A happy birthday to Alex Zanardi, still an inspiration

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Hero, icon, legend, and inspiration are just a handful of superlatives one can bestow on Alex Zanardi. The two-time CART champion and more recently, Paralympic Gold Medalist, turns 47 today.

Zanardi’s car racing career never really got going despite several cracks at Formula One in the early 1990s before he was hired by Chip Ganassi to drive one of his two Target Reynard-Hondas in the CART championship for the 1996 season.

From there, Zanardi’s career took off. He won three races and Rookie-of-the-Year honors in 1996, culminating with quite possibly the most memorable last-lap pass on a road course in history – “The Pass” on Bryan Herta at Laguna Seca’s Corkscrew.

Back-to-back titles in 1997 and 1998 followed, with a number of comeback drives. He also introduced the racing world to victory “donuts.” What are standard and seemingly part of the victory routine now can be traced back to the joyful exuberance Zanardi exhibited during his first CART run.

His return to F1 in 1999 with Williams failed to bear fruit. He didn’t score a single championship point and came back to CART in 2001 with Mo Nunn, but it was a difficult season.

Then, of course, came his near-fatal accident at the Lausitzring in Germany, when Zanardi’s car spun exiting the pits and was speared side-on at more than 200 mph by Alex Tagliani, who had nowhere to go. Though Zanardi lost a lot of blood and both his legs in the accident, his spirit never faltered, and in fact grew.

He won Touring Car races in Europe with hand controls, then shifted to hand cycling, where he won Gold and Silver medals in the 2012 London Paralympics.

Zanardi made a trip to Indianapolis for this year’s 500, where he was presented with the car in which he won the 1996 Laguna Seca race. At the 500, he was reunited with longtime friends and on-track rivals Dario Franchitti, Max Papis and Tony Kanaan, the latter of whom scored an overdue first win in the race.

There’s rarely been a driver to have made as big an impact on U.S. racing from Europe as Zanardi has. It speaks volumes of his character and spirit that he remains one of the most popular figures in the racing community to this day.

Happy birthday, Alessandro!

Andretti United team names drivers for inaugural Extreme E season

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The Extreme E team formed by Andretti Autosport and United Autosports named Catie Munnings and Timmy Hansen as its drivers Monday for the series’ inaugural 2021 season.

Munnings is a successful veteran of rally series. Hansen is a past winner and champion in the World Rallycross Championship.

They both will race in the environmentally conscious electric SUV series that will hold events in five areas around the world that are threatened by climate change. Chip Ganassi Racing and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton also are fielding cars in Extreme E, which will feature male and female co-drivers on every team.

Catie Munnings

“I’m so excited to join Andretti United Extreme E,” Munnings said in a release. ““I was really intrigued when I first heard about Extreme E, I just knew I had to be involved. The male / female racing partnership is a fantastic and exciting new concept. The season has incredible locations and the racing will be very exciting. It will be a new challenge for the teams and drivers, and I’m so thrilled to be working with such a strong team.

“The championship is a really innovative concept, it’s combining motorsport and science and will produce an important legacy in each race location. Bringing the platform that motorsport has in line with the awareness that the planet needs right now is awesome and a really important message.”

Timmy Hansen

Said Hansen: “Going into the Extreme E will be a new chapter in my career, one that I am extremely excited about. It is something brand new, not only for me, but the whole of motorsport. The format is something

we’ve never seen before. I’m also delighted to be able to carry the message of something bigger – talking about the environment and doing something good for the world – that’s something that really drives me. It’s going to be a big adventure in life to see these locations and I’m going to do my best in carrying this responsibility and hopefully making people aware of the challenges we have in the world, together with our passion for racing.”