After being forced out of the cockpit for the last few months due to injury, Pietro Fittipaldi made his competitive return to the race track last weekend for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. The Brazilian Dale Coyne Racing driver may not have been very high up the results tables, but the twenty-two-year-old claimed after the race that he was just happy to finish the race as he continues to get fully back up to strength.
Fittipaldi was scheduled to have raced four times in the Verizon IndyCar Series before the race weekend at Mid-Ohio after being signed on a part-time contract with Dale Coyne at the beginning of the year. However, he only competed in his debut at Arizona’s ISM Raceway before being injured in May.
Fittipaldi was taking part in qualifying for the World Endurance Championship‘s 6 hours of Spa-Francorchamps at the beginning of May when his 10 DragonSpeed LMP1 car crashed head-on into the barriers at the high-speed Eau Rouge corner. The heavy impact broke Pietro’s right ankle and fractured his left leg. The ensuing recovery meant that he was forced to miss his scheduled IndyCar appearances at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, the Indianapolis 500 and the race at Texas Motor Speedway in June.
Over the next few months, Fittipaldi underwent an intense recovery period, working at PitFit Training in Indianapolis -with well-known orthopedic surgeons Doctor Terry Trammell and Doctor Timothy Weber. After a lot of work, Pietro got behind the wheel of a Go-Kart in June with his brother Enzo Fittipaldi and his uncle Max Papis. After this, he told Autosport that was looking good to make his return at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course; which would be an increased challenge as it would be his first road course race in the series.
Pietro returned to an IndyCar at Mid-Ohio in a test session a week prior to the race. His preparations continued in the first two practice sessions for the race last Friday. Fittipaldi finished the sessions in seventeenth and eighteenth places respectively, after which he commented that he was “happy to be back” and “definitely ready for the race weekend.”
“I’m really happy to be back.” Pietro said on Friday, “It was a long recovery. I worked really hard, but I was surrounded by a great group of people, like Dr. Trammell and the guys at PitFit, who put together a great program for me to get back this fast.
“I’m definitely ready for the race weekend. We had two practice sessions today and while we struggled a little bit, we know what we have to work on to improve the Paysafe car for tomorrow. We need to focus on qualifying. It’s very important here at Mid-Ohio because it will be key for Sunday’s race result.”
Fittipaldi’s struggles with his #19 PaySafe Honda continued into Saturday. He finished twenty-third fastest in final practice and went on to take twenty-second on the grid in qualifying. After the session, Pietro commented that he had struggled to get his tyres up to temperature quickly and that he had been caught out by how short the qualifying sessions were for road courses in IndyCar.
“It was difficult today,” Fittipaldi stated on Saturday, “Obviously, we’re disappointed with our result. I felt I couldn’t turn on the tyres. It’s my first time qualifying on a road course in an Indy car and you really have just a short amount of time, plus with the red flag, we only got three push laps after that.
“I’m looking forward to the race. It’s very difficult to overtake here, so it’s not going to be easy to move forward, but we’ll look at strategies and I’m confident our pace with the Paysafe car will be better in the race.”
With Pietro still getting to grips with being back behind the wheel, his goal was simply to just finish the race on Sunday and gain valuable experience. His Dale Coyne Racing team-mate, Sebastien Bourdais, quickly moved past Pietro to begin his subsequent charge through the field, with Fittipaldi remaining in twenty-third place for the remainder of the race.
After climbing from the car after ninety grueling laps at one of the most physical race tracks on the IndyCar schedule, Fittipaldi commented that his leg was giving him some trouble, but he was pleased to have finished the race and was looking forward to getting back behind the wheel again.
“Obviously I feel tired,” Pietro said in post-race interviews on Sunday, “It’s my first race back and it’s a tough one at Mid-Ohio. It’s really physically demanding here. We started the race and we didn’t have that much pace at first in our No. 19 Paysafe car, so we ended up pitting early, and then I had to let the leaders go by, so we lost a lot of time there.
“That said, I finished the race and that was my goal with my leg still hurting a bit. It’s still healing. I’m sure that by the time we get to our next road course in Portland, we’ll be a lot better and I’ll be back at a 100 percent, but I’m happy I was able to come here and finish the race. Now we can focus on our upcoming tests and our next race.”
Fittipaldi’s next on-track appearance will be in over a month’s time. He will hand the #19 Honda back over to Zachary Claman De Melo for the next two races, before coming back for the final two rounds at Portland and Sonoma in September.
The next race of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series, the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway, takes place on Sunday, August 19.