Zanardi loses both legs in high-speed crash

updated: February 25, 2007 08:37 IST
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Dresden, Germany:

Alex Zanardi's motor racing career ended on Saturday in a horrific accident that has cost him both his legs in a spectacular high-speed crash, which marred the official European debut of the American CART series. One of the few US based sport events to go ahead over the weekend, the race was renamed the American Memorial 500 instead of the German 500 to honour the terrorism victims across the Atlantic. It is a final tragedy for a man who, for three years in the late 1990's, dominated the competition. Before his career slowed with a return to Formula One with Williams in 1999, the Italian had assured himself of a place among the all-time greats of the US-based Cart series. Zanardi's aggressive driving style and spectacular passes made him a star of the Champ Car series and won him two titles with Chip Ganassi's Target team. Two-time CART champion Zanardi was airlifted to hospital in 'extremely critical condition' after a high-speed collision during the American Memorial 500 at the Lausitzring in Klettwitz, Germany on Saturday. Zanardi's Honda-Reynard was struck at an estimated 200 miles per hour by Alex Tagliani's Ford-Cosworth, scattering debris across the track. CART physician Dr Steve Olvey reported that the 34-year-old Italian was in an extremely critical condition but was breathing on his own and responding to commands. It was later revealed that Zanardi had had both legs amputated. Canadian Tagliani is said to have suffered back injuries. The race, which was the first CART event to take place in Europe, was later won under a yellow flag by Kenny Brack of Sweden, though there were no celebrations. Zanardi is one of CART's most high-profile and popular drivers, and has also had two stints racing on the Formula One circuit. He moved to the Champ car series' Chip Gannassi team in 1996 and was an immediate success, winning the Rookie of the Year honour before claiming two successive championships in 1997 and 1998. He then left CART for another attempt at Formula One, but did not fare well alongside Ralf Schumacher at the Williams team. The Italian sat out the 2000 season but was lured back to CART by Morris Nunn, his former engineer at Gannassi and now a team owner. Saturday's race was regarded as a test for the promoters of the Lausitzring, a state-of-the-art facility costing US$ 144 million. It was inaugurated in August last year and presented as the safest circuit in the world. Former Formula One driver Michele Alboreto was killed during a testing session at the track last April, though that fatal crash was deemed by German investigators to be due to a burst tyre.