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Team RLL to Run Zanardi Daytona Entry

RLL to run Alex Zanardi GTLM entry at Rolex 24; possibility of using a full-season car…

Photo: BMW

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing will operate the car that Alex Zanardi will drive in next year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, BMW Motorsport director Jens Marquardt has confirmed.

Zanardi, who lost both legs in an accident in 2001, is preparing to race a BMW M8 GTE that uses a modified control system with a lever for braking and a ring mounted on the steering wheel for accelerating.

Full details of the entry have yet to be announced from the German manufacturer, although Marquardt told Sportscar365 that the Bobby Rahal-led squad would be at the helm.

It isn’t yet known if Zanardi’s car will be one of BMW’s full-season IMSA GT Le Mans class entries with details of its 2019 North American program still to be defined.

However, Marquardt indicated that Zanardi, who finished fourth in a DTM night race using the same hand control system, would not compromise BMW’s title challenge if he is selected to drive one of the full-season RLL machines. 

“If we didn’t believe that Alex can perform on a high level, it wouldn’t be a project for us to pursue,” Marquardt told reporters at the Six Hours of Shanghai.

“If you look at the [2015] Spa 24 Hours where he ran together with Bruno [Spengler] and Timo [Glock], they were second or third in the race with an hour to go when the car unfortunately failed.

“I think, especially in the endurance configuration with multiple drivers in the car, it was always the intent when we spoke with Alex, and when we worked on improving those special configurations with him, that he is not per default the weak point in the whole system.”

Zanardi conducted his first GTE test last month, completing over 400 miles and practicing pit stops with factory driver Jesse Krohn.

The pair managed to consistently perform steering wheel changes in 20 seconds while the fastest swaps took around 15 seconds.

“It should be [interchangeable], and this is what we’re working on,” said Marquardt.

“But it should be that the car can run with or without Alex’s special requirements without making any difference to the performance of the car.”

Marquardt added that further program details will depend on the outcome of meetings with series governing bodies.

“We have basically confirmed the concept that we have developed last year and proven in DTM in sprint, is also working in the M8 in the endurance format,” he said.

“We are currently working with the FIA, ACO and IMSA on the homologation or acceptance of those modifications. Based on the result of that, we’ll see how the entry will be.”

A number of disabled drivers have competed, and won, in IMSA competition in recent years, including paraplegic Michael Johnson and former Marine Staff Sgt. Liam Dwyer, both of whom use hand controls in Michelin Pilot Challenge.

It’s understood that BMW hasn’t mapped out any races for Zanardi beyond Daytona, with the 53-year-old Italian’s training for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics set to take priority next year.

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365 and e-racing365, with a focus on the FIA World Endurance Championship and various electric racing series.

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