Despite a schedule of just seven races in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season, perhaps no rookie will garner more worldwide attention than Pietro Fittipaldi. The 21 year-old signed with Dale Coyne Racing to run a partial-season schedule with Zachary Claman de Melo in the team’s no. 19 car.
Fittipaldi will make his IndyCar debut April 2 at ISM Raceway in Avondale, Arizona in the second race of the season. In the interim, many will be wondering how the IndyCar newcomer will perform, especially in comparison to members of his famous family.
He is the grandson of Emerson Fittipaldi, the 1989 IndyCar Champion and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner. Fittipaldi is also the nephew of three-time CART race winner and current IndyCar Race Steward Max Papis, and the cousin of two-time CART race winner Christian Fittipaldi.
The racing background of Pietro Fittipaldi begins in America, where he started out in the karting ranks. By 2011, the Miami-born racer shifted his focus to NASCAR, competing in the Whelen All-American Series. After racking four wins and three poles in 20 starts, he earned the series title.
Following a fifth-place finish in the 2012 series standings, Fittipaldi made the move to open-wheels and with it, moved overseas. In 2013, he competed in multiple series in Formula Renault and Formula 4, notching a win at Brands Hatch in Formula 4 and five total podiums across three of the schedules he participated in.
2014 would prove even more successful for Fittipaldi, as he tallied 3 wins and 12 podiums in 15 starts en route to the Formula Renault championship. The following season, he made the move to Formula, but did not earn a single podium finish in 33 races and ended the year 16th in points.
The 2016 season proved to be another spectacular showing for the young driver, this time he would amass four wins and nine podiums in addition to two poles. Fittipaldi would also make the transition to Formula V8 3.5, with a podium in his last race of the year at Catalunya in Spain.
In 2017, he returned to the series, this team competing for the Renault team. After tallying six wins, ten podiums and ten poles in 18 races, Fittipaldi was crowned series champion.
Late in 2017, rumors began to swirl that the Miami native was interested in returning stateside to follow his family’s footsteps to IndyCar. Although there had been talk Fittipaldi would test an Indy Lights car, his first test would come alongside Claman de Melo at Sebring International Raceway with Coyne.
Despite some growing pains, both Fittipaldi and team owner Dale Coyne ended the test session impressed.
“It took me a couple of runs to get used to it,” Fittipaldi shared in a team press release after the January test.
“The car is similar, downforce-wise, to the World Series – in a driving-style way at least. Obviously, it has more power and you brake deeper and carry more speed into the corners but the style is similar. I was extremely happy to get my first Indy car outing and I have Dale Coyne to thank for that. It was a great experience.”
Coyne noted how the lap times between his two rookies very similar and gave a positive assessment of Fittipaldi’s progress.
“As far as lap times were concerned, it was very tight between the two of them – within two tenths – so I was happy with Pietro, too. He adapted well. I think the Formula 3.5 is a good car to prepare for IndyCar – about the same size and about the same downforce now that we’ve lost a bunch,” the owner noted of his two drivers.
“He had to understand how the tire performance peaked – that’s the tricky bit with these cars, and it takes experience. But he took the whole thing very, very seriously – got there early, left late, studied data, watched onboard videos. And his feedback was very, very good,” concluded Coyne.
The next week, Fittipaldi continued to impress, as he would place right behind Team Penske’s trio and Coyne teammate Sebastien Bourdais on the time charts.
In between the tests and Sonoma and ISM Raceway, Paysafe announced it would expand its sponsorship of the car to include Fittipaldi’s schedule. In addition to ISM Raceway, Fittipaldi will run both events at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May, as well Texas, Mid-Ohio, Portland and Sonoma.
The opportunity to continue his family’s legacy at the Brickyard, especially with the 25th anniversary of his grandfather’s second Indianapolis 500 victory looming, was an exciting one for Fittipaldi, to say the least.
“This is a dream come true, even more so to be racing in the Indy 500, where my family already has a history of great results. I want to thank the entire team at Dale Coyne Racing, along with my long-time sponsors, Escuderia Telmex and Paysafe for this massive opportunity and important step in my career. I’m very excited and proud to be racing on a world stage like the Verizon IndyCar Series this year,” expressed Fittipaldi in the February 7 announcement.
At his first oval test that weekend, Fittipaldi continued to impress, as he would start the weekend as the second-fastest in rookie orientation, and continued to showcase his speed, placing tenth in the final session of the weekend on February 10.
After spending last few years racing overseas, Pietro Fittipaldi returns to America in 2018 in a series that has been very kind to his family. With a strong preseason behind him, his focus will now shift to managing not only the seven races he has scheduled in 2018, but the attention and expectations that come with the Fittipaldi name and legacy.
Images courtesy of INDYCAR.