Pietro Fittipaldi’s 182.294mph lap Friday night at Gateway – which put the Dale Coyne Racing rookie P1 with 12 minutes to go in the final IndyCar practice session – was a reason to celebrate.
It’s a welcome pivot from the scene that unfolded less than a week ago, when a collective feeling of dread took hold at the sight of the young driver sitting on the sidepod of his wrecked No. 19 Honda, leg brace visible through his uniform as he caught his breath after the massive early-race crash at Pocono.
Fittipaldi was at the back end of the crash that badly injured Robert Wickens, sliding through liquid debris before spinning and colliding with James Hinchcliffe – an impact that could have been worse for both drivers had his trajectory kept him straight toward T-boning Hinchcliffe.
Though he took some time to catch his breath, Fittipaldi said he didn’t re-injure himself in the Pocono crash.
“I feel good,” Fittipaldi told IMS Radio after finishing third in final practice on Friday. “I feel strong, fit, my upper body is as fit as it ever was; I made sure of that before I got in the car at Mid-Ohio. The right ankle is fully healed, but the left leg is a bigger bone – I broke the tibia and the fibula so it takes sometimes six to nine months to fully heal and it’s only been three and a half, four months.
“It was hurting at Mid-Ohio, maybe I anticipated it, my comeback, but next week, Portland, another road course I’m pretty sure we’re going to be a lot stronger than Mid-Ohio, my leg’s gonna be better.”
Having been involved in two big incidents in a short period of time — he’s now four months removed from the bone-breaking WEC crash at Spa — the 22-year-old insists his mindset has not wavered.
“All the drivers here are thinking a lot about Robbie and the whole Schmidt team. He’s in my prayers,” he began.
“It reminds us that this sport is dangerous and we have to respect each other on track. Even when I got in my crash and broke my leg and ankle it’s just a reminder – when you’re driving you don’t feel it, but when it happens to you, all right, but we all accept that, we’re racecar drivers and it is what it is. But our thoughts and prayers are with Robbie and his family.”
Fittipaldi previously stated his priority is a full-time IndyCar ride in 2019, and he’s hoping to use the next three continuous races to build a stronger foundation to achieve that goal.
“This year wasn’t smooth because of the injury. You’re always gonna lose maybe a little bit of confidence when you’re coming back but I try to keep myself at the top of my game always, and it has been a bit interrupted, but we have these last three races now, we want to pull some good results, and next year I want to be racing full-time, that’s the goal.”
With qualifying washed out, Fittipaldi will roll off 17th on Saturday night.