Pietro Fittipaldi

A driver qualifying for their first Indy 500 is a challenge that can carry a lot of pressure, especially that driver’s last name is Fittipaldi.

But for Pietro Fittipaldi, the grandson of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi, it’s no more than the pressure he puts on himself to be his best.

“I love racing, I love competing, I love winning races – that’s why I do it,” Fittipaldi said. “So, for me, it’s just a privilege to have the name, to be carrying on the legacy of the family here in the ‘500,’ to be racing in the biggest race in the world.”

Dale Coyne Racing with RWR driver Fittipaldi qualified 13th last Saturday with a four-lap average speed of 230.846 mph. He was the fastest of the two rookies who qualified this year for the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, as Scott McLaughlin will start 17th in the No. 3 Pennzoil Team Penske Chevrolet.

Fittipaldi and fellow rookie McLaughlin were honored at the American Dairy Association Indiana’s 47th Annual Fastest Rookie of the Year Luncheon, with Fittipaldi earning the title of Fastest Rookie of the Year.

“It was amazing,” Fittipaldi said, “It was great to be there and to get presented the award, have my name on the trophy that has so much history with all those drivers there.”

Fittipaldi celebrated with an ice-cold jar of milk from the American Dairy Association Indiana with the hosts, presenters, dairy farmers and two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Josef Newgarden, a former winner of the Fastest Rookie of the Year Award. Fittipaldi out-qualified Newgarden, who will start 21st in the No. 2 Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet.

Not a bad start for the 24-year-old rookie whose debut in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing is three years in the making.

The Brazilian-American driver was scheduled to make his Indy debut in 2018 until he suffered serious leg injuries in a crash during a World Endurance Championship sports car event at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium just 11 days before practice the Indy 500 opened.

Doctors told him it would take over a year to return to racing, with a chance that the injuries could be career-ending. But Fittipaldi defied that diagnosis and returned in 2 1/2 months, while his legs were still healing, and later that season finished an NTT INDYCAR SERIES career-best ninth at Portland thanks to the help of a specially created cast and an aggressive rehab program.

“I had to go through a lot of things when I had the accident, overcoming that, and being able to overcome it mentally, as well,” he said.

The accident and recovery were tremendous barriers for Fittipaldi, but he scaled them to continue his long road back to Indy this year in the No. 51 Military Salutes NURTEC ODT Honda.

“I definitely think I feel more prepared,” Fittipaldi said. “Not only as a driver but as a person, as well. I feel from what happened in 2018, I’m even more appreciative to be racing.”