I work with the bronze medalist (USA) and that dude is fit. Zanardi was almost 1 minute faster so he must be an absolute fitness animal. I'm talking Lance Armstrong (on the juice) fit; but let me say I'm not accusing Zanardi of juicing; just a metaphor.
American Honda MotorAlex Zanardi, with a Zanardi Edition Acura NSX outside the corporate headquarters of American Honda in Torrance, Calif., in 1999.
Last month, while attending the collector car events and auctions around the Monterey Peninsula, Calif., I reviewed a morning-after report from a sale organized by Russo & Steele. There was a double-take when, listed among the sales, I spotted what the auctioneer called a 1999 Acura NSX Alex Zanardi Edition Coupe. “Was that the Alex Zanardi NSX?” I wondered. I knew something about Acura’s supercar and its connection to the two-time Cart champion, having visited Zanardi’s home in Monaco in 2001. We went for a drive in chassis No. 1 of 51 sequentially numbered NSXs commissioned by Acura to commemorate Zanardi’s two titles. I spent the better part of a day trying to determine whether the Russo & Steele car was in fact the one in which Zanardi acquainted me with his adopted home of Monaco Monaco Grand Prix that day in 2001. Ultimately, I learned it was not Zanardi’s car, but chassis No. 28, which sold for $64,900. The whole exercise, however, got me thinking again about the indomitable driver who lost his legs in a 2001 racing crash. He has come back from that to walk and to race again. Just last week, he won two gold medals in handcycling at the London Paralympics.
Russo and Steele1999 Acura NSX Alex Zanardi Edition Coupe, sold by Russo & Steele in August in Monterey, Calif.
In 2001, when I made my visit, Zanardi was living in Monaco in a form of exile. He had parlayed three successful years of racing in America into a ride with the Williams Formula One team. There was acrimony from the get-go, to the point that Williams reportedly paid Zanardi millions to terminate his contract. Before my visit, Zanardi had committed to returning to Cart, the open-wheel series in North America that was struggling to retain relevancy. “I don’t have to work again, ever,” I remember him saying in Monaco, pointing to his yacht in the harbor. Appropriately, the vessel was named Hakuna Matata — no worries.
When I parked in the garage of Zanardi’s condo, I noticed a dusty red NSX in the garage, with flat tires. “That’s the one Acura gave me,” he said. “They shipped it over here. It’s been in the garage ever since. I think it has 12 miles on it.”
Zanardi brought out a bicycle pump to put air in the tires just to get the car rolling. The battery was also dead, and we needed to give it a push-start. We visited a nearby gas station for fresh fuel before proceeding to roar around the streets of Monaco, following many of the roads used in the grand prix, for a good 20 minutes. It was raucous fun while it lasted.
I saw Zanardi later that summer and asked him how many miles the NSX had on it. “The same,” he said. Even then, he preferred to ride a bicycle around Monaco.
A week later, after his horrific crash in Lausitz, Germany, I figured a legless man would probably find even less use for an NSX and its 6-speed manual transmission. But I was wrong. I heard Zanardi had it outfitted with hand controls. He began to put miles on it. Learning to drive with only his hands helped him engineer a ride in touring-car racing, where he was again successful.
For more than a decade, Zanardi has refused to let the loss of his legs at the knees prevent him from living life at the limit. He once climbed, in pain, to the top rung of the starter’s stand to wave the green flag at a race. He has developed and lent his name to a line of racing go-karts. He has taken up wheelchair sports with particular passion; he won the handcycling divisions of marathons in Venice, Rome and New York. I wouldn’t blink if I were to spot him on “Dancing With the Stars.”
But the last time I saw him, about 18 months ago in Rome, I forgot to ask about his NSX. Perhaps there will be an opportunity in May. He’s considering racing at the 2013 Indianapolis 500.