Janis McDavid was born without arms and legs. Nevertheless, he is an enthusiastic driver and has already clocked up more than 400,000 kilometers since 2010. The 31-year-old has had a racing license since the end of September, which he intends to use as soon as possible. We present the technology that makes this possible.
There are very few things that Janis McDavid has not managed in his life. Above all, this includes his big childhood dream of becoming a motorcycle policeman. The 31-year-old looks back: "The moment came when I realized what a stupid wish it is when arms and legs are missing." But for McDavid, who was born in Hamburg and grew up in the Ruhr area, it was always clear that he would drive a car himself. And now he can even do that on the race track.
The starting signal for the ambitious project came about three years ago by chance: In the production hall of the specialist Paravan, who had first modified a Mercedes Sprinter for McDavid, then a V-Class, the enthusiastic driver discovered the Swabian racing program. Under the title "Space Drive", the system, which is also installed in DTM vehicles, became world-famous. McDavid addressed the wish to company founder Roland Arnold: "To drive such a car over the racetrack, that would be it!" Arnold didn't have to think long.
Control via four-way joystick
The engineers then converted a BMW E46 M3 specifically for the racing contender. The adjustments focus on a special seat shell and a four-way joystick, which McDavid uses to steer, accelerate and brake. Since he operates the joystick with his armpit, he has to have a very firm grip, even in faster corners. The five-time DTM champion Bernd Schneider supported McDavid as a mentor during the first driving tests and helped to approach the ideal line. His student then gained more experience in the BMW and began to prepare for his racing license.
In addition to getting used to brake and steer-by-wire under sporty conditions, McDavid also had to practice getting out quickly. In the practical part of the test, every driver must be able to get out of the vehicle in seven seconds. His BMW was further modified for this purpose: he can unlock the belt buckle with one movement using a loop on the seat. The belts, which are pre-tensioned by an elastic band, jump up so far that he can turn himself out of the seat shell. An additional elastic handle on the door opener helps Janis McDavid quickly unlock and open the driver's door.
With the DTM Champion on the track
Things finally got serious at the end of September: Around two years after McDavid had broken the 200 km/h mark for the first time, the big day had come at the Hockenheimring.After an effortless theory part, teacher and examiner Christopher Bartz went to the 4,574 meter long track, which he did not have to himself this time. Various drivers, including the future DTM champion Sheldon van der Linde, did fast test laps at the same time.
Despite the additional challenge, Janis McDavid confidently secured the National A license grade. "I hope that there will be a way to use the license and that we will find a racing series. It's important for me to send a signal to others encourages", says McDavid as the next goal.
Working with McDavid was also an important, first-time experience for Prüfer Bartz: "I think it's great that something like this is possible with the appropriate safety regulations. It was actually like always, maybe a bit spacey when the steering wheel turns by itself .But as long as he's moving safely around the track and following safety regulations, I would ask why not?"
Zanardi, Wickens and Co. make motorsport more inclusive
McDavid's successful project is part of a series of many clever technical solutions in recent years. Alex Zanardi, who lost both his legs after a serious CART accident at the Lausitzring, gained particular notoriety. The later Paralympic star has successfully returned to the racetrack several times with the help of BMW. Different solutions were used in the details. Among other things, BMW built a steering wheel with which the Italian accelerates and switches. Thanks to a quick swap function, he was even able to share a car in long-distance races.
The Canadian Robert Wickens also uses another sophisticated steering wheel solution. The former DTM driver suffered serious spinal cord injuries in an IndyCar Oval crash in 2018 and has been fighting his way back ever since. That year he competed in a touring car in the second division of the IMSA in North America and celebrated an acclaimed comeback victory at Watkins Glen. The new project benefited from the experience of competitor Michael Johnson, who has been racing purely with his hands since 2007. Since they alternate with co-drivers, the engineers installed an additional "brake ring" behind the steering wheel, on which the corresponding gas cable is mounted.
In addition, projects in popular sports also show that running is becoming more inclusive. In German-speaking countries, for example, the "Mission Possible" program - in the course of which paraplegic pilots came together and competed in races - proved that implementation is not just reserved for big names and sponsors. Thanks to the role model Janis McDavid, who also told his story in our MOOVE podcast, a racing driver career could be conceivable for many.