Alessandro Zanardi has been testing the new BMW M8 GTE in preparation for his entry in the 24 Hours of Daytona in January. The car uses the same hand controls setup as previously used in the M4 DTM, but the team now has had to practice driver changes.
BMW M Motorsport and Alessandro Zanardi spent three days last week practicing with the M8 GTE at Miramas in the south of France, driving almost 700km in total.
The car has been fitted with hand controls for Zanardi, who lost both legs in a CART accident in 2001. The adaptations are largely identical to those in the M4 DTM he used for his guest appearance at Misano.
Braking is performed using a lever, which Zanardi operates with his right arm. The special steering wheel allows him to accelerate using a gas ring and to change gear using shift paddles. The gas mechanism at the steering wheel, proven in DTM, has been adapted to the much more complex steering wheel in the BMW M8 GTE. The brake lever also has a button for downshifts under braking.
One important difference to the M4 is that the M8 will have a pedal box, since at Daytona, Zanardi will share the car with other drivers. The team therefore practiced driver changes at Miramas with BMW works driver Jesse Krohn.
“It is impressive what we achieved,” said Zanardi. “You have to bear in mind that, as well as the usual driver changeover, we must also swap the steering wheel. We consistently achieved that in under 20 seconds, and a few times we even managed the changeover in about 15 seconds.”
“When you observe how quickly a ‘normal’ driver like Jesse jumps out of the car, it is a bit different when you then see somebody like me getting out. Undo the harness, remove the steering wheel, pass it to somebody and jump out of the car – all in less than three seconds. Then turn around, wait until Jesse is in, climb back into the car, hook my leg into the frame, help Jesse with the radio and harness, pass him the other steering wheel, close the net and get away from the car. It is really impressive and looks a bit like a dance. We will now continue to work on perfecting the driver changeover.”
Also at Miramas was Nathalie McGloin, president of the newly-formed FIA Disability and Accessibility Commission. She used the visit to speak to Zanardi and BMW M Motorsport about opportunities for physically impaired racing drivers.