Two-time IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion and three-time Rolex 24 winner Christian Fittipaldi will retire from top-level racing after the 2019 Rolex 24 At Daytona.
The 47-year-old Fittipaldi, whose next race will be the 2018 IMSA season-ending Petit Le Mans, took on the role of sporting director for Action Express in January, stepping aside from full-time competition to allow Filipe Albuquerque to join the No.5 Cadillac DPi team full-time.
“Everything in life has a beginning, middle, and end — and I am at the beginning of the end of this stage of my career and competing at this level,” said Fittipaldi. “All that I can say is that it has been an awesome trip. Thank you to mom and dad, and to my whole family. Without them I couldn’t have had the opportunities that I have had all through my career. My wife and daughter have given me so much motivation, especially in the later stages of my racing career.”
Fittipaldi’s third Rolex 24 win, which came this year in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R with Filipe Albuquerque and his longtime co-driver, Joao Barbosa, with whom he shared the championships and the majority of his IMSA wins, was what started him thinking about retirement from driving.
“I think one of the last items of it – and it was a huge weight that came off my back – was Daytona this year,” he said. “After what happened in 2017 – and don’t take me wrong, I’m not here to point fingers if Ricky (Taylor) should be disqualified or if he shouldn’t. I’m way beyond that. If he pulled a good move or a bad move, at the end of the day, we lost the race and they won the race, and I thought we would have won the race. So, we kept that for almost a year and it was heavy inside the team.
“When we managed to pull it this year, I said, ‘Wow, three is a cool number.’ Obviously, four, five or six would be even nicer, but three is a cool number. I think that started generating the little snowball. From that point onward, I went to Long Beach and it was the first time I was out of the car and I was spotting for the team and helping out the team technically. Then something else clicked in.
“My relationship with my family, my daughter, my age, so it’s the package. It’s not one thing. It’s not that I went out there, I had a huge accident and said, ‘Whoa, now I’m afraid of doing this. I can’t do this anymore.’ It wasn’t that. It was the package and I think the timing is correct. I’m going to respect the timing a lot.”
Fittipaldi made a name for himself in Formula 3000 before three years in Formula 1 with Minardi and the Footwork Arrows teams. He arrived on the North American open-wheel scene in 1995 with Walker Racing and immediately scored a runner-up result in his first-ever Indianapolis 500. He moved to NASCAR competition with Richard Petty Racing before racing in A1GP, American Le Mans and Brazilian stock car competition.
Fittipaldi joined Action Express in 2011, winning the 2014 and 2015 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championships as well as the North American Endurance Cup titles in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017. With co-drivers Joao Barbosa and Filipe Albuquerque, he claimed two Rolex 24 overall wins in 2014 and 2018, adding to his Rolex victory with Bell Motorsports in 2004.
“I wanted to give it a shot,” he said of ending his career after Daytona. “I owe a lot to Daytona. I owe a lot to the France family and Daytona has brought me a lot of happiness. I have had a lot of success there. We won three times. I think I have six or seven podiums in total. Maybe it’s not Scott Pruett’s statistics, but it’s not bad.”
As sporting director at Action Express, Fittipaldi has raced in the endurance events while also being on site for IMSA event weekends as part of the performance engineering effort for the team and serving as a liaison with team sponsors.
“To IMSA, thanks for all the great opportunities,” said Fittipaldi. “Jim France has once again built something really incredible and has been key to making everything happen, from his original vision to this great upward path of growth. This is an amazing paddock with very strong teams, so many manufacturers and great tracks on the entire schedule. To Cadillac and ECR, thank you for all the horsepower and downforce.”