Former IndyCar and Formula 1 star Alex Zanardi won gold in the 2012 Paralympic handcycling race around Brands Hatch circuit on Wednesday.
The 45-year-old was competing 11 years after losing his legs – one at the knee and one above – in a horrific Champ Car crash at the Lausitzring. He previously won silver in the 2011 World Road Para-Cycling Championships, his first medal since moving into the sport following his race-winning spell in the World Touring Car Championship with BMW.
Zanardi faced up against nine other competitors in the 16km H 4 Brands Hatch time trial, and at the halfway mark had assembled a lead of 14 seconds over Germany's Norbert Mosandl. He continued to ease away from the German over the final eight kilometers, eventually winning in a time of 24m50.22s.
Mosandl finished second, just over 27 seconds down, with America's Oscar Sanchez a further 18 seconds back in the bronze medal position.
Zanardi was a two-time Indy car champion in CART, winning for Target Chip Ganassi Racing in 1997 and '98. He made an ill-fated switch to F1 with Williams before going back to Champ Cars in 2000.
After recovering from his near-fatal crash in Germany in 2001, he returned to the sport in the WTCC with a specially modified BMW 320i. He won four times, but in 2007 caught the handcycling bug when he finished fourth in the New York Marathon.
At the end of 2009, Zanardi gave up motorsports and focused his efforts on qualifying for Italy's 2012 Paralympic team, winning last year's handcycling New York marathon as part of his preparations. However, he hinted in an interview last month that he would consider another comeback at the Indy 500 if the right circumstances arose.
Zanardi's former CART team boss issued a statement late Wednesday on his achievement.
“Nothing Alex does surprises me anymore,” Ganassi said. “He is a tremendous person and true ‘racer' at heart. Whether it's Indy cars or hand bikes, Alex has always been a terrific competitor. We all know he showed that talent when he was part of Team Target here in America, but today he showed the rest of the world his truly invincible spirit. I have had the good fortune to share many victories with Alex over the years but I don't know that I have ever been so proud of him.”