Alex Zanardi says he had “no doubt” in electing to compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona over the opportunity to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
BMW Motorsport director Jens Marquardt gave Zanardi the choice of competing at Daytona or Le Mans in the BMW M8 GTE with a specially modified steering system.
Zanardi, who has not contested either race, settled on Daytona because of his affinity with the U.S. where he clinched consecutive CART titles for Chip Ganassi Racing in 1996 and 1997.
He will co-drive the No. 25 GTLM-class BMW in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season-opener with Jesse Krohn, John Edwards and Chaz Mostert.
“He [Marquardt] was probably thinking [I would do] Le Mans because for a European driver that is a race that represents a lot,” Zanardi told reporters at last weekend’s Roar Before the Rolex 24.
“But I had no doubt in my mind that my pick was definitely Daytona.
“Don’t get me wrong, I have great respect for people thinking of the Le Mans race as a dream, but for me it’s different because I grew up, as far as my racing career, in the United States.
“I heard so many stories about this great event, from drivers who had been my opponents, who had the privilege of participating while they were also competing in IndyCar.”
Zanardi described meeting former colleagues from his North American single-seater days, including his former CART boss Chip Ganassi and teammate Jimmy Vasser, as a highlight of his Roar debut.
“To be in the same paddock with old friends, to be stopped basically every foot from a different friend who I haven’t seen for a long time, is really sweet,” he said.
“The fact I have seen in the last two days a lot of people who were serving different roles at the Ganassi organization, [now] being responsible for many different projects, tells you the quality of the different talents we had in those days.
“For me, it’s just once more a great privilege to have been part of that all, and now I’m about to start a new adventure which is this race, that I’ve always wanted to do.”
Zanardi also described the warm welcome from fans, including one supporter who offered to pay for his meal at a local restaurant.
“I’m going to be observed by many fans who probably remember some of the things that I did over this beautiful country which definitely gave me the greatest opportunity of my life,” he said.
Zanardi Open to Future One-Off Races
Despite having no formal plans to enter any motorsport events beyond Daytona, Zanardi ruled out this month’s Rolex 24 as his final race.
“In reality, this is a one-off thing,” he said.
“But I can’t guarantee you that it will be the last race of my racing career.”
Zanardi retired from full-time racing after the 2009 FIA World Touring Car Championship to focus on a Paralympic gold medal-winning hand cycling career, but has appeared in several one-off races since.
“I don’t think I would have the sufficient energy – mental, not physical – to compete at the level it takes for an entire championship,” he admitted.
“But to prepare and dedicate myself to be well prepared for an event like this one, is just very fascinating for me.
“So, I cannot tell that after this race, if everything goes well, for sure it will be over. Maybe somebody will come over and say, ‘Alex, why don’t we do another one?’.
“I know myself. If you ask me whether I want to drive a car, it’s like asking the cat whether he likes the mouse.”