Alex Zanardi out of surgery after severe head trauma in handbike race

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ROME — Paralympic champion Alex Zanardi was seriously injured again in a handbike crash Friday, nearly 19 years after losing both of his legs in a horrific auto racing accident.

Zanardi was transported by helicopter to Santa Maria alle Scotte hospital in Siena following an incident near the Tuscan town of Pienza during a national race for Paralympic athletes, police told The Associated Press.

A medical bulletin from the hospital said Zanardi underwent “a delicate neurosurgery operation.” His condition was “very serious” due to “severe cranial trauma.” The surgery took three hours, and Zanardi was transferred to intensive care by late Friday night.

“You’ve never given up and with your extraordinary strength within you’ve overcome a thousand troubles. Forza Alex Zanardi,” Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte tweeted. “Don’t give up. All of Italy is with you.”

A Carabinieri police official in Montepulciano said the incident involved a “heavy vehicle.” The official did not give his name as per local custom.

Local TV at the scene of the crash showed what was apparently Zanardi’s handbike lying on its side and missing two of its three wheels. A large truck pulling a semitrailer appeared parked on the road ahead.

“It happened on a slightly downhill straightaway just before a slight curve in the road,” national team coach Mario Valentini, who was following the race, told 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.”

Repubblica said Zanardi, 53, remained conscious until medical personnel arrived, and that he was breathing by himself.

“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,” Valentini added in another interview with local media.

Valentini said he was not an eyewitness to the accident but arrived at the scene immediately afterward.

“It was a sunny day and everyone was happy. We were 20 kilometers (12 miles) from (the finish line) in Montalcino,” Valentini said. “The truck didn’t make a mistake. Alex made the mistake.”

The coach added Zanardi’s helmet came off during the crash.

Zanardi had both of his legs amputated following a horrific crash during a 2001 CART race in Germany.

Having recently returned to the series from a second stint in Formula One, Zanardi had plowed through the field to lead laps for the first time in three years. The crash occurred when Zanardi spun his car after a pit stop, and he was hit by another driver. Both legs were severed at impact.

Zanardi was a two-time CART champion in 1997-98 with Chip Ganassi Racing.

He returned to racing cars with hand controls after losing his legs, competing in the 2019 Rolex 24 at Daytona with BMW. Zanardi had been announced earlier Friday as being slated to race for BMW in the Italian GT Championship at Monza in November, according to SportsCar365.com.

Zanardi won four gold medals in handbike at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics.

The Italian Olympic and Paralympic Committees had no immediate comment.

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
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Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”