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Zanardi loses both legs after crash in Germany

Posted: Sunday, September 16, 2001

KLETTWITZ, Germany -- Two-time CART champion Alex Zanardi lost both legs Saturday when his car was hit by another traveling about 200 mph in a race renamed the ''American Memorial 500'' following the terrorist attacks.

The 34-year-old Italian was leading with 12 laps left in CART's first race in Europe. As he exited pit lane after a stop, Zanardi seemed to accelerate too early, lost control and swerved sideways across a grassy area and into the path of Alex Tagliani's car.

Zanardi's car was shattered as Tagliani struck it broadside, the chassis cut in two with debris spraying across the track.

Zanardi's condition was ''stable but critical'' after three hours of surgery at a Berlin hospital to amputate both legs above the knee, CART physician Dr. Steve Olvey said.

The driver also broke his pelvis and had a ''moderately severe concussion,'' Olvey said.

Morris Nunn, Zanardi's car owner, said Zanardi was ''breathing on his own and has no other apparent internal injuries.''

Tagliani, a 28-year-old Canadian airlifted to the same hospital, was awake and alert with no serious injuries, CART said. He was expected to be hospitalized up to 48 hours.

Patrick Carpentier managed to avoid Zanardi as the Italian's car skidded on the track. The next car to zoom by was Tagliani's, and it plowed straight into Zanardi.

''I almost hit Zanardi,'' Carpentier said. ''He came up the track and I went sideways and almost hit the wall to avoid him. I didn't know that Tag had hit him. I knew somebody was going to hit him because he was going up the track and we were at full speed.''

Carpentier finished third, behind Team Rahal drivers Kenny Brack and Max Papis as the race ended under a yellow flag before 87,600 fans at the EuroSpeedway.

''We are devastated by the extent of Alex's injuries,'' Nunn said. ''But we are also so very thankful that he is on his way to surviving a tremendous impact. All of our thoughts and prayers are with Alex and his family.''

The race originally was called the German 500 and was to be broadcast on ESPN at 7:30 a.m. Saturday. On Friday, the name was changed to the American Memorial to honor victims of Tuesday's terrorist attacks, and ESPN said it would air the race Monday.

CART is one of the few major U.S.-based sports competing this weekend. The NFL and major league baseball called off all games, while NASCAR postponed its Winston Cup New Hampshire 300 and the Indy Racing League rescheduled its Chevy 500 in Texas.

''Our thoughts and prayers are with Alex and his family,'' driver Adrian Fernandez said. ''It was a terrible accident and all we can do at the moment is pray. It just breaks my heart. We are thankful that Alex Tagliani seems to be OK. In light of all that has happened, our day seems trivial.''

Brack won his fourth race of the season and moved into the series lead.

''It's been a difficult week all week because of the events that have happened and what happened there at the end,'' he said.

Papis said: ''I pray for all the people in the United States and I pray for my friend Alessandro that he is going to be OK. It's very hard to say anything more.''

Zanardi, seeking his first victory this season, is one of CART's most high-profile and popular drivers.

He failed in his first try at Formula One in the early 1990s, and was a surprise pick to drive for Chip Ganassi in 1996 in CART. He was an immediate star in the Champ car series, winning Rookie of the Year honors, and then winning two straight championships in 1997-98 -- one of only three back-to-back CART champions ever.

He then left CART for another try at Formula One, but did not fare well with the Williams team and retired. After sitting out the 2000 season, he was lured back to CART by Nunn, his former engineer at Ganassi. Nunn started his own team last season.

Zanardi holds the modern CART record for points in a season, with 285 in 1998. He also holds the CART record for most consecutive poles (six), front row starts (11) and top-three finishes in a season (15).

Zanardi survived a serious F1 crash in Belgium in 1993, injuring his legs and back.

There was a memorial before the race for the U.S. victims and CART said it would donate $500,000 to the World Trade Center Relief Fund. In addition, the CART drivers association is giving $50,000 in relief aid.



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