Zachary Claman De Melo to contest first Indy 500 as Pietro Fittipaldi’s substitute

by Jordan Groves

Dale Coyne Racing has today confirmed that their part-time Verizon IndyCar Series driver, Zachary Claman De Melo, will drive in this month’s 2018 Indianapolis 500. The Canadian rookie, who was not originally scheduled to race at Indianapolis this year, will substitute once again for the injured Pietro Fittipaldi.

Fittipaldi, who shares the #19 PaySafe Honda with Claman De Melo this year, had originally been slated to race in both last weekend’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis, as well as the upcoming Indianapolis 500. However, Pietro was injured in qualifying for the World Endurance Championship 6 hours of Spa-Francorchamps, meaning that Zachary had to substitute for the Grand Prix last Saturday.

Zachary had been the logical substitute for the Grand Prix on the road course, but when searching for Pietro’s Indy 500 replacement last week, team-boss Dale Coyne had stated that he was not sure whether or not De Melo was ready for the task.

“I don’t know. It’s a big step.” Coyne said at the time, “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 [the following oval race in June] is another one I’m not so sure about Zachary doing at this [early] stage of his [IndyCar] career.”

Now it appears, most likely after numerous discussions with both De Melo and PaySafe, that it has been determined that Zachary is ready for arguably the biggest race of his career.

“I’m very much looking forward to turning my first laps aboard the #19 Paysafe Indy car on the oval at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” said Claman De Melo after the announcement today. “It’s an iconic venue and I’m extremely fortunate to be able to have the opportunity to drive here. Again, it’s unfortunate that it’s under these circumstances with Pietro’s injuries so I realize how lucky I am to have this chance. 

“I want to thank Dale and Paysafe for giving me this opportunity. I can’t wait to get on track to complete my rookie orientation program.”

As Claman De Melo eluded to, in order to be allowed to race in his first Indianapolis 500, he must complete a rookie orientation program. The program consists of ten laps at 205-210mph, followed by fifteen laps at 210-215mph and then a final run of fifteen laps between 215mph and 220mph. This is to ensure that drivers slowly build up to racing speeds on the seriously fast 2.5-mile speedway.

Some of Claman De Melo’s fellow rookies, such as Robert WickensMatheus Leist and Kyle Kaiser, completed their rookie orientation at the beginning of the month in a test. Today’s first practice session will see the next batch of rookies, including Zachary, take to the track to try and complete the programme.

Following multiple practice sessions throughout this week, Qualifying for the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500 will take place this weekend on May 19 and 20. Further practice will take place the following week, with the race itself being run on May 27.

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