Brant James

Emerson Fittipaldi believed his grandson could withstand the rigors of competition and the tug of expectations that come with a regal racing surname as he tried to finish off a championship in the World Series Formula V8 3.5 last season.

With Emerson, a two-time champion of both the Formula One series and the Indianapolis 500 in attendance at Autodromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico City, with Mexico-based sponsor Claro swathing Pietro Fittipaldi’s body and car, the progeny won both poles and both events of the weekend to help secure a championship and level up in his highly anticipated career.

Emerson Fittipaldi is not at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course this weekend when Pietro, 22, returns to race in the Verizon IndyCar Series for the first time since sustaining a fractured left leg and right ankle in a sports car crash in Belgium in early May. Granted, Emerson Fittipaldi, 71, has other commitments overseeing his 11-year-old son “Emmo” in a karting racing in Indianapolis.

Emerson FittipaldiBut even as much as Pietro might want him there, Emerson Fittipaldi knows he doesn’t need him there. After observing the determination his grandson exhibited in the laborious process of returning to Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Paysafe Honda, he’s got this, the elder Fittipaldi says.

“I think everyone was wanting him to come back as soon as possible,” the 1989 and ’93 Indy 500 champion said. “And I think every advice, piece of optimism and motivation helped Pietro maintain his desire to come back.

“A racing driver, his mind is always on recovering and being in condition to drive the car. His mental attitude was very good and his physical preparation was fantastic. He is always very fit. And everybody around, including the team of doctors in Indianapolis, Dr. Terry Trammell, were always giving education to help him, for sure. That helps a lot.”

Pietro Fittipaldi, whose mother, Juliane, is Emerson’s daughter, finished 23rd after crashing just 40 laps into his Verizon IndyCar Series debut at ISM Raceway in April. Scheduled to undertake a partial schedule, he was replaced following the sports car crash by fellow rookie Zachary Claman De Melo. Fittipaldi will contest the final five races of the season, starting with this weekend’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.

After testing his Honda at Mid-Ohio last week, he told, “I feel like I’m back.” He followed it up by running 17th among the 24 cars during Friday’s opening practice.

A grandfather is inclined to extend belief to a grandson under any circumstance. But Emerson Fittipaldi was impressed with Pietro’s effort last season, which opened potential avenues in both F1 – a fervent and stated goal for both grandson and grandfather – and in INDYCAR for a driver whose professional roots were laid in NASCAR developmental series. Along with car control and racing skill, there was mitigation of that last name, something the likes of Michael and Marco Andretti, Graham Rahal and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have all confronted at some point in their careers.

“I think there is good news and bad news,” Emerson Fittipaldi said of racing in the family business. “Bad news is always there is too much of a demand for results. It puts on too much pressure. And the end of last year, Pietro showed a strong maturity when he went to Mexico and took pole position to win.

“I was there physically watching. It was tremendous pressure not just because of the name, but because of the sponsor (Claro). First time he races there and goes there, he wins the championship.

“I am very much impressed how well he performs under the pressure.”

Pietro Fittipaldi must continue to do so if he is to follow his grandfather’s career path. He said during a test at Sebring international Raceway in March that racing in the Indianapolis 500 was a key goal, but he yearned to test himself in F1. His grandfather thinks the opportunity could and should happen soon, with the remainder of this Verizon IndyCar Series season a key proving ground.

When asked if his grandson has a prospective F1 offer or chance to test for next season, Emerson replied, “Well, I cannot say no.”

But for now, the focus is on Mid-Ohio and Pietro making the progression from patient to competitor again. The physical acclimation will take time considering the demand on legs and feet on a road course. The mental transition will be no problem, the grandfather said.

“When you have a huge crash and you get hurt, you don’t know why you crashed, why it happened. When you go back to the cockpit, you are asking yourself why you crashed, why you got really badly hurt,” Emerson Fittipaldi explained.

“When you know exactly what happened – something happened to the car – when he goes back to racing now, he knows it has nothing to do with a mistake, nothing to do with a failure or something he drove wrong and it happened. He can have full confidence that he can drive the car.”