One of the most competitive men in the world may finally get the chance to compete in the Indy 500, even though he is a double amputee.
During his years as an open wheel race car driver, Alex Zanardi never got the chance to go to Indianapolis. His career was cut short in 2001 when he lost most of his legs and three quarters of his blood in a massive crash at Germany’s Lausitzring oval track while leading a CART race with just 13 laps to go.
Undaunted by the tragedy, just two years later the Italian was once again behind the wheel, driving a specially modified car at the Lausitzring those final 13 laps in a demonstration run organized by CART in his honor. During the event, he reached speeds that would have qualified him fifth on the grid for that year's race.
Buoyed by the result, Zanardi entered the World Touring Car Championship, a top-level series for production-based cars, winning his first event in 2004 with several more to follow over his six-year career.
In 2007, the fitness enthusiast also took up handcycling, entering the New York City Marathon where he finished fourth. In 2011 he won the race.
Earlier this week, the now 45-year-old won the gold medal for Italy in the Men's Individual H 4 Time Trial at the 2012 London Paralympic games. Speed.com reports that afterwards he told a reporter that he plans to race in the Indy 500 in 2013.
Zanardi’s former CART teammate and team owner, Jimmy Vasser and Chip Ganassi, have jumped at the opportunity, telling Speed.com that they are looking into making it happen before someone else does.
Ganassi currently fields the car that Dario Franchitti drove to victory in the 2012 Indy 500.
"I'd sure like to do it and I wouldn't want him doing it with anybody else," Ganassi said. "Right now, it's just talk, but I would think you could get a lot of support for it."
Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation president and chief executive officer Jeff Belskus has voiced his support for the effort, and the company that builds the current IndyCar chassis, Dallara, told Speed.com that it could modify its car with hand controls to make it possible for Zanardi to drive it. The car already features a hand-operated clutch mounted to the steering wheel, and the addition of a hand throttle and brake is technically possible.
If the plan comes to fruition, Zanardi would be the first double-amputee to take part in the historic race. A win there would be his second major victory with Dallara.
The company also built the bike he rode to gold in London.