Born in Curitiba, Brazil, Zonta began karting in 1987, winning his first race. The following year he was runner-up for the Curitiba Karting Championship, and in 1991, he won the title. He continued karting in 1992, finishing 4th in the SÃ£o Paulo Karting Championship before progressing to single-seaters for 1993. He finished 6th in the Brazilian Formula Chevrolet Championship, and then in 1994, came 5th in the Brazilian Formula 3 Championship. A year later, Zonta won both the Brazilian and South American Formula 3 Championships.
Moving to Europe in 199?, Zonta competed in the International Formula 3000 Championship, winning two races and finishing 4th overall. In the same year, he became the first Brazilian to compete in International Touring Cars, with Mercedes. In 1997, he won three races and became champion, winning the "Golden Helmet" award for best international driver. The Jordan Formula One team signed him as their official test driver. In 1998, he was signed by McLaren boss Ron Dennis, and tested with the McLaren F1 team, along with winning the FIA GT1 Championship and the "Golden Helmet" award in the "world prominence" category.
In 1999, Zonta started as an F1 race driver alongside 1997 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve at new team B.A.R. Zonta injured his foot in an accident during practice for the Brazilian Grand Prix, and was forced to miss three races. He also had a large accident at Spa-Francorchamps, and finished the season with no championship points. Zonta remained with B.A.R for the 2000 season, scoring his first world championship point with a 6th place in the opening race. He had another large accident when his front suspension broke during testing at Silverstone, but continued the season, scoring points in both the Italian and United States Grands Prix, to finish 13th in the championship. Replaced by Olivier Panis for the 2001 season, Zonta became the third driver for the Jordan team, replacing the injured Heinz-Harald Frentzen for one race, and then again when Frentzen was sacked, but was overlooked to replace him for the remainder of the season. In 2002, he decided to focus on the Telefonica World Series, which he won. Zonta was then hired as test driver for the Toyota F1 team in 2003, retaining the position in 2004. Towards the end of the season, the team sacked Cristiano da Matta from a race seat, and Zonta drove in four grands prix until the team hired Jarno Trulli. However, the team allowed Zonta to compete in his home race, the Brazilian Grand Prix, which he finished in 13th. He continued as a test driver for Toyota in 2005, alongside veteran French pilot Olivier Panis. At the US Grand Prix later that year, he stood in for an injured Ralf Schumacher and took his place on the grid, only for Toyota, like the other six Michelin-shod teams, to withdraw from the race due to safety concerns.
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