Craig Murto

Craig Murto

As the International Motor Sports Association celebrated 50 years as North America’s premier professional sports car sanction, Fernando Alonso celebrated becoming only the third Formula One World Driving Champion to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Alonso co-drove the Wayne Taylor Racing Dpi Cadillac with Jordan Taylor, Renger Van der Zande, and another former F1 driver, Kamui Kobayashi. Since he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans last year, Alonso has the chance to win the triple crown of endurance racing when he competes in the Sebring 12-hour event later this year.

The first two-thirds of this year’s twice-around-the-clock adventure at Daytona was incredible. The racing was tight in each of the four classes in competition, aided by a rulebook that stresses parity and a number of full-course cautions. But by daybreak torrential rains came in, resulting in adverse conditions for all involved. For the first time in the race’s history, two red flags were displayed due to weather, and the final two hours of the race were spent watching the rain fall with no cars on track.

There were a lot of good stories at IMSA’s premier event, not the least of which was the caliber of drivers in every class. There was the return of Simona de Silvestro to the United States as part of an all-female driver line up in the GTD class. The weather, of course. But the biggest – and most inspiring – story was the North American return of Alex Zanardi in a car fitted with special equipment by BMW.

The two-time Indycar champion was in the prime of his career in 2001 when both of his legs were severed in a horrific crash in Germany.

Many men would have never been heard from again. But Alex Zanardi is not like most men.

In less than two years, wearing prosthetic limbs, he competed for BMW in World Touring Car competition in Europe, through the 2009 season.

He changed sports and became a champion in handcycling, winning gold medals in the London Paralympics in 2012 and again in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. But even before the 2016 medal win, he already was back behind the wheel of touring cars with a plan to compete in the Daytona 24.

He did not use prosthetics at Daytona, as driver changes were much faster when he could simply hoist himself into the seat. The car was equipped with a special steering wheel and hand brakes so the 52-year-old racer could control the car by hand.

Unfortunately, the car experienced an electronic issue the first time Zanardi jumped in, losing too much time to be competitive in the GTLM class. But during his stints on the track, Zanardi was of competitive pace, and never got a wheel wrong.

Zanardi is an inspiration, and BMW is to be applauded for supporting him in his racing. Hopefully, we’ll see more of Alex Zanardi behind the wheel in North America.

The NBC Sports network did a wonderful job covering the race and following the many special interest stories. As ESPN demonstrates its lack of enthusiasm for motorsports last week by firing NASCAR analyst Ricky Craven, NBC continues to prove that it’s stepping up to the plate. During the Daytona broadcast, they even promoted their upcoming American Flat Track coverage and made sure they told viewers where they could see live online coverage of the Supercross race from Oakland, Calif., which was delayed on the network because of Daytona.

Returning to its traditional format, Supercross provided its usual close competition in Oakland.

Adam Cianciarulo took the win in the 250 class riding a Kawasaki. He was followed by the Yamaha of French rider Dylan Ferrandis, and the Honda of points leader Colt Nichols.

In the 450 class, Cooper Webb grabbed his second win in as many weeks, fending off a last-lap challenge by fellow KTM rider Marvin Musquin. Blake Baggett finished third, giving KTM a lock of the podium.

Supercross heads to San Diego on Saturday night, and the races will be broadcast live on NBCSN. Can new points leader Webb make it three in a row?

Three in a row is exactly what Fernando Alonso hopes to do in endurance sports car racing when the Sebring 12-hour race runs on March 16. That race also will be covered by NBC.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.