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Zanardi Has the Right Formula for Success

July 24, 1998|SHAV GLICK

Alex Zanardi wants to go back to being called Alessandro, his name before Chip Ganassi dubbed him Alex when he came to the United States three years ago. His wife, Daniela, wants to go back to her home in Italy to raise their first-born when it arrives in the fall.

Italian and French news agencies have reported that Zanardi will sign next week with the Williams Formula One team and return to the Grand Prix circuit next year. All indications are that it's a done deal.

However, Ganassi, who owns the cars Zanardi drives, says not to believe all the rumors involving his drivers, Zanardi and Jimmy Vasser. Reports have Vasser joining Bobby Rahal's team next year, replacing the retired Rahal as driver.

"Alex told me that he has not made any decision yet, that we are still one of the teams he is talking to," Ganassi said. "I don't know what to say other than that. I believe these rumors started because it is true that the contracts of both drivers are up after this season. My hope is to retain both of them next year."

When he was at Long Beach for the Toyota Grand Prix, Zanardi said he will make up his mind about 1999 "by August 1," and that's next week. It is well known that both he and Daniela are homesick for the continent, and that Zanardi's hot streak in the FedEx CART series has made his name a hot commodity in Formula One.

"I don't want to replace either one of them," Ganassi said. "I do not have a short list of drivers [to replace them] because I won't have a list until one or both tell me they're not coming back. As of today, I have not talked to or approached a single driver about driving for the Target team next year."

Jacques Villeneuve is leaving Williams as soon as his contract ends later this year, which would open a spot for Zanardi. Villeneuve will join the new British American Racing team.

Going into Sunday's U.S. 500 at Michigan Speedway, Zanardi is running away with the PPG Cup championship series. He is even more dominating than he was last year when he won five races and clinched the championship early enough that he could skip the Marlboro 500 at Fontana after crashing twice in practice.

In 11 races, he has won six, including the last four, and has a 69-point lead over teammate Vasser, 175-106, with Canadian Greg Moore next with 98.

Zanardi was also a near- unanimous choice in second-quarter balloting for driver of the year. Winston Cup driver Rusty Wallace was the first-quarter choice.

"This is obviously something that makes me really proud," Zanardi said. "It's really great I have so many supporters in the United States. By the way, that amazed me. Being Italian, I didn't know people would be so fair to me. . . . They don't simply make a decision based on the fact they like this guy because he has a nice smile or because he does some funny doughnuts at the end of a race.

"I have to tell you quite frankly that when I started my career there were a lot of young fellows like me who were probably as talented as me, maybe more, who didn't make it. I made the most of the opportunity Chip Ganassi gave me. And here I am."

Michigan has special significance for Zanardi because it was the first place he won on an oval after leaving Formula One to drive for Ganassi.

"I had the reputation, you know, as knowing how to drive on road courses and in the streets, but I know coming to the United States there was a certain feeling that maybe I wouldn't do so good on the ovals. They are so different, so when I won last year at Michigan it gave me a special sense of satisfaction. It was rather like an initiation. When I won, I became accepted as a complete driver, not just a European road racing specialist."


Vintage racing returns to Pomona Raceway this weekend when the Goodguys hold their West Coast Hot Rod Happenin' on the same strip where the NHRA superstars race twice a year. The Goodguys feature cars from 1972 and before, running in five feature classes: top fuel, junior fuel, AA/supercharged, A/gas and nostalgia eliminator. In the nostalgia class, Dave Gruzen of Lakewood needs only to go one round Sunday in his 1923 Ford altered roadster to clinch the championship.

You can bet that Cory McClenathan will have a new car when he arrives at Bandimere Speedway in Denver next year. Last year the Anaheim driver debuted a new top-fuel dragster there and started a winning streak that saw him win six of the next eight NHRA events. Last Sunday, McClenathan debuted another new top fueler and ended a five-event losing streak. He also extended his points lead to 41 over Joe Amato in a bid to win his first top-fuel championship. . . . The NHRA will be at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma this weekend for the Autolite Nationals.


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