Alex Zanardi: Champion racer, handcyclist, and now, Ironman

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The inspiring tale of Alex Zanardi has had another chapter added to it.

The former CART champion and Formula One racer that lost his legs in 2001 – only to return to the track in touring cars and become a Paralympic gold medalist in handcycling – completed the Ironman World Championship triathlon last night in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

Zanardi ranked 272nd out of 2,187 competitors that finished the competition, which begins with a 2.4-mile swim, continues with a 112-mile bicycle ride, and ends with a 26.2-mile marathon run.

With no legs, Zanardi utilized a wet vest for the swimming portion that allowed him to keep his body floating and in the right position. He finished the swim in 1 hour, eight minutes, 43 seconds.

Then came the biking portion, which he tackled with his self-developed handcycle and completed in six hours, seven minutes, and 51 seconds.

Lastly came the marathon. Zanardi used an Olympic wheelchair to travel that course in two hours, 24 minutes, and 50 seconds – adding up to an overall Ironman time of nine hours, 47 minutes, 14 seconds.

After crossing the finish line, Zanardi expressed his happiness on Twitter:

In a release from BMW (for whom Zanardi races for in touring cars), he said he would “treasure this day in my heart for the rest of my life.”

“I am very proud of my performance,” he added. “The last 300 meters were worth everything, they were worth being here for. I don’t know if everybody got cheered the same way, but when I passed down that narrow lane, I have never experienced anything like that. It was amazing.

“I was always close to crying. I am not an emotional guy for these types of things, but this was very special.”

As you’d figure with the Ironman, it wasn’t easy. Zanardi said he was knocked around a bit during the open water swim, and once he got to the handcycle, he had to deal with ever-shifting winds along a course he regarded as one that “goes forever, forever, and forever.”

“It is terrible,” Zanardi explained about the cycling portion. “In the marathon, you think ‘Okay, I am there. ‘Every kilometer, you look in your little computer and you say ‘Yes, one less, one less, one less’. But to go 180 kilometers with the handcycle and to count down the kilometers takes forever. I did not know what to do to keep my mind busy.”

The challenges continued for Zanardi on the Olympic wheelchair during the marathon.

“The running part, which I completed with the wheelchair, was not that bad considering the fact that I had to do it after such a long race with the handcycle,” he said. “I was having problems climbing Palani Road, because my sweat dropped on the rims and so I had no grip on the gloves and my hands were sliding. But I can be satisfied with my time.”

However, even though he’s proud of his efforts, Zanardi revealed that he would be lying if he said he wasn’t hoping to finish the triathlon in under nine hours.

We wouldn’t be surprised to report that he accomplished said goal following his next Ironman, whenever that may be.

But for now, Zanardi will go back to being a racer again. He’ll be competing in next week’s Blancpain Sprint Series event at Zolder in Belgium.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.