Castroneves says Fittipaldi’s seat big for INDYCAR/Brazil, hopes it builds a pathway back for Brazilians to the series

INDIANAPOLIS — One of the big announcements to come out of the opening day of Media availabilities was the return of Pietro Fittipaldi. The youngster was supposed to do a larger program a few years ago for Dale Coyne Racing, but an injury suffered overseas kept that to a minimum. Now, he’s back.

Fittipaldi, will drive the No. 51 Honda on the ovals (Texas, Indy, World Wide Technology Raceway) in a shared seat with Romain Grosjean.

“I’m very excited with the opportunity,” Fittipaldi said. “I want to thank Dale Coyne, Rick Ware for the trust. I’ll be doing the ovals, including the Indy 500, which is a dream come true after not being able to do it in 2018, to come back and have the chance to race in it, I’m very happy.

“The deal came through. I mean, I’ve been speaking to Dale for a while. As you know, I raced with him in 2018. I’ve always been in touch with Dale. He told me Romain had signed to do the road courses. He called me one day, We’re looking for someone to do the ovals. For sure, I said, I would love to do it.

“I love INDYCAR. I love oval racing as well. My first championship that I won was a late model championship at Hickory in a short track oval. That was in North Carolina. To be racing on ovals in INDYCAR, yeah, I’m very pleased with it. I’m happy.”

Fittipaldi, said he’d like to be full-time in either IndyCar or F1 someday.

“I have two ultimate goals in my mind,” said Fittipaldi. “One is getting a full-time ride in INDYCAR. That’s one of my ultimate goals. Obviously one day winning races or winning the championship. The other one could be Formula 1, as well. One doesn’t hinder the other. The program that I had to race on the ovals with Dale, there’s no real conflicts. I’ll be going to the Formula 1 races, then flying back with enough time to do the oval races.

“But for me, either it’s Formula 1 or INDYCAR. If I can get a full-time ride in INDYCAR, for example, I would be extremely happy. It’s very difficult nowadays. The opportunities are very limited. So to get something like a full-time ride in INDYCAR, that’s a big goal for me. But the Formula 1 dream and stuff is still there as well. I have both of them. I’m lucky to be able to work with both series.”

Other popular Brazilian drivers hope to see him stay here too. See, INDYCAR has always had a pipeline from Brazil to the United States. Several talented drivers came north to compete in the major open wheel series and have had a lot of success in doing so. Unfortunately, that line has somewhat stalled. Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan are each no longer full time anymore. They’ll be around in some races, but not all.

So, for someone like Fittipaldi to come back this direction, their hopes is this is just the start of the next wave of young Brazilian drivers coming here to race.

“Great question. Tony and I have been carrying the Brazilian flag for a long time, like all the Brazilians 25 years ago did, Gil de Ferran, André Ribeiro, Fittipaldi. We had so many,” Helio Castroneves told me. “So for me, seeing Pietro coming into the series hopefully is an opportunity for him to show his talent, even if it’s just a few races and the ovals only. Still we do have a new generation coming, not only as a Brazilian but a bunch of other new generations coming, making a very good statement.

“We hope that Brazil one day will produce, like Pietro is probably a light at the end of the tunnel that people create interest again instead of going to stockcar in Brazil or trying at Formula 1, which there is no Brazilian at the moment, but trying to create that spark again like we used to have 20 years ago.

“I think new the new broadcast in Brazil, people are going to be again excited. Tony and I will be able to show out there and succeed so that we can inspire the young generations to come back and keep it going.”

Castroneves said that while he and Fittipaldi will be on different teams in 2021, the door is always open if the younger driver needed help or a mentor to lean on.

“Absolutely,” Castroneves continued. “One of the things even with my teammate Jack Harvey, look, I work with a lot of teammates. Again, I been around the block. I learn so much with Rick Mears. Rick never come to me and say, You got to do this or that. But he always make himself available. Every time we talk, it was like half an hour conversation, which was great. Especially me, I want to understand.

“He was able to always with few words direct and guide me to the right way. If I can be that kind of assistance to not only Brazilian but any other young driver, I’m always open for it. I been there one day. 20-plus years ago I was one of the guys asking questions as well (smiling). I would never close the door to a young driver asking for information.”

For now, Fittipaldi is just going to have a very busy schedule in trying to get here or even F1 full time.

“Not that I’m not used to it. It’s going to be very busy this year,” he continued. “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. 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.”

In terms of his INDYCAR opportunities in 2021, he’s excited and thinks that he can do well in them.

“When I signed the deal to race with Dale in 2018, I was supposed seven races and tests, and we were testing a lot before the races,” he said. “We were always very competitive in the tests. Yeah, we were sometimes top five, top 10 in some of the testing. I went to Phoenix my first race, and we qualified 10th. We were going to have some good races.

“Before the Indy 500, I had that World Endurance Championship race two weeks before the 500. The car had a failure, went straight in the wall, broke both my legs, compound fracture. 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.

“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.

“We still had great results. I finished 11th at Gateway, ninth in Portland. I still wasn’t at my max. I still had the feeling like I didn’t get the opportunity to continue in INDYCAR in 2019. I had that feeling I need to come back, really show people what I can do. Broken legs, we had some really good results. Before that in the testing we were really strong. To have this opportunity now, it’s a long time coming, so I’m happy.”

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