Ahead of the 24 Hours of Daytona: Successful testing for Alex Zanardi in the BMW M8 GTE

Friday, November 9, 2018 by Marie-Lyse Tremblay

Italian driver Alessandro Zanardi has successfully completed his first test drive of the BMW M8 GTE ahead of the 24 Hours of Daytona, to be held in January, where the former IndyCar champion (ChampCar) is expected to make his class debut GTLM.

Zanardi thus carried out three days of testing this week at Miramas, a circuit in the south of France which includes an oval track. Even though the rain meant that the conditions weren’t ideal, Alex Zanardi was still able to cover around 700 km in three days at the controls of the BMW M8 GTE. specially adapted to his handicap.

The BMW Motorsport team used these tests to assess how the modifications developed for Zanardi’s specific needs would work in a GT Le Mans type racing car. Technically, it will be the same system as that experienced by Zanardi during the Misano DTM weekend, where Alex drove a BMW M4 DTM, with excellent results. Braking is carried out using a lever that the pilot operates with his right arm. The special steering wheel allows Zanardi to accelerate using a ring on said steering wheel and to change gears using paddles. The steering wheel accelerator mechanism, proven in DTM, has been adapted for much more complex use in Endurance than in DTM. Indeed, in GTLM, a driver must modify the distribution of braking before each turn.

The brake lever also has a button with which Alex Zanardi can downshift. Based on the knowledge acquired at Misano in the DTM, this system has also been optimized on the BMW M8 GTE.

« I think I made huge progress in this test, » said the former F1 and IndyCar driver. “The weather conditions were very difficult and the Miramas circuit is already not easy. It was difficult to get to know the car in these conditions and what to do, but it was a very productive test. I quickly understood how to use my hands to control the various electronic functions of the car. We are now very well prepared for the next test which will take place in Daytona. I have to say that I loved driving this GT Le Mans class M8 GTE. I feel privileged to have been able to do so many laps” he added.

Practicing driver changes in the pits was another part of the testing program. Remember that, as always in Endurance, Zanardi will share the wheel of the BMW M8 GTE with other drivers at the next 24 Hours of Daytona. In Miramas, the driver change tests were carried out together with another official BMW driver, Finn Jesse Krohn.

« What we have accomplished is impressive, » said Alex Zanardi. “We must not forget that, in addition to the usual change of driver, we also have to change the steering wheel to give back “classic” controls to my teammates. However, we have systematically achieved this objective in less than 20 seconds, and on a few occasions, we have even managed the pilot and steering wheel change in about 15 seconds. When you look at how quickly a « normal » driver like Jesse jumps out of the car, it’s a little different when it’s someone like me who has to get out. I have to unfasten my harness, remove the steering wheel, give it to someone on the team and jump out of the car; all in less than three seconds. Then I have to turn around and while Jesse settles in the car, attach my artificial legs and then help Jesse connect the radio and his harness, pass him the other steering wheel, close the net and leave! It feels a bit like a dance, which we will now continue to perfect at Daytona,” said Zanardi.

Nathalie McGloin (pictured above with Alex in the garages at Miramas), chair of the new FIA Disability and Accessibility Commission, was also present at Miramas. She took advantage of this visit to speak to the Italian pilot and the members of his team of the possibilities offered today to pilots with disabilities. On the side of BMW Motorsport, we claim to work in close collaboration with the FIA, the ACO (the organizers of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the next challenge for Alex Zanardi?) and the IMSA to obtain all the homologations required for this car adapted to Zanardi’s needs during Endurance races.

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