After a difficult but encouraging Phoenix Grand Prix last weekend, Dale Coyne Racing‘s Verizon IndyCar Series debutant, Pietro Fittipaldi has described his first race as “a learning experience.” The Brazilian was launched straight into the deep end for his series debut, with it not only being his first IndyCar race but his first oval race in a single seater race car.
Entering the weekend, Fittipaldi at least had the prior experience of driving ISM Raceway in an IndyCar, having previously driven the car at the pre-season test held at the Arizona oval back in February.
“We tested at Phoenix earlier this year and it went well.” Pietro said before the Phoenix Grand Prix event got underway last weekend, “I learned the track and we did several race stints. The races are a lot longer than what I’m used to, so that is going to be new for me. It’s also going to be my first oval race in six years. I used to race ovals with late models but this is going to be my first real open-wheel oval event, so I’m really excited. “
The weekend started off on a positive note for the 21-year old. Fittipaldi finished fourteenth in first practice as he continued to get used to the track and the car. In Qualifying, Pietro was the sixth of the twenty-three drivers to set a lap, meaning that he did not have the best track conditions that would come later on in the session.
Fittipaldi’s two-lap qualifying average, 184.548mph, was enough to keep him on top of the time-sheets for the next few runs, but he would eventually be pushed down to tenth by the time all the drivers had completed their laps. Nevertheless, it was a very strong result for his first session.
“It was great. A first top ten in my first IndyCar qualifying, I’m happy with that,” said Fittipaldi after qualifying on Friday, “The car felt really good. The engineers did a great job giving me a good car for qualifying.
“Practice was a lot different than when we tested here in February. The track is a lot hotter and the Paysafe car is moving around a lot more but overall it felt good, I felt confident. The Dale Coyne team has done a great job in getting me up to speed. I’m doing my best and trying to learn as much as I can. I’m really happy overall with everything.”
Sadly, Fittipaldi’s good pace in qualifying did not translate into a good race result. He impressively only lost one position in the opening sequences of the race and he then got into the rhythm well. At one point, Pietro was even managing to run better lap times than his pole-sitting team-mate and race leader, Sebastien Bourdais.
However, when Fittipaldi caught up to a group of cars running ahead of him, the dirty air and subsequent understeer caught him out. He went wide into turns three and four and found himself on the outside line, which was nowhere near as rubbered in as the inside racing line. The lack of grip sent him up into the wall. The hit was not too hard, but the damage was enough to put him out of the race after just forty-one laps.
“We were running well, but then I caught a group of cars as I ran a bit hard. There was a lot of turbulence, and with that group of cars I wasn’t expecting that much difference, and the Paysafe car just went away from me. Once you get in the grey, you just go straight into the wall,” Pietro said after the race.
“I’m disappointed for everyone at Dale Coyne Racing. The team has done a good job, I wish I could have given them a better result, but it definitely was a learning experience.”
For this weekend’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Zachary Claman De Melo will be back behind the wheel of the #19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda that he shares with Fittipaldi. Zachary will remain in the car the week after at Alabama, with Fittipaldi returning to the cockpit for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis that takes place two weeks later on May 12. He will also be taking part in the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500 which will take place later that month on May 27.