By: Ashley McCubbin
Two years ago, Pietro Fittipaldi had made his NTT IndyCar Series dreams come true, set to run a select schedule for Dale Coyne Racing. Then came the accident at Circuit Spa-Francorchamps.
While qualifying for a World Endurance Cup event, he made significant contact with the barrier, breaking both of his legs in the process. While the doctors would have preferred he miss the rest of season with a focus on healing, that was not the case. Instead, determination set up to return behind the wheel.
“For me I couldn’t accept that because I know how racing works in terms of you have opportunities that year, but the following year, if you don’t maximize the opportunities, those opportunities are going to be gone,” he explained.
Flying to Indianapolis a week after surgery, he lived in his motor home with his mom in the track infield, focused on rehabbing enough to get behind the wheel. He would run five events to close out the season, but was unable to land an IndyCar opportunity for 2020.
A new season though offers a second chance, as he will back behind the wheel of an IndyCar to run the oval races for Dale Coyne Racing with RWR Honda. With a best finish of ninth at Portland in 2020, Fittipaldi feels his limited experience taught him just how competitive the IndyCar Series is.
“It’s one of the most competitive championships in the world because the level of driving is extremely high, with the teams as well,” he told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “What I learned in INDYCAR is that the way that you set up the car and the way you do setup changes throughout the testing is something I really enjoy a lot.
“In Formula 1, when I did my two races in Formula 1, or when I was doing the test work for Formula 1, it’s a lot more based on the engineers, on the aerodynamic works that they do on the different parts they’re bringing to the car. But in INDYCAR it’s a lot more based on — you depend a lot more on the driver and the driver’s input. I think that’s really important.
“To be able to go to a test or a race and to set up a car, start with the setup on one day, end up with something completely different but a lot better at the end of the day, knowing you had a big input in that, it is something I really enjoyed. I know that INDYCAR, the teams work like that. They depend a lot on the driver input to make setup changes, to improve the car. For me, I really liked that when I came to INDYCAR.”
Despite his opportunity in IndyCar, Fittipaldi will also remain involved with Formula 1, set to be the reserve driver for Haas F1 team after running the final two events of 2020. His racing aspirations don’t stop there, though, as stock cars also come to frame of mind.
While a lot of his career has focused on open-wheel, he won the Late Model championship at Hickory Motor Speedway in 2011, along with a victory in the Pepsi Fall Brawl the year that followed.
“I think that racing kind of already set the oval mentality in my head, although with INDYCAR it is different because it’s an open-wheel car. The risks are a lot higher, as well,” he commented. “But it did help me in terms of just understanding the setup, how the crossweight works on the car, how the tires are off camber, they have different cambers and stuff compared to a normal road course setup. Basically it got me into that oval thinking mindset. I’ve always kept that with me. It’s like riding a bike; you never forget it.”
While he’s focused on turning Late Model experience in IndyCar oval success, he does hold aspirations to be a part of NASCAR one day.
“One day I’d love to race NASCAR. I’m a guy that races anything that has four wheels. Two wheels, maybe not. Four wheels, without a doubt. Could be on ice, could be on dirt. I’d race anything,” he commented. “For sure, one day if I get the opportunity to race in NASCAR, I would love it. I actually visited the Haas team, NASCAR team, next to the F1 offices last week. I saw the Stewart-Haas Racing team. It was really cool.”