In many respects, the Roar Before the Rolex 24 is just another weekend for Christian Fittipaldi, as he joins Joao Barbosa in preparing for a shot at their fourth overall victory in the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
But, when he steps out of the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R also co-driven by Filipe Albuquerque and Mike Conway at the end of January, Fittipaldi realizes that he’ll be reaching a career milestone: this year’s Rolex 24 will be his last race as a driver.
“I’m sad — and at the same time I’m happy, I’m not going to lie,” Fittipaldi said. “I’m at peace with myself, and that’s what’s most important. No doubt about it, I’m going to miss it, but every time you close a chapter in your life, another one opens. Now it’s time to close this chapter and open another one.
“Right now I’m working through the Roar the same way as I would normally approach any race weekend with my professional duties,” Fittipaldi said. “But I realize there will be periods at the Rolex 24 where it will be pretty emotional.”
Fittipaldi will end a career that included full-time rides in Formula 1, CART and NASCAR. He was the overall winner of the 2004 Rolex 24 At Daytona and raced several years in the Grand-Am Rolex Series through 2008.
But in January, 2010, Fittipaldi had moved back to his native Brazil to spend more time with his family. He missed seeing Action Express Racing win its first race — the Rolex 24. Then, several months later, Action Express engineer Iain Watt gave him a call.
“I wasn’t even looking [at returning to racing],” Fittipaldi admitted. “But at the end of 2010, Iain called me and asked what I was doing at the beginning of the next year. I told him, ‘I’ll probably be at the beach.’ Then Iain said, ‘How about changing the beach to Daytona?’ That’s how my whole Action Express story started.”
Fittipaldi ran at Daytona as a one-off for two years for AXR, finishing third overall behind the two Ganassi BMWs at the 2011 Rolex 24, and then placing fifth the following year. For 2013, he ran the full season. He began partnering with Barbosa midway through the campaign. The pairing was an instant success, winning back-to-back races.
Fittipaldi and Barbosa built on that success with the united IMSA series in 2014. A victory in the Rolex 24 led to the first of back-to-back titles – beginning four straight Patron Endurance Cups for the pair. Fittipaldi stepped back to an endurance role with the team last year, winning the Rolex 24 with Barbosa and Albuquerque.
While he will no longer be driving following his Daytona finale, Fittipaldi will continue to attend all the races, working with Action Express and Cadillac.’
“We’ll see how things progress from there,” he said. “The nice thing about it is you generate your own opportunities closing a chapter. If you don’t close a chapter, you’re not able to open the new one.”
Obviously, the best way for Fittipaldi to close this chapter would be to give it a happy ending — standing atop the podium in Gatorade Victory Lane.
“Let’s not even mention that — that would be a fairy tale ending,” he said. “That’s obviously what we’re striving for, but this race in particular is so long and has so many variables. It’s definitely about performance, but there are so many other variables that it’s hard to make all the stars align. But Joao and I are working hard to get that fourth overall win. It’s awesome to be associated with Action Express, and I hope to remain involved with them for many, many years — but filling other roles.”