Alex Zanardi, the two-time CART champion who lost his legs in a 1999 crash at the Lausitzring, was seriously injured Friday in a handcycling event. The Italian was competing in his native country when he made contact with what local outlets call a “heavy vehicle,” and he was reportedly airlifted to a nearby hospital. The 53-year-old is said to have suffered a severe head injury as a result of the crash, according to Racer.
Zanardi was competing in a race for Paralympic athletes near the Tuscan town of Pienza when the incident occurred. He was promptly transported to Santa Maria alle Scotte hospital in Siena.
A bulletin from the medical facility explains that Zanardi is undergoing “neurological surgery to reduce fracture and is in very severe conditions.”
“It happened on a slightly downhill straightaway just before a slight curve in the road,” explained national team coach Mario Valentini to La Repubblica Florence. “Alex veered slightly into the oncoming lane just when a truck came. (The truck) tried to swerve but couldn’t avoid the crash.”
The Associated Press also quoted Valentini as saying, “Twenty minutes passed from the time of the accident to when the medical personnel arrived. It took some time to load him (into the ambulance). His wife helped. After the accident, he was talking.”
Friends and family throughout motorsport have voiced their concerns for Zanardi via social media, including longtime friends Mario Andretti and Tony Kanaan:
Zanardi’s former boss, Chip Ganassi, urged others to pray for the inspirational athlete. Both of Zanardi’s CART championships came while driving for Chip Ganassi Racing, first in 1997 and then again in 1998.
Those involved in Formula 1’s inner circle are similarly familiar with Zanardi as he raced for Jordan, Lotus, Minardi, and Williams at the pinnacle of motorsport.
Along with Zanardi’s experience in motor racing, he’s lauded as a four-time Paralympic handcycling gold medalist. While he has spent the majority of his time competing in that sector over the past decade, he has also made a limited return to sportscars, including the 2019 Rolex 24 at Daytona in a BMW M8 GTE with hand controls he helped develop.