Dale Coyne Racing hoping to confirm Fittipaldi Indy 500 substitute this week

by Jordan Groves

Verizon IndyCar Series team, Dale Coyne Racing, are hoping to have confirmed their replacement for the injured Pietro Fittipaldi by the end of this week. Fittipaldi had been slated to drive in this month’s 2018 Indianapolis 500, as well as the Grand Prix of Indianapolis that takes place later this week. However, this has been curtailed after Fittipaldi was injured at Spa-Francorchamps on Friday.

Fittipaldi had been qualifying his #10 DragonSpeed LMP1 car for the 6 hours of Spa-Francorchamps, the opening round of the 2018/19 World Endurance Championship super-season, when the car went straight into the barriers at the famous Eau Rouge corner. The car went head-on into the wall, with the impact being sufficient enough to break Fittipaldi’s right ankle and fracture his left leg. The estimated healing period means that Pietro will now miss this month’s two races at Indianapolis, as well as the race at Texas Motor Speedway in June.

As a result of this, Dale Coyne Racing are frantically searching for a replacement driver. Initially, the decision would seem simple, as Fittipaldi shares the #19 PaySafe Honda with Zachary Claman De Melo; with both drivers competing on a part-time schedule this year. However, team owner Dale Coyne has admitted that he is not sure whether De Melo would be ready to race in the Indianapolis 500.

“The most important thing is that Pietro is going to be OK,” Coyne said in an interview with Autosport, “That’s a nasty injury, although I’m surprised it was that bad from that shunt. I spoke to his dad and from what he says the doctors have told him, he should be back with us for Mid-Ohio, at the end of July.

“Zachary was already down to do Detroit, Road America, Iowa and Toronto, so no change there. So as far as standing in for him is concerned, we haven’t talked to Zachary about the Indy 500. He’s obviously the logical choice for the Indy road course next week but the 500, I don’t know. It’s a big step.

“We’d have to talk a little more about that. We’ll also talk to PaySafe [De Melo’s sponsor] on Monday about what they might want to do. Texas is another one I’m not so sure about Zachary doing at this [early] stage of his [IndyCar] career.”

DCR will be hoping to have confirmed their replacement as soon as possible, with Coyne himself targeting a decision by the end of the week. The first official practice session for the Indy 500 takes place this Sunday, May 15, the day after the Grand Prix of Indianapolis that will take place on the road course. The driver, either a rookie or a returning veteran, would have to undergo an acclimatization test before being approved to race, so they would want to have completed that at the earliest possible opportunity.

Despite the short notice, Coyne is confident that they will be able to source a driver in good time, citing the team’s prior performance on ovals as a bargaining chip for potential drivers.

“The good thing is that after our Indy performance last year, we’ve got quite a few people interested,” Coyne added.

“This year, we’ve been strong on ovals again, Sebastien got pole at Phoenix and Pietro started [in the] top 10 for his first IndyCar race [at Phoenix]. So I think we should have something figured out toward the end of next week [now this week], hopefully before then.”

The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series continues this weekend with the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, which will take place on Saturday, May 14.

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