Former F1, WTCC and Champ Car racer Alex Zanardi sampled the Brands Hatch Paralympic circuit yesterday (19 June) on a handbike ahead of the official event at the venue in September. He joined over 150 other Paralympians from 26 nations in training, including home favourites from Team GB.

Zanardi, who lost both legs in a horrific Champ Car accident in Germany in 2001, is one of 10 athletes on the Italian paracycling team and has already won marathons in Rome and New York. He is expected to be a front-runner in the handcycling category at Brands Hatch on 5-8 September.

The course at Brands Hatch was described yesterday by the International Cycling Union as ‘the best paracycling venue of all time,’ something Zanardi agrees with: “The course couldn’t be better, it’s fantastic.

“The last part is the most difficult because in terms of personal pleasure and doing things right it is probably not the easiest area but when you reach the penultimate climb going to the hairpin (Druids) you are already very tired but you know that if you are more or less close enough in terms of time to your opponents, this is the area where you are either going to win or lose the race. You’ve got to be really able to make the difference in the last two climbs.

“Knowing the circuit better than anybody else I thought I would know where to negotiate braking points, where to slow down and take the right lines but in reality the course is so wide that you never even cuddle the brakes other than the first corner that goes onto the outside section, but I really enjoyed it, it is fantastic.

“Technically speaking I think it really suits my best talents but you’ve got to be powerful, you’ve got to be able to resist the distance of the time trial mainly but you also have to be smart because there are some areas where if you just keep pushing you’re not going to reach the line in the best way. I think I’ve done it 95% right in the simulation I’ve done today but everything is perfectible so I will try to sort it out with my trainer and come back stronger in September.

“You always have to come up with something that you always doubt whether you have it or not until the last minute and then that’s why you’re so happy when you cross the line in front of everybody else. Luckily for me it is something that I experienced in my racing career as a driver and hopefully it is something that I will experience here in September.”

Zanardi is unsure where his future lies after his Paralympic debut in September, and hinted he may one day return to action in motorsport: “I guess when you do things so special like I’ve been lucky enough to do in my life, you can’t make too much of a long term plan. The greatest things sometimes also happen as a coincidence. I wouldn’t have driven a car for so long had I not been so passionate for it. When at the end of 2009 I decided to stop to privilege this (handcycling) it didn’t seem to be such a hard decision for me because I had been driving for so long, driving beautiful machines and so I said ‘yeah so what, I can do this.’ But I have been pushing my cranks for three years now basically without grabbing a steering wheel and I get the sensation that I would enjoy grabbing a steering wheel once more, and if the right opportunity arises that could be the next horizon for me.”

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