Alex Zanardi has completed his first test in the BMW M8 GTE ahead of his planned Rolex 24 at Daytona debut in January.
The 52-year-old Italian drove more than 400 miles in a specially-modified car during a three-day test at the Miramas circuit in France.
Zanardi is preparing for his Rolex 24 debut in a GT Le Mans-class BMW that will use hand-controlled braking and acceleration mechanisms developed to suit his needs.
The two-time Champ Car champion lost his legs following an accident in 2001 but has gone on to race in various high-profile races including the Total 24 Hours of Spa.
He made his DTM debut earlier this year, finishing fourth at Misano a BMW M4 featuring the same hand-lever braking technology as the car he will race at Daytona.
The Miramas test included practicing driver changes with IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship driver Jesse Krohn, which involved replacing the BMW’s specially-designed steering wheel at each stop.
“I think I made huge progress during this test, particularly when you consider that the conditions were very tough,” said Zanardi.
“Miramas is not an easy circuit anyway, and then we had the rain to deal with too. It was a challenge getting to know the car in these conditions, and at the same time finding out what I need to do when whilst driving.
“However, it was a very productive test. My feel for the car improved all the time and I soon found out what I need to be doing with my hands and how I can control the car’s various electronic functions.
“We are now very well prepared for the next test at Daytona. I have to say, the BMW M8 GTE is a real beauty. It was a privilege for me to take it out onto the track and drive it for so many laps.”
Zanardi said he and Krohn consistently managed to perform the steering wheel change in less than 20 seconds.
His last 24-hour race outing at Spa in 2015, when he shared a BMW Z4 GT3 with Timo Glock and Bruno Spengler, involved a similar removal procedure.
“It is impressive what we achieved,” said Zanardi.
“When you observe how quickly a ‘normal’ driver like Jesse jumps out of the car, it is a bit different when you then see somebody like me getting out.
“Undo the harness, remove the steering wheel, pass it to somebody and jump out of the car – all in less than three seconds.
“Then turn around, wait until Jesse is in, climb back into the car, hook my leg into the frame, help Jesse with the radio and harness, pass him the other steering wheel, close the net and get away from the car…It is really impressive and looks a bit like a dance.
“We will now continue to work on perfecting the driver changeover.”
Zanardi’s co-drivers for the Rolex 24, which takes place on Jan. 26-27, have yet to be announced.
BMW has stated that its motorsport division is “working closely with the FIA, ACO and IMSA to gain approval for a car adapted to Zanardi’s needs for GTE races.”