Alex Zanardi says he thought BMW was “joking” when it offered him the chance to make a one-off DTM appearance at Misano.
Zanardi will make his series debut in the night races and BMW is working on adapting its M4 DTM car to suit his needs as a double amputee.
The Italian says he was approached by BMW’s motorsport director Jens Marquardt two months ago.
“Jens Marquardt came up with the idea, he offered me the opportunity to be in that role in Misano,” he said. “I never expected it to be possible.
“At first I thought it was a joke because I know how competitive the DTM is. I haven’t driven a race car in a long time.
“The last time was in Mugello in 2016 at the Italian GT Championship season finale.
“There are still many question marks and it won’t be a Sunday afternoon ride for me. It’s going to be one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced as a racer.”
Zanardi added that he hopes his appearance in the DTM can help increase interest in the series while it is at a crossroads ahead of Mercedes’ impending exit at the end of 2018.
“Mattias has opened the doors for a guest starter with his farewell races. I think Jens Marquardt spoke with [series boss] Gerhard Berger, and probably also with representatives of Audi and Mercedes,” said Zanardi.
“I would like to thank everyone, knowing that it would not normally have been possible to have a 19th car in the field.
“But I think they could all imagine that someone like me – at my home race in Misano – could sit in the car.
“My participation could further increase the interest in the series, which deserves our full attention.”
Zanardi pointed to two-time DTM champion Mattias Ekstrom’s struggles in his guest outing at Hockenheim as an indicator of the level of competitiveness he can expect.
Ekstrom finished 17th and 16th in his final DTM races having not conducted any pre-season testing and Zanardi admits it is reasonable to expect a similar performance.
“It was always a dream of mine to start in the DTM as a professional racing driver, it’s fantastic,” said Zanardi.
“When you see that a very talented driver like Mattias Ekstrom is at the end of the field at his last races at Hockenheim, then there is no plausible reason why I should do otherwise.
“Normally I’d have to be even worse than him. But I am an optimist and a fighter. I will seize the opportunity BMW offers me and maybe I can surprise people. I hope that will happen.”