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CART FedEx Championship Series: Molson Indy Toronto

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Molson Indy Toronto

CART FedEx Championship Series: Molson Indy Toronto

Alex Zanardi
July 5, 2002


ADAM SAAL: Alex is here to talk to us about the journey he's taken since September, and he's never at a loss for words. So, Alex, welcome. It's fantastic that you're here and it is uplifting for everyone. Tell us how you feel, literally hearing race car sounds and being with all of your friends:

ALEX ZANARDI: Well, Adam, first of all, thank you very much. It's great to be here for me. Not only it means that I am in a good enough condition to travel and take this kind of trip, but it's really great to meet and greet all of the people that have been so close for me during this terrible circumstances. I've always felt -- I said last night, I've always felt loved in America, in the United States, but it throughout these terrible circumstances, I felt even more loved, and for sure, I felt that all of that love was really coming from the heart of everybody. And so, that makes me feel very, very special. It makes me think that I must have done something good. It's obviously great to be here in between all of my friends and I'm sure I'm going to really enjoy this weekend.

ADAM SAAL: Alex, as we work hard and face challenges at CART that we openly battle day-to-day, one of our sayings is that "if you think you can or you think you can't, you're right." Talk about what you've gone through in the past couple of months and how your incredible positive spirit kept you going. You seem fine and you always seemed fine when we saw you, but how hard was it to get through some of the down time, and what got you through that?

ALEX ZANARDI: Well, it was obviously hard at the very beginning. But on the other hand, it was on the way -- the motivation, the hope that I would walk again on a pair of prosthetic legs; it was really driving me a lot. And to a certain degree, ignorancy was what was helping me the most because I'm a very optimistic person and I thought that I would have done amazing things on these pair of legs and I would have been able to do a lot of the things that eventually I found out I can't do. But at the time, that was a great motivation for me. I thought it would have been easy. It would have been just about stepping up on it and go. In reality, I'm finding every day, it's a little hard sometime. You have to take time to do this and to do that, but for sure, my positiveness, my never-say-never kind of attitude has helped me a lot. And I think that's why only after such a short period from the accident, I'm capable to do on my own, basically everything that goes from being totally independent, putting my legs on in a very short time. And it sounds like it's nothing special, but I can guarantee you that I've met a lot of guys that understand what I'm doing; that after 20 years, they cannot put their legs on without the help of somebody. And instead, it only takes me five minutes in the morning. Yeah, sometimes I swear because they don't go in right, but most of the time, I manage to do my own things. And also, when something doesn't go right, I guess the activity, the job that I've done in the past 20 years, I would say, come into play because under a technical point of view. Really, the human leg is nothing different than a car suspension, and so, there is a lot of similarities. It is basically a spring and a shock absorber package. So in that way, I do a lot of tuning myself. I'm going around with a 4 millimeter screw is always in my bag and all of the spaces and everything. And so thanks also to that aspect, I have been able to achieve in a very short time what other guys have not achieved in much longer. But my plan is not to stop here. It is to improve even more, and so that's why obviously my focus right now is on to that. When I wake up in the morning I try to improve even better because this will improve my life quality. Nevertheless, I am really happy, because as I said, I am able to travel, I am able to go on my boat like I did last week in the family. I am not so far to chase the kids, actually. They backed the boat into the harbor and I was not very happy. (Laughs). Because I couldn't chase them fast enough, the engines were running and they put the engine in reverse, and so we backed the boat into the harbor. But besides that, I'm really happy. After a middle point, I was really depressed, because when I put on these prosthetic leg, the pain was terrible and every step was a nightmare, and I was sweating -- to get from here to there, I was sweating like a pig. And so, it was hard. But after all of these, it's much better now and every day I make small improvements.

ADAM SAAL: Last night at the Molson Indy Gala, Alex reunited with some of his closest friends, former teammate Jimmy Vasser, Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti, as well as Dr. Terry Trammel. Was that the first time you saw all of those individuals since last year?

ALEX ZANARDI: Yeah. Obviously, everybody was very busy doing their things and I was very busy doing mine.

ADAM SAAL: What was the first words you set to Dr. Terry Trammel, who was with you on the day of the accident?

ALEX ZANARDI: I just asked whether he was proud of the job that he did, because if I'm here today, it's mainly thanks to him and Steve Harvey (PH). For sure, I must have a very strong heart if it kept beating. But after all, I am sure, I am absolutely sure, that if I would not have received the best possible medical attention you could get in this world, I would not have made it.

Q. Do you have to make any special plans when you travel now?

ALEX ZANARDI: No planning. I just booked my flight through the travel agent and booked a ticket. I should have done some planning, because I always say, when they ask me: "Sir, do you need anything?" I say, well, just a wheelchair, in case, you never know. But then they always let everybody deboard the plane and then they go in with a wheelchair. The problem is normally I'm the first one that gets off the plane so the guy with the wheelchair is probably still coming and I don't see anybody, so I go. In Heathrow, because I changed planes in London, I was the last gate at one end of the airport and I had to go all the way to the exit and then catch the bus to change. It's kind of ironic, but now that I would need things to be a little easier. It's like now, I wanted to go to the bathroom and on the other end of the building; so I had to walk all the way to go to the bathroom. But, it's okay. I can walk, I can do things. Certainly, I'm not really fast, but I can go wherever I want. Yesterday was a big test for me because it was by far the longest day I had since the accident, in the sense that I caught the plane in the morning and I kept my legs on all day and then I came in last night and went straight to the party. So I was very happy that I could do all that.

Q. Was it difficult after the accident to come back into normal life?

ALEX ZANARDI: Not really. As I said before, I mean, my optimism is what is driving me the most. Often I get asked from people, if my son was very, very important for me to find motivation to get back somehow. And quite frankly, yeah, my son is a gift from God. He's the thing that I love the most in my life. I love him much, much more than I love myself. But that was not the motivation. I mean, for me, just the fact to be alive is sufficient motivation to want to improve my life quality. So, my son, my friends, my family, are big pluses. You know, I'm a happy guy even without the legs. Obviously, I would be happier with my legs.

Q. Inaudible?

ALEX ZANARDI: Quite frankly, I don't see anything in particular in front of me. But I don't see any particular barrier that would stop me to do things. I believe that if I would really have the motivation, I could come back and race again. I don't see missing my legs to be an obstacle so big that it would be impossible to overcome that. I think it could be possible, but, quite frankly, I got -- right now in my life, that's not priority No. 1. So I don't know what I'm going to do two years or three years from now. What I know is that I'm going to try to do whatever comes through my mind at that point. One thing that I would love to do again is to go back and ski. I was a decent skier, and certainly, in that sport, legs are quite important; therefore, I've got to come up with something, and I'm already working on a personal project of something new that could be realized, to allow people like me to ski. But again, right now, the main priority is to enjoy my family, to stay with them, and to improve my confidence with this prosthetic legs, in order to walk even better than I'm doing now.

Q. Inaudible?

ALEX ZANARDI: I don't know. I can coach. I don't know, really I have not posed myself the question because right now this question is not very important for me. There's so many things that I am doing already. Obviously, I'm trying day by day to personalize things around me, to improve my life. Like the other day -- obviously, I can still drive a bike. I have the license, but if I hit a red light, then I have a problem. So I either go straight or have a big problem. So that's why I bought a bike with four wheels and I'm planning to put my kid on it and feel the fresh air coming to my face, and maybe just go to the bakery and buy some bread with my son. Right now these are the things I want to do. I'm sure one day life will be boring with only these things and I'll come up with something else, but I'm not particularly worried about it at this point.

Q. Inaudible?

ALEX ZANARDI: Well, they actually made me pay it until the last -- so I'm not going to give three years. (Laughter). But it's American, though. It's actually painted in the American colors, with American flag on the side, so it's pretty cool.

ADAM SAAL: In regards to coaching, Alex -- Alex is Italian, but France does need a coach; they let their coach go. So there's a job opening for you.

Q. Inaudible?

ALEX ZANARDI: It's very difficult. When I was sitting in my hospital bed in Berlin, all of my friends were coming, and trying to be encouraging. They were saying: I've seen this guy without one leg and he was doing this and he was doing that, he was walking like you couldn't tell. I thought I could achieve that; I could walk in a way that nobody could tell anything if other people did it. But then I came to understand that my level of amputation is unfortunately the worst one you can have. In other words, it's both legs, and both legs above the knee. Now, if you have one leg, you've got something to compensate for what you are missing on the other side; therefore, it comes a day where with only what you have, you can really conduct an absolutely normal life and have absolutely no down point at all. But if you have nothing, you don't have anything to compensate for what you're missing. So, that's why for me, it's obviously really difficult because my balance is really only based on the inclination of the foot and on the width and on the length of the foot itself, and I have to learn to stay on that little platform and to hold myself up with that. Now, it's not easy. If I had the knee, it would be much easier. Actually, when you have your own knee, it's almost like you have your own leg. Think about if you walk with a ski boot, you don't have the heel movement, right? But after a few steps, you adapt, and with your knee, you do the rest. For me, it's a little difficult. Fortunately, obviously, I can improve even more, I can get even better, but there's always going to be a limit to where I can -- to the way I can walk. Like I will never be able to bound stairs putting one leg in front of the other. I always have to either pull my legs around or pull myself up on the handrail or push myself up with a cane. But nevertheless, I have something that I can use to walk and that's good. There's always two sides of the story. It depends on the way you look at it; the bottom could be half-empty or half-full. For sure, it's a reason of pride for me when I go there to the center where I'm doing my rehabilitation to see that there is other people in my condition that in 20 years did not achieve what I have in six months. I walk much better than them. I put my legs up in the morning. There is a lot of people that they use their legs just to improve their look, really, but they spend their entire time on the wheelchair. Fortunately, that's not me. Steve was really worried. He called me and he said, "Alex, if you fly and you travel that long, I would suggest you take an aspirin to thin your blood, because if you spend a lot of time not moving, you could have a problem." I said, "Steve, this is not me. I move. Don't worry. I don't need an aspirin."

Q. Inaudible?

ALEX ZANARDI: Of course. I didn't come to Toronto just to go up in the tower and come down and catch a plane and go home. I want to see everybody that I can, spend as much time as I have with them. And, of course, I would love to see Alex and tell him once again that it's totally understandable that he still feels guilty, but he has no reason for it. He was only unlucky to be there at that time.

Q. What's the most difficult thing you've had to do?

ALEX ZANARDI: Certainly the most difficult thing I had to do was -- yesterday, actually, was a very long day. Change the tire, I mean, I just drop myself on my knee or whatever you want to call it, and I still have my hands to do the job. Actually, you know, when I sit down, I am a totally normal person. I mean, as normal as I was. (Laughter). It was not very difficult to change the tire. The only thing that's hard for me is when I have to work under the sun because I tend to suffer the heat much more than I did before. My legs are trapped in two pieces of plastic that cannot let -- obviously, transpirate (ph) my skin, otherwise I could lose them. They stay in because they are in a vacuum in a way. It's pretty hard. With that, also, the doctors say that the feet are the cooler of the body because the blood goes down and comes back cooler, so I have a big problem there because it comes back hotter. (Laughs). So my only problem normally is the temperature. But to change a tire, I did it before. I always work, even on my boat, I do little things. I was actually -- as I said in, Corsica the other day and we went from one place to the other. And we got a lot of salt all around the water and I wanted to give it a wash before we put it to bed for the evening. My brother-in-law was with me, and I said, "Would you help me to wash the boat?" And he says, okay, and so I just give him the tube with the water. I turn around, and when I turned around, he was watering -- he was washing the boat like you would water the flower like this. We had a very long day and by then we were tired. I said, "Are you tired, if you want to sit down"; he says, "No, I'll take a quick nap." He went in and took a quick nap and I wash all the boat on my own. (Laughter.) So, it's obviously harder for me to do things, but I'm still doing a lot of things.

Q. Compare Formula 1 to CART on the Montreal circuit.

ALEX ZANARDI: Well, starting with that, that is going to be very interesting because it's basically the first time that we are going to see champ cars competing on a circuit that was -- that is normally visited by the Formula 1 circuit. So it's going to be obviously very, very interesting to watch. Although, I think that these days, champ cars really suffering with Bridgestone, supplying very, very hard tires. Champ cars could go much faster these days if they would only let them run the same boost we were running a few years ago, and if we had the same soft tires we used to run when there was a competition in between Bridgestone and Goodyear. But I'm expecting to see champ cars not so far away from the neighborhood of lifetime that normally form Formula 1 does. For sure I think they are going to produce, champ cars, are going to produce a better race because it's much easier to overtake with the champ car. And normally, races in champ cars are for their own nature, more uncertain. The pit stops and the strategy can often put the fastest car behind, and then that fast car has to come back through the field. In Montreal, I'm sure there's going to be a lot of places for drivers to overtake each other. It's going to be interesting and I very much look forward to it. Concerning what was most difficult thing I did in my life prior to the accident, I don't know, because if I did, it was probably not that difficult. Probably at school, to be a good student. (Laughter). Making my parents happy was very hard. Finally, I did it.

ADAM SAAL: I was going to say Laguna Seca, 1996, but he made it look easy.

ALEX ZANARDI: That was not difficult. I have to admit that Jimmy Vasser had the right version of my pass. He thinks that the way I overtook Bryan Herta was simply because a plastic bag dropped by a fan hit my shield, and by the time I took it off, I was in front. (Laughter). That was the secret behind my magic pass in Laguna Seca.

Q. Inaudible?

ALEX ZANARDI: Well, I would have to say, if I was an American resident, if I had to live here, I probably would be very, very interested and just because I love the sport, I love the activity, I love this environment. Sometimes you tend to forget, but you guys have over here the capability -- Americans in general, you have the capability of making friends really easily, of having relationship, even at a very high level, professional relationship, a ver high level. Even with a pair of jeans, you don't necessarily have to be in a black suit or whatever. The important thing is what you talk about and with who you talk about. That's what really matters. In Europe, it's much more formal. It's taken this sport on to a platform that is totally different, and some people might like it and some others won't. Personally, when I was driving Formula 1, I loved the car that I was driving, but I didn't enjoy staying on the paddocks having any relationship with the people as much as I did when I was over here. Not because here I was winning and there I wasn't, but simply because it's different. I mean, last night, I jumped into a limo, I was taken to the party, I was there with Jimmy, with Tony, and we were kidding and teasing each other; and that's very normal over here, where in Formula 1, it does not happen. So this is very special. It's the same with the everyone else, as well. You can stop and chat with somebody. You can go into the coach in the evening and have a glass of wine and then the following race, you will race shoulder to shoulder and try to beat your opponents as hard as you can, but this does not really change the relationship with people. So, that's why if I was living over here, I would be very, very interested in being involved on any level with a team. But quite frankly, I have decided to live over in Europe, and so it's impossible for me to fly every race weekend. Therefore, I will probably be only a fan which will always be addicted to motor racing as a fan, and every once in awhile, I will come back and greet my friends.

Q. Inaudible?

ALEX ZANARDI: I don't know. He's too careful. He took after his mom. (Laughter).

Q. What are your thoughts on the Greg Moore Legacy Award?

ALEX ZANARDI: It means a lot. The award is named after a guy that was not only a great race car driver. A very -- I would say we were really similar in the way we were driving, both very aggressive. I think both were never content with the result. Always wanting to do something more. And ironically, our careers, although I was a little older than him, our careers were very similar because we were both fighting for the Rookie of the Year in '96 and he was my main opponent in '97 and in '98, especially throughout the first part of the season. And so, we were very, very competitive. I can't say we were close friends, but we were friends, and for sure, we had a great deal of respect for each other. I remember Greg in Las Vegas in '98, we were playing billiards, pool at Jimmy Vasser's house, and I explained to him the way we play in Italy. We don't play it with a stick; we just throw the ball with our hands. Well, true enough, after five minutes, we are playing our way; he wants to beat me, and you can tell now he's very competitive and he's into the game. And I said, "Okay, Greg, we are going to go." "No, another game." "Yeah, but we have got to go." "You're pathetic -- you bloody Zanardi. I want to kick your butt." And he said, "Man, I've been here three years, you kick my butt and now you are running away, it's not fair." So that was a great compliment to me because I rate him a great driver. And obviously through '96, '97, '98, Chip gave me a car that was really unbeatable, and certainly, I drove it well, but that was probably the reason why I ended up winning a lot of races more than other people, and that gave me two championships. But, I rate Greg a very, very capable driver. Somebody that would never give up, and for him to say something like this to me was a great compliment. And so, again, I know that trophy is not him, but it's very special. I wish it was him.

Q. Inaudible?

ALEX ZANARDI: Yeah, I'm happy -- I can't say proud, because obviously I still have some moments where I'm not as much fun to be around as I used to be, a little grumpy. But after all, I think the fact that I have many concerns before I went home of things that I would have to change to make me be able to do something -- in fact, I didn't have to change anything. Like at home, I mean, I do other things. Like I have to put minor controls in my car, but that's about it. I was very proud when back in February, I was able to -- I was released from this -- actually, I released myself from the center because I had enough. I said, "That's good enough, I want to go home with my legs." I was able to take my son to the beach to throw stones in the water. That was a very, very special moment, just me and him together, and it was a very special moment. But my wife, she's been fantastic throughout the entire thing. I mean, I had received from Father Phil the last rights, if that's what you call it, and everybody, not only people that didn't know anything about it, but doctors, very qualified doctors were telling people close to me that there was very little chance that I would make it. Not to say if I would wouldn't make it, what would have been Zanardi, once he turns the key again, would it be okay, would everything work, but it was very, very questionable whether I would pass in the night. And everybody was saying that. Obviously, thinking there was no way in the world I would come back to a point like the one I am now. While all that was happening, my wife called BMW to order me a car with manual controls because she said "When he wakes up, he'll want to drive, I know." That's her, that's Daniella. She's a very strong lady, really, really strong. She likes to stay in the shadow, but she's very, very strong. She's been a great support for me throughout my entire career and I'm really lucky to have somebody like her on my side. My son, as I said before, is a gift from God. Kids in general are very special. For them, it's not very difficult to adjust to things because they are discovering life. We are normally very, very scared when something change because we live in preformed -- everything has got to be under control. We know how things normally are, so when something changes, we are very compared; how are we going to adapt to that. Kids in general, they are discovering life, so they don't have preconceived ideas. They just say, "Oh, is that what it is? Okay." And that is it. Five minutes later he's already joking with my legs. Normally when we go in the bath, I ticklish him, ticklish him in the feet and I say, "ticklish in my feet"; and he turns, he says, "You don't have feet, you are always kidding me." (Laughter) we are kidding about it, and that's the best way you can really put things to be absolutely normal. Obviously, I wish I could put him over my shoulders as I used to do -- and I probably could, but I love him too much to try.

Q. Inaudible?

ALEX ZANARDI: It's always a great show to watch. It's just a little sad that right now the TV package is not very strong, especially in Europe. But somehow I got a way to watch all of the races and I enjoy them a lot. Obviously, for me, it's easier because I know all of the drivers quite well, even though they changed it a little bit recently. But I totally understand what's going on throughout the race. Now, for European fans, it's a little difficult because obviously, they would have to have somebody explaining exactly what's going on a little better because sometime they see somebody leading and they think that guy is obviously going to go on and win the race, and then he finishes 20th and they don't understand why. Well, that guy has another pit stop to do compared to everybody else. Yeah, I'm always tuned. I watch all of the races and I think Cristiano is doing a super job and right now it looks like he's totally in control of what's going on and it looks like nobody is capable to challenge him. But we've seen that kind of situation before in the past and from the midpoint of the season somebody comes along and starts to score points. So I would not be surprised to see somebody else coming.

Q. Inaudible?

ALEX ZANARDI: Well, there's been a point where I think Mr. Pook, he's a very smart gentleman and he'll do the best he can for the series. He is going to be very, very important, somebody like him; it's very important for the series. There is no doubt that you can't talk about direction, because with all of the things which a CART has suffered in the past few years, the direction is full of roundabouts and turns and circles, so it's not a straight arrow. Everybody was saying his own thing and then they changed the rules technically, to adapt, basically, the IRL technical regulations. And now they have gone to a different direction, which I think is needed at the time, of this moment, but it looks really, really positive and promising because with these rules they are going to be able to reduce the CART and allow more people to participate to the events. But I am sure that this is not it. There will be more changes needed. It is not up to me to say what they have to do, but I think they come to -- they came to realize that something has to be done and I really hope that the series will bring back the attention from the fans that it deserves. And you know, this war between IRL and CART will end because it's really not needed. I mean, I'm a race fan and I don't care. I mean, I watch everything. I don't see why a fan can watch only one series. I mean, if he's a real fan, he's going to love motor sports in general, for sure. There is one particular series which ultimately will be his favorite, but I'm a race fan every time I switch the TV on and there is some sort of racing, I remain tuned on that channel because I like to watch. It doesn't matter whether it's single seat or super fast race car or all of the cars are racing around on a mad circle and beating each other; I watch everything. So, to me, IRL races are very interesting to watch, but certainly, under a sporting point of view, everybody will have to convey to me, that if you want to see the difference between a very good driver and another, you can't just take them to an oval because on the ovals, the car it's much more than the driver. Maybe the courage of the driver is needed in some situations like the restops or to drop somebody and get them on the outside, but it's not pure talent that is needed in that particular circumstance. So I think that CART has the chemistry that is really magic. Some races on the ovals, some races on road courses and some races on street courses, which for the drivers are very, very fun, enjoyable. And for the public is great because you take them the show at their city, and this is the strong point on which I think CART has to capitalize and to build on for the future.

Q. Inaudible?

ALEX ZANARDI: Certainly, much more these days than I used to. Because in life, you always want what you don't have, and I remember there was a -- I have a friend, a very close friend which is a car dealer, and there's this dealership where he's got this office, air conditioning when outside it's really hot, and he's got a nice heater when outside it's cold. So in the quiet of his office, sometimes I go there and I sit down with him and we chat, we discuss. I remember in 1998 calling from Indianapolis, I was sitting and talking to him and thinking, man, what would I give to have a normal life, to be there with him, to be able to 9:00 to 5:00, to close everything, go to the bar, play cards with my friends, speak in -- not my own language, but my own dialect, and have a normal life. Funny enough, I was sitting on the back of my house with a beautiful garden, the lake in front, my jet ski anchored just in front, fantastic day. I just won a race the previous weekend. So now, these days I think: What more would you want in your life? I have a beautiful woman next to me, my wife, we were playing cards, no depression, nothing. I was on the top of the world. Now I say: What more would you want? Why couldn't be I be happy with what I had? But the reality is simply that it is human nature. You always want what you don't have. So I forgot what was the question -- (Laughter). Exactly. Exactly. That was the question. So now I say -- now I look when I sit down in my billiard room in Italy and I sit down and watch all of my trophies and I watch that Laguna Seca 1996, I say, yeah, I did something good. And then I watch Cleveland '97 and I watch Long Beach '98, Toronto '98, and I just feel very proud. I realize now, because at that time they were just race wins. I mean, I was there Sunday night while I was on the podium, I was always thinking of the following race because what I want was winning more and collecting points, winning the championship. So I was so much into the mission that I did not have the time to enjoy, where now, I totally realize how great the memories I have. Not only the fact that I won two championships, but the way I won some races in particular, which is much more important than much better memories than the championship itself. So, yeah.

ADAM SAAL: Alex, again, last time you were here, you won on the streets of Toronto in 1998, but I also understand you drove on the streets of Toronto again today. Did you drive?

ALEX ZANARDI: Yeah, it was a little difficult because I got this car with hand controls. Normally, in my car, it's on the right and this is on the left. It must have been built from the English; they always do things upside down. (Laughter). So it's a little difficult. Sometime I brake thinking that I'm pushing the throttle. That's not a big problem. It's a bigger problem when I accelerate thinking I'm braking. (Laughter). So I'm still driving slowly. And if you see a green Chevy Monte Carlo going around with the lights coming up and down, be careful. That's me. (Laughter).

ADAM SAAL: Alex, thank you so much for being here and taking this time. (Applause).

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