"I've been away from this world for a year, but as soon as I started this M6, the adrenaline exploded. Then again, racing cars has always driven everything else in my life. The point is to try not to harbour prejudices, even against those who have hurt you. In life, it's stupid to negate [anyone] a second chance".
The voice on the phone, which rattles off reflections with the same friendly tone and lacking punctuation as that of a friend, is Alex Zanardi, who, laden with Olympic gold after Rio, is now ready to return to where it all began: the racetracks, the races, his domination of the engine. Scheduled for the 13th and 14th of October at Mugello, the event in question is the last leg of the Italian GT Championship – one of more than 300 world championships that fit Pirelli tires –, in which the "Olympic rider" will drive a BMW M6 GT3. Guiding him on his return to the track is his instinct, his passion. The very same instinct and passion that, in turn, he knows how to drive. Like few others do.
The everything else that Zanardi mentions en passant, as if it were of minimal importance, is a constantly moving, ever restless reality – a “Curious” reality, as he defines it. "In certain situations you find yourself asking, “And now what?” knowing that you can only look forward, because there is no going back. It is up to you to understand what really interests you, and there you have to be both open and decisive at the same time. After my accident, I could not even think of being competitive in a dance competition, for example, but when you find out where you want to go, and you decide where you want to leave your mark, then you turn into a war machine. Everything becomes easier, and the sacrifices do not cost you anything".
Before his new flirtation with the track, for Alex, 2016 was above all the year of new Olympic triumphs. "But I didn’t start cycling because I wanted to be thanked by the President of the Republic. I just wanted to ride**". On the topic of his conquest of a double gold and a silver medal in Rio, which Zanardi welcomes as his usual easy-going self: "The cheers are nice, of course, but what matters is to know that you'd be happy if the finish line were in a forest, far from any audience. At one point, the races become just an excuse to be able to continue doing what you love throughout the week. Ambition is the drive, but it all starts with the passion".
That passion which – according to Alex – is a sensory experience long before it becomes a mindset: "Sooner or later it happens: you hear something and you turn your head to look in that direction. Let's just say that if passion were a plant to be cultivated, its seed has much more to do more with its character. It can lead one to music, another to painting and another to sport. And in this sense, I am convinced that sport is a form of art". In the Zanardian approach to sporting instinct and his many, varied achievements, the concept of talent seems to blush before that of will power: "I think natural talent accounts for only a small part. Each of us has enough talent to succeed in everything that we aim to do in life, and here I’m not only talking about sport. Of this, I have no doubt". So there is no risk that admiration for the champions could evolve into envy? "We're not all Lewis Hamilton, that is for sure, but we are all able to push closer to our limits and fulfil our goals".
In a few days, Alex Zanardi will turn 50. Wheels have always been the central theme of his existence. And first and foremost, wheels made to be raced on. "Or to be envious of," he jokes. "I have had the privilege of racing many beautiful cars, but I do have a small regret. I would have liked to have used Pirelli tyres for my 1991 debut in Formula 1®. Those of the previous season were incredibly competitive, and I was fascinated by the idea of using them, but the company left the F1® just when I arrived. Luckily I'm catching up on those years".
But wheels are also races and repeat laps, and rim circles that close. Zanardi considers a return to the origins of his passion as part of a malleable, unique journey, aimed at continuously improving himself, as he is as proud of his past as he is focused on the future. Because Alex Zanardi is part of that class of men who are racers by nature: a steering wheel or handlebars don’t make much difference, they just to allow the body to stretch, to go further, faster. "I have a life ahead to live, and I want to fill it with something else. Passions make us better people".