Following months of rumors and speculations, BMW Motorsport made it official Tuesday, confirming that Alex Zanardi will make his racing return in 2014, driving for ROAL Motorsport in the Blancpain Sprint Series as a BMW factory driver.
The 47-year-old former open-wheel star will rejoin the the Roberto Ravaglia-led squad, whom he drove for in his first comeback to racing in the European and World Touring Car Championships from 2004-09, which saw the Italian claim four victories at the wheel of a BMW 320i.
Zanardi went on to focus on hand cycling, winning two gold medals in the 2012 Paralympic games, before making the decision to return to the wheel of a race car on full-time basis.
“Even after leaving the sport in 2009, I was still a racing driver at heart,” Zanardi said. “When I took to the track in the BMW M3 DTM at the end of 2012, I immediately got itchy fingers again.
“Ever since that moment I have been toying with the idea of returning to motor racing. Together with BMW we have looked at various options.
“I am even more pleased that it has worked out with my old friends at ROAL Motorsport. I would like to say a big thank you to BMW for this unique opportunity.”
Zanardi, who lost both of his legs in a CART race at the Lausitzring in 2001, will drive a specially equipped BMW Z4 GT3 car that will allow acceleration through hand controls. He will not share the car with a co-driver, thanks to a new regulation for 2014.
“From both a human and a sporting aspect, Alex is a role model to all of us,” said BMW Motorsport director Jens Marquardt. “I am sure he will approach this new challenge in the Blancpain GT Sprint Series in the same manner we have become accustomed to from him.
“Modifying the BMW Z4 GT3 is a challenge for our engineers. However, we gained valuable experience in this regard when we modified the BMW M3 DTM in 2012, and that will come in very useful now.
“As far as we are concerned, there is nothing preventing Alex from making a successful comeback.”
The Italian squad previously announced plans to contest both Blancpain Sprint and Endurance series, with the full driver lineups for the multi-car effort to be announced at a later date. Zanardi’s first race is set for April 21 in Nogaro, France.
“The sprints in the Blancpain GT Sprint Series are tailor-made for Alex,” Ravaglia said. “We will do everything in our power to give him a strong car, with which he can reproduce the performances and success we have seen from him in the past.”