Zanardi loses both legs in crash
KLETTWITZ, Germany (AP) -- A car race run to "help heal wounds" from the terrorist attacks on the United States, ended tragically for Alex Zanardi, who lost both legs in a horrific crash Saturday in the American Memorial 500.
Zanardi, a two-time CART champion, driving for Mo Nunn Racing, was leading as he entered the pits with 12 laps left. But as he as exited the pit lane he seemed to accelerate too early, lost control and swerved sideways across a grassy area and into the path of Alex Tagliani barreling by at 200 mph.
Zanardi's car was shattered as Tagliani struck him broadside, the chassis cut in two with debris spraying across the track at impact in a crash few thought Zanardi would survive.
Zanardi, 34, and Tagliani, 28, were both airlifted to Berlin hospital Klinikum Berlin-Marzahn. Tagliani, a Canadian, was reported "awake and alert" and had no serious injuries, CART said. He was expected to stay 24 to 48 hours.
Zanardi's initial condition was described as "extremely critical" at the track by CART physician Dr. Steve Olvey, but was upgraded to "stable but critical" after a three-hour operation in Berlin, Olvey said.
Olvey said both legs had been amputated above the knee. Early reports said he had lost one leg above, and one below the knee. He also sustained a small fracture of the pelvis and a "moderately severe concussion."
French Canadian Patrick Carpentier, who finished third as the race ended under a yellow flag, was the first through and managed to avoid Zanardi as the Italian's car skidded out of control onto the track.
The next car through was Tagliani, and he went straight into him.
"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."
"I'm very glad to know Tag is OK. I hope Zanardi will be OK."
Morris Nunn, who owns Mo Nunn Racing, said Zanardi was "breathing on his own and has no other apparent internal injuries."
"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."
Nunn's thoughts were echoed by driver Adrian Fernandez.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with Alex and his family," 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."
Fernandez failed to finish with mechanical problems.
The race, CART's first in Europe before a near sellout of 87,600 at the EuroSpeedway north of Dresden, was originally called the German 500 but was renamed to honor the terrorist victims in the United States.
CART is one of the few major U.S.-based sports competing this weekend. The NFL and major league baseball called off all games, the PGA Tour put off its tournaments, and NASCAR postponed its Winston Cup New Hampshire 300 race.
Kenny Brack of Sweden won the race under a yellow flag. Max Papis of Italy was second and Carpentier third.
It was Brack's fourth win of the season and moved him into the season lead in the drivers' standings with 131 points with five races remaining, with 120 for defending champion Gil de Ferran and 115 for Michael Andretti. De Ferran finished eighth and Andretti fourth.
"I pray for all the people in the United States and I pray for my friend Alessandro that he is going to be OK," said Papis, a fellow Italian. "It's very hard to say anything more."
"It's been a difficult week all week because of the events that have happened and what happened there at the end," Brack said.
Zanardi failed in his first try at Formula One, racing for under-financed teams, 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 consecutive championships in 1997-98 -- one of only three back-to-back series champions.
He then left CART for another try at Formula One, but did not fare well with the Williams team and retired from racing.
Zanardi sat out the 2000 season but was lured back to CART by Morris Nunn, his former engineer at Ganassi and now a team owner.
He 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).
CART held an elaborate ceremony before the race as a memorial to the victims in the World Trade Center.