Tagliani haunted by Zanardi crash

Alex Tagliani says he thinks of injured fellow CART driver Alex Zanardi every day, yet his horrible crash with Zanardi will not stop Tagliani from racing.

"When I take a shower, when I brush my teeth, every five minutes I have this image of him and I'm thinking about him," said Tagliani, from Lachenaie, Que.

Zanardi is in an induced coma in a Berlin hospital after losing his legs following Saturday's crash in Germany at the American Memorial race.

Tagliani wants to compete Saturday in the Rockingham 500 in England. After speaking with Zanardi's wife Daniella, Tagliani feels that is what Zanardi would want him to do.

"She told me there was nothing I can do and not feel responsible, that Alex would be really upset if I feel responsible for that," Tagliani said Tuesday from England in a conference call.

The telephone news conference with Tagliani, 28, and teammate Patrick Carpentier of Joliette, Que., should have been about the team's resurgence in the second half of the CART season and Carpentier's podium finish in Germany.

Instead both drivers were subdued and thoughtful as they were asked questions about CART's most devastating crash since the death of their teammate Greg Moore in 1999.

"I know that there's a risk around the sport I'm doing and I'm able to live with that," said Tagliani. "The day I might not be able to live with that, it will be the time I think about hanging up my helmet.

"The passion around the sport that I'm doing and my love about the sport is so big that it makes me be able to wake up and live with that risk."

In the aftermath of Zanardi's crash and the terrorist attacks in the United States last week that killed hundreds and has prompted soul-searching all over the world of sports, the two drivers didn't seem to question the mortal danger of their sport.

"If you look at people working in the World Trade Center, their life was not too risky, but one morning they went there and that was it," said Carpentier. "When your time has come, there's not much you can do."

Carpentier writes a weekly column for Le Journal du Montreal and in Tuesday's column he admitted that the drivers take enormous risks every time they go out on the track.

"It's the career we've chosen and I don't want to change it," he wrote. "We know this can happen.

"We just hope it doesn't happen to us."

When asked if he or the other drivers needed professional counselling Tagliani said forcefully: "What we go through is nothing compared to what Alex is going to go through. I think we should talk about a counsellor for him much more than what I need for myself.

"I don't need nothing. I have nothing compared with him.

"He's in much more pain mentally and physically when he's going to wake up than myself."

Doctors have said Zanardi's life is no longer immediately threatened.

The danger remains, however, of delayed kidney or heart failure, a reaction to the heavy loss of tissue and muscle.

Zanardi is a two-time CART champion and one of the circuit's most popular drivers.

The Italian is to have a third operation Wednesday to check for fragments and infection.

Tagliani said he spoke Tuesday with a representative of Zanardi's team, Mo Nunn Racing.

"Today I was asking him if Alex woke up and he told me that he was doing much, much better," said Tagliani. "Everything is under control.

"They were trying to wake him up today, but he had some hiccups.

"They wanted to make sure everything was a bit more smooth. The tube is out of his throat.

"Maybe tonight or tomorrow he will wake up."

Zanardi led Saturday's American Memorial with 12 laps to go, but lost control of his car coming out of the pits, spun backward on to the oval and into the path of Tagliani who was going 200 m.p.h.

The Player's Forsythe team employs two spotters to radio instructions to the drivers and warn them other cars are coming out of the pits.

"He was just coming on the radio to tell me Zanardi was coming out of the pit and Zanardi spun and I hit him," said Tagliani. "It was a fraction of a second."

Carpentier's car was just ahead of Tagliani and missed Zanardi by "one inch," said Carpentier.

"When you're coming up to that at 200 miles per hour, it's a split-second decision and once you've committed to where you are going to go that's it, there's not braking, no changing," said Carpentier. "I was lucky and got by."

Carpentier wrote in his column that when the Player's Forsythe team learned how serious Zanardi's injuries were, everyone cried.

Then they went out to a German pub and drank beer and played pool until 6 a.m.

"That helped enormously to ease the tension," Carpentier wrote.

Tagliani is still stiff and sore from his crash and requires hot baths, stretching and massaging to regain his flexibility.

Player's now has only one spare car for Saturday's inaugural Rockingham 500 (7:30 a.m., EDT) so "we need to take of that car," said Tagliani.

Carpentier said that the cool temperatures in England may cause problems because tires don't grip the track well in those conditions.

By Donna Spencer