As you probably already know, BMW will bring a special guest to the Misano night races in the DTM at the end of August, in the shape of a legendary man, Alex Zanardi. For the first time in his career after losing his legs, he will be racing a car using solely his hands, thanks to some carefully thought out trickery done by the M engineers on his special BMW M4 DTM. The Italian pilot is hard at work these days on the Vallelunga track, today reaching an impressive milestone: 294 laps done in the new car over the course of two days.
The main goal of the tests was to adapt as well as possible to the driving behavior of the BMW M4 DTM and the way the many modifications in the cockpit function. Zanardi was very positive when discussing his impressions after the first few laps. “The test was great; all went really well and we are heading in the right direction. A lot is new, but I am coming to terms with it lap by lap. Thanks a lot to BMW – we're getting ready for Misano," was one of Zanardi’s first comments after his initial test laps in the BMW M4 DTM.
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The 51-year-old will indeed be entering new territory in several regards when he makes his guest start at the DTM race weekend at Misano on 25th/26th August. It is not just the racing series and the car that are new; to compete at the highest level of motor racing as a double amputee, Zanardi’s car has undergone cockpit modifications which are dramatically different to those of BMW race cars he has driven in the past.
Earlier this week we covered the innovations the car he’s driving has on-board, the biggest being the new brake system. For the first time, Zanardi will brake using his hand, and no longer use a prosthetic leg attached to the brake pedal in the footwell. In the eyes of the Italian, this is a milestone in development. “The progress from the previous system to the current one is massive," said Zanardi. “Driving a race car like the BMW M4 DTM is physically very demanding. For me, it would be far more strenuous if I were to continue to brake with my prosthesis as I have done up to now."
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Zanardi’s problem with the old system was primarily that he sweat too much under the prosthetic leg. This not only led to him becoming exhausted more quickly, but also to him losing a little of his feeling for the right braking pressure. To solve this problem, he and the BMW Motorsport engineers have been working hard on a more efficient system, which should make life easier for him overall.
“It is completely different to what I was used to," Zanardi confirmed at the test. “I won’t be faster, but I wouldn’t had never accomplished all I did at the two days in Misano with the old system. I completed so many laps with a car that I had never driven before, the BMW M4 DTM, and after not having raced for nearly two years. That would just have been impossible with the solution I had before. It’s like I am, from a physical point of view, a different driver."