Life has a way of bringing things full circle, and it continues to be that way in Pietro Fittipaldi’s racing career, too.
Fittipaldi, the 24-year-old grandson of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi, didn’t get his first chance to compete at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2018 due to severe leg injuries suffered in a World Endurance Championship race May 4 in Belgium. But later that season he was sufficiently recovered to return to Dale Coyne Racing, where he made the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth NTT INDYCAR SERIES starts of his career.
Fast forward to 2020 and Fittipaldi, then in his second season as a reserve driver for the Haas F1 team, was asked to step in for Romain Grosjean, whose hands were burned in a fiery accident Nov. 29 in Bahrain. Fittipaldi drove the team’s No. 51 car for the final two races of the Formula One season.
The connections continue with the INDYCAR races this May.
Fittipaldi will begin his four-race INDYCAR season – the two races this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge and the Aug. 21 race at World Wide Technology Raceway – in a car fielded by Dale Coyne Racing with RWR. The car number? Yep, 51 again, the No. 51 Nurtec ODT Honda. And the road course specialist who drove the car in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES season’s first two races? You guessed it: Romain Grosjean.
“A weird coincidence,” Fittipaldi called it Wednesday. “It’s like we follow each other everywhere.”
All of this traces back to 2018 when Fittipaldi connected with Dale Coyne and, after recovering from the injuries, met Grosjean in preparation for Fittipaldi’s first F1 test that November. INDYCAR fans are only beginning to see the type of person Grosjean is, and Fittipaldi shared an example of it in Wednesday’s media call.
“He’s going to have a motorhome for the (GMR Grand Prix at IMS on May 14-15), and he called me up and said for the weeks I’m going to be in Indianapolis (for the “500”), you can use my motorhome,” Fittipaldi said. “It’s a huge favor he’s doing for me. It’s great (because) he has this badass 42-foot motorhome that I’ll have for two weeks. It’s awesome that he did that.
“Now you’ll have to come by for a barbecue.”
Fittipaldi, a Brazilian who lives in Miami, can’t mask his excitement to return not only to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES but oval racing. Of his six series starts in 2018, three were on oval tracks, including an 11th-place finish at Gateway. (He also finished ninth in the road course race at Portland International Raceway.)
He has driven an array of cars over the years, but he is especially proud to have started his professional career driving late model stock cars, winning the season championship at Hickory (North Carolina) Motor Speedway, a short oval, in 2011. He always has felt a calling to going in circles, as members of his family have with great success.
In addition to Emerson being his grandfather, Christian Fittipaldi is his cousin, and Max Papis is his uncle by virtue of marrying the sister of Pietro’s mother. Christian was runner-up to Jacques Villeneuve in the 1995 “500,” and the family members combined to make 14 starts at Indy.
Papis, who works with young INDYCAR drivers in his role as a race steward, has often been at Fittipaldi’s side during recent tests at Texas Motor Speedway and IMS, and Fittipaldi has hung on every word.
“There’s still a lot for me to learn,” Fittipaldi said. “To race single-seaters on an oval is very different, especially with the new Aeroscreen. The car has a bit of a different balance from what I was used to (in 2018). Following cars is always difficult, as well, getting used to the experience not only at Texas but also Indianapolis because you can run fast laps on your own in practice and you could be quick in qualifying, but you go out in the race and it’s going to be hard to get that experience of following in traffic, timing passes and all that kind of stuff.
“That’s going to be the main thing … and execute everything in my control and get the best result possible.”
Fittipaldi’s first chance to race at Texas comes Saturday in the Genesys 300, a 212-lap race at 7 p.m. (ET). Sunday’s second race is the XPEL 375, a 248-lap affair beginning at 5 p.m. Both races will air live on NBCSN and the INDYCAR Radio Network.
The weekend’s only practice, a 75-minute session, is at 12:45 p.m. (ET) Saturday (live on Peacock Premium, NBC’s streaming service). NTT P1 Award qualifying is at 4 p.m. (ET) Saturday (live on Peacock and NBCSN), which will set the starting grid for both races.
Fittipaldi said his family has been very supportive of his move back to INDYCAR. Christian told him to take the experiences “step by step on the ovals.” Since Papis can’t show preferential treatment as a race steward alongside two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk, most of his instructions to Fittipaldi have been based on procedures.
In advance of the IMS test, Papis and Luyendyk took Fittipaldi a few laps around the track in a pace car, with Papis asking Luyendyk “to teach him the tricks to do the pole laps.” Luyendyk holds the one- and four-lap qualifying records at the Speedway.
“It’s great having their support,” Fittipaldi said.
Team owner Coyne will be the strategist on Fittipaldi’s car in these races, and his advice has been centered on one particular aspect of the task at hand.
“It’s all about being patient on the ovals,” Fittipaldi said. “It’s one thing he says a lot, ‘You’ve got to be patient and take it step by step.’
“It’s always easy to get excited on ovals because there’s so much adrenaline and stuff, so it’s really just about taking it easy. It’s a long race, as well, so there are things you’re going to be learning and tuning the car throughout the race with wings and stuff, and even (learning) with driving.
“I’m sure from the first race to the second we’re going to make a huge step.”
All NTT INDYCAR SERIES practices and qualifying sessions this season, plus race replays and live Indy Lights races, are available on Peacock Premium, which is available on www.peacocktv.com for $4.99 per month.