Alex Zanardi lost both his legs in a CART accident 14 years ago but will race this weekend at the Spa 24 hours in a BMW that has been specially modified for him. Zanardi will share the car with Timo Glock and Bruno Spengler which has presented BMW with a number of interesting technical challenges.
Although Zanardi has raced in cars modified for him before (such as the one pictured) he has never shared a seat with other drivers and has never had a cockpit customised for him as thoroughly as this. BMW have done a great job because there is a lot more involved than just adding hand controls to the steering wheel.
- There are two (connected) brake pedals. The first of these is the standard pedal for Glock and Spengler, whilst the second is actually a pin that slides into Zanardi’s prosthetic leg. Zanardi’s pedal/pin is on the far right of the footwell, as opposed to the conventional left, so he can more effectively use his right leg for braking. There is a fixed divider next to the pin so the other drivers don’t accidentally bump it during the race.
- The clutch is activated by a lever on the steering wheel. The space that was previously occupied by the clutch pedal is now a special footrest for Zanardi’s left prosthetic leg so that he has more stability in the car.
- The pedal box has been moved lower to help Zanardi with braking.
- Zanardi has his own steering wheel that will be changed during the pitstops. This has a ‘throttle ring’ attached which is a bit like a massive upshift paddle behind the wheel that he uses instead of an accelerator pedal.
- Since losing his legs, Zanardi has been forced to take extra steps to regulate his body temperature. As such, BMW have installed air conditioning because this will be more effective than the cool suit he used previously.
- Engineers will adjust the car’s setup to accommodate Zanardi when he takes over from the other drivers. They will change the engine mapping to cater for the different type of throttle input and will also adjust the brake ratios because Zanardi applies less pressure than Glock or Spengler.
BMW are aiming to be in contention for outright victory.