The driver aid buttons at the bottom aren't actually attached since the M4 DTM doesn't have those features.
Zanardi is testing in Vallelunga, Italy, this week, before a DTM race in Misano later this month, in preparation for the Daytona race next February.