By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
When Romain Grosjean isn’t running the No. 51 Honda for Dale Coyne Racing w/ Rick Ware Racing, Pietro Fittipaldi will be running the oval races this season.
The current Haas F1 Team reserved driver will make his NTT IndyCar Series return after three years, slated to compete in the Texas doubleheader, Gateway and that elusive Indianapolis 500.
Why elusive? In 2018, Fittipaldi was supposed to run for DCR’s No. 19 team until a career altering injury at a FIA World Endurance Championship event in Spa-Francorchamps dashed those plans.
Instead of having a third Fittipaldi family member attempt to make the Indy 500, DCR went with Zachary Claman DeMelo, who ended up finishing 18th that year.
The injuries were both his legs being broken and a compound fracture, sidelining him from racing for a few months, but the initial time period could’ve been much worse.
“I was gutted. The day after the surgery, the doctor came to me and told me, You’re going to stay one year without driving a race car. 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,” Fittipaldi on his injuries from Spa.
“I flew to Indianapolis a week after my surgery. I lived in a motor home with my mom here inside the Speedway, inside Indianapolis for two and a half months did all my rehab, worked with Dr. Trammell, all the INDYCAR doctors. They built a carbon fiber brace for my legs for me to be able to drive. Two and a half months later I was back racing, not at 100%, but I knew I had to get back to maximize my opportunities.”
In his return, he drove the final five races with a career-best ninth at Portland. Since then, he’s spent a large majority of his time in Formula One being Haas’ reserve/test driver.
Not in the circumstances Fittipaldi would’ve wanted, but he made his race debut last year. That’s because he had to filled-in for Grosjean following his crash in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Fittipaldi ended up finishing the two races he competed with a 17th in Sakhir and 19th in Abu Dhabi.
“After my two races there I was able to do a good job for the team. I was very happy with my performance,” Fittipaldi on competing in F1. “Speaking with Gunther over the winter, the team wanted to re-sign me. For sure for me to continue with the team for a third season, I’m very happy to do it.”
Grosjean is not only happy to have Fittipaldi drive the oval races, but also be the guy who drove his car in F1.
“He deserve it. It was such a good reserve driver for Haas. He’s a nice kid, as well. We always get on very well. When he phoned me to tell me he was going to do Indy 500 plus Texas, I was super happy for him,” said Grosjean.
“Even for the car and Dale Coyne Racing, I think it’s the right time. I wish him all the best. I hope he can represent our color very nicely during those events.”
Dale Coyne also shared the same sentiment about having Grosjean sharing the No. 51 machine with Fittipaldi.
“We enjoyed working with Pietro in 2018, it’s unfortunate that his season was shorter than planned, so it’s great to be able to give him another chance to do some races in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and that he has another chance to participate in the Indy 500 and fulfill one of his childhood dreams,” said Coyne.
“We look forward to seeing him share our #51 entry alongside his former Haas F1 teammate Romain Grosjean, it gives us a strong line up for our full-time entry.”
Despite having four IndyCar races, Fittipaldi said Thursday he’ll remain very busy in 2021 with more races expected to be added at a later date. If you ask him, that’s how he like things to be.
“I’ll be going to most of the Formula 1 races. At the moment I’ll be going to, like, 17, 18 Formula 1 races out of the 23 in the calendar. I’ll be going to Bahrain, which is the first race,” said Fittipaldi. “After Bahrain, I’ll be flying back, then doing the test at Texas. It’s going to be busy. There’s also some other announcements that are going to come at the end of this week, which I’m excited as well. It’s going to be a very busy schedule. I’m looking forward to it. The busier, the better.”
The 24-year-old is expected to strap into the Honda machine at Texas Motor Speedway next month before heading to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for orientation day.
“My first time out should be in Texas because I need to run there before I go to Indianapolis,” Fittipaldi stated.
Fittipaldi’s season debut commences at Texas with live coverage of both races beginning at 7:00 p.m. ET (Saturday, May 1) and 5:00 p.m. ET (Sunday, May 2) on NBCSN.