Racing drivers are fiercer athletes than many give them credit score for, none extra so than these with disabilities. Right here’s 5 disabled racing drivers who’ve overcome nice adversity to get pleasure from elite-level success.
Alessandro ‘Alex’ Zanardi’s story is one in every of a meteoric comeback. Having began racing within the late Eighties, the proficient Italian quickly discovered himself in F3000 – successfully the equal again then to Components 2. Remarkably, he gained his first ever race at that stage, which spurred him on to complete second general in his debut F3000 season. F1 groups rapidly got here calling, resulting in drives with Jordan, Minardi, and Lotus between 1991-1994.
Nevertheless, when Lotus referred to as time on their F1 program, it seemed as if Zanardi’s F1 profession was over too. So, he moved to America to race in CART (now referred to as IndyCar), the place he would go on to win back-to-back titles in 1997 and 1998. His success caught the attention of Sir Frank Williams, who determined to offer him a second probability in F1.
Sadly for Zanardi, a actually pointless 1999 marketing campaign with Williams noticed him return to the Stateside CART collection on the flip of the century: a transfer which might turn into an ill-fated one.
In 2001, a horrific CART accident resulted in Zanardi dropping each of his legs. After that, many drivers would understandably have hung up their helmet for good, however not this driver. As a substitute, with the backing of BMW, he returned to the game after simply two years of restoration. Astonishingly, Zanardi went on to realize 4 outright race victories in opposition to elite able-bodied drivers within the FIA World Touring Automotive Championship over the subsequent seven years.
Additional outings in sports activities automotive racing adopted his success in touring vehicles, however the cherry on the highest of this unimaginable story got here on the 2012 Summer season Paralympics. At Manufacturers Hatch, a circuit that he had visited as a racing driver many occasions earlier than, Zanardi gained the gold medal for Italy within the self-discipline of handcycling.
Regardless of his youth, most individuals can have heard of Billy Monger, or certainly his ‘Billy Whizz’ nickname. The younger Brit had solely simply began out on his racing journey when tragedy struck. After a profitable stint in karting, Monger joined the British Components 4 Championship in 2016. Throughout his debut season he took three podium finishes, which paved the way in which for one more go at it within the following 12 months.
Two additional podiums got here throughout the first 4 races of the 2017 season, however then at Donington Park, Monger’s upwards trajectory was reduce brief. Unsighted, he crashed into the again of Patrik Pasma’s stationary automotive, which had floor to a halt on the circuit attributable to a mechanical failure. Pasma fortunately prevented severe damage, however sadly Monger wasn’t so fortunate. Three weeks earlier than his 18th birthday, each of Monger’s legs needed to be amputated.
Undeterred by this, Monger acquired again right into a cockpit as quickly as he might, and after a winter of preparation, he stepped up a stage into the British Components 3 championship. 4 podium finishes in his comeback season then opened the door for a world marketing campaign within the aggressive Euroformula collection, which additionally used F3 equipment. On the 2019 version of the Pau Grand Prix in France, Monger accomplished his redemption arc by profitable the race outright: a second which stays arguably the excessive level of his profession as a driver.
Since then, the 23-year-old has traded racing for TV, and is a daily pundit on Channel 4’s protection of the FIA Components 1 World Championship. It stays to be seen whether or not we’ll see him on the circuit once more.
Canadian Robert Wickens was one other extremely rated driver in an identical mould to Alex Zanardi. A profitable junior profession earned him a spot within the much-publicized Pink Bull junior staff, which opened the door to a marketing campaign within the Components Renault 3.5 Sequence. A race win in 2008 – his debut 12 months – would ultimately culminate in Wickens taking the championship title three years later, narrowly beating future F1 driver Jean-Eric Vergne within the remaining race.
From there, Wickens established himself within the DTM Championship – essentially the most technologically superior touring automotive collection on the earth. His stint in Europe with Mercedes-AMG spanned from 2012-2017, incomes him six race victories and 15 podium finishes. Nevertheless, after reaching a peak of 4th within the general standings in 2016, Wickens determined that it was time to go dwelling to North America – and that meant IndyCar.
His first marketing campaign within the American open-wheel championship began properly. He positioned second at Phoenix, third on the Indianapolis prologue, and an additional two podiums would observe swimsuit. The truth is, the Rookie of the 12 months honour was his earlier than the season had even concluded. Nevertheless, after ending in second place at Mid-Ohio, Wickens would endure a horrendous crash throughout the subsequent occasion at Pocono Raceway. There, his automotive launched over that of Ryan Hunter-Reay, catapulting it into the catchfence.
Wickens sustaied a protracted checklist of accidents, and in consequence, he was left paraplegic. Intense restoration got here subsequent, however on the finish of 2021, he managed to get again behind the wheel of a race automotive – not an open-wheel single seater, however as an alternative a Hyundai Veloster N touring automotive.
Within the check, Wickens managed to show his health sufficient to land himself a full-season drive with the Hyundai-backed Bryan Herta Autosport staff in 2022. Utilizing hand controls to function the Elantra N TCR, Wickens and his co-driver Mark Wilkins took a groundbreaking victory at Watkins Glen.
Wickens is sort of clear although: that is solely the beginning of his return.
Again within the Nineties, Takuma Aoki was a championship profitable superbike rider in Japan, and even gained a race on the world stage. Nevertheless, in 1998, following his best worldwide season thus far, his motorcycle bit again.
The crash left him paralyzed from the waste down, promptly placing an finish to his bike racing profession. Nevertheless, in current occasions, Aoki has returned to the circuit, albeit on 4 wheels quite than two.
It began within the Jaguar I-Tempo eTrophy (a now-defunct help collection for the FIA Components E World Championship). Behind the wheel of the electrical Jag, Aoki completed third in school on his championship debut, and would go on to finish the 12 months in 6th place within the general standings. The entry-level touring automotive solely appeared to whet his urge for food although, as Aoki quickly moved on to a brand new challenge.
Partnering up with SRT41 – a racing staff headed by fellow disabled driver Frederic Sausset – Aoki launched into coaching to compete on the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans. He was joined by Nigel Bailly, a Belgian racer who too was left paralyzed after a motorbike accident, and Frenchman Mathieu Lahaye. Collectively, the trio introduced dwelling their LMP2-class prototype in 32nd place general. Nevertheless, in a race as gruelling as Le Mans, even ending in any respect is a victory in itself.
One other squad of disabled racing drivers, Workforce BRIT, even have their sights set on Le Mans within the subsequent few years. To learn their story, click on right here!
The brother of arguably essentially the most high-profile racing driver on the earth, Nicolas Hamilton has typically needed to fend off accusations that his profession has been bankrolled by 7x F1 champion Lewis. Nevertheless, such assumptions merely couldn’t be farther from the reality.
Nic Hamilton has carved a racing profession of his personal with out the assistance of his world-famous sibling – not as a result of Lewis wouldn’t have provided, however as a result of Nicolas would have refused.
That alone has been a difficult problem, however the problem of the duty at hand is additional amplified by Nic having cerebral palsy. The situation implies that he has to beat severely restricted use of his legs and arms, which – naturally – is a significant hurdle for any aspiring racing driver.
Regardless of this, Hamilton has quietly plugged away to work his manner up the touring automotive ladder. The journey began within the British Renault Clio Cup, and from there he moved on to the European Touring Automotive Championship, racing a SEAT Leon Supercopa. Hamilton’s racing profession returned to the UK in 2015 when he joined the world-renowned BTCC grid.
Pitting himself up in opposition to a number of the finest drivers that the British Isles has to supply, Hamilton grew to become the primary driver with cerebral palsy to ever rating a degree within the UK’s premier racing collection. He continues to compete within the championship to today.