Christian Fittipaldi looks to extend family legacy at Road America

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Christian Fittipaldi not only has a championship to fight for, but he also has a legacy to protect

ELKHART LAKE, Wis., July 30, 2013 - Spanning the decades, the Fittipaldi name has long been synonymous with winning in the world of motorsport. The Brazilian family's history at Road America dates back nearly 30 years to when Emerson Fittipaldi made his first start at the legendary Wisconsin road course in 1985. Set to make his Daytona Prototype debut at Road America August 8-11 in the DP class, Fittipaldi really knows his way around the revered circuit.

Christian is the son of former Grand Prix driver and team owner Wilson Fittipaldi, as well as a nephew of the two-time F1 World Champion and Indianapolis 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi. Like most racers, Christian clearly likes the track. But with a record that includes one win, two podiums, and four top-five finishes in eight starts at the Road America road course, the circuit is clearly a special one for Fittipaldi, who will share the driving duties with Portuguese pilot Joao Barbosa this weekend as the duo look to score yet another win for Action Express Racing in what has become a break-out season. Between Emerson and third-generation driver Christian, the two have made 19 open-wheel starts at Road America.

Christian Fittipaldi, Emerson Fittipaldi and Max Papis circa 2005
Christian Fittipaldi, Emerson Fittipaldi and Max Papis circa 2005

Photo by: Max Papis Racing

Emerson's first Road America start saw him finish fifth after starting 16th while driving for Pat Patrick. He returned the following year and claimed victory in the 1986 running of the event. His hot streak at the historic four-mile road course would continue through his 11-year Champ Car career - winning three races (1986, 1988, 1992), standing on the podium five times, and taking eight top-five finishes.

It wasn't long before nephew Christian was climbing his own racing ladder and joined his Uncle Emerson in the CART ranks, with the pair racing against one another at Road America for the first time in 1995 when Christian made his first start at the track. Emerson drove for Roger Penske and finished 15th, while Christian who drove for Derrick Walker, finished eighth - his fifth top-ten result of his rookie season.

It would be the only time the two Fittipaldis shared the track at Road America after a back injury the following year at Michigan International Speedway ended Emerson's Champ Car career.

But Christian's budding Champ Car career was just beginning and he carried the Fittipaldi name on in CART competition for seven more years. And it was at Road America where Christian made one of his fondest memories. In 1999, a year after finishing third in the Wisconsin road race, Christian broke through for his first Champ Car victory in 72 race starts.

"That first win obviously meant a lot, especially because we had been after it for a long time and we came close a bunch of times before that, but things never went my way for a victory," Christian reminisced of his very first CART/IndyCar win. "Everything worked very well for me that year. I seemed to always run well at Road America. Ever since my first start in 1995, I always ran in the top three every single year and almost won the race in 1996, so maybe it's one of those tracks that you adapt a little bit more to than others."

Winners Christian Fittipaldi, Joao Barbosa
Winners Christian Fittipaldi, Joao Barbosa

Photo by: Art Fleischmann

Christian may well be the most versatile driver on the GRAND-AM circuit in 2013. He was the 1991 Formula 3000 champion and then spent three years in the premier Formula 1 category prior to his eight year Champ Car run. He then joined the stock car ranks for half a season in NASCAR Sprint Cup and also ran select Nationwide and ARCA events.

He also transitioned to the world of sports car racing running select GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series events beginning in 2003. He won the 2004 Rolex 24 At Daytona in just his second attempt with Bell Motorsports and then claimed a podium in the prestigious race in 2011 when he made his first GRAND-AM start with Action Express Racing.

The well-rounded racer also made four American Le Mans Series starts for Andretti Green in 2008.

Christian joined Action Express Racing full time for the 2013 GRAND-AM season as the North Carolina-based team fields a two-car effort with Fittipaldi and co-driver Barbosa as well as brothers Burt and Brian Frisselle. Fittipaldi was initially paired with Brian Frisselle in the No. 5 Corvette DP but a mid-season change in the driver line-up saw Barbosa join Fittipaldi in the No. 5 and the Frisselle brothers team in the No. 9 Corvette DP.

The changed proved to be a good one with Fittipaldi and Barbosa netting a second place finish at Detroit and then two-consecutive victories at Mid-Ohio and Watkins Glen. It was the second consecutive victory for Action Express Racing in the grueling six-hour endurance race held at the Glen with Barbosa having won with co-driver Darren Law in 2012. The new Frisselle brother pairing also produced several strong outings - highlighted by a fifth place finish at The Glen.

"We are working really well together, and we have similar driving styles so it makes the car quicker as there isn't as much to compromise," said Christian of co-driving with Barbosa. "Also as we saw at the Glen, it doesn't matter who starts or finishes the car for the race and that can be an advantage sometimes with strategy. If you look at the performance of the No. 9 car, especially in the last two races, Burt and Brian have been very strong. That shows that the move we made this season was good for everyone. The No. 9 car has been very fast but just unlucky. Having two cars with strong pace and getting the results we've had just shows how well the whole team is working together, there is a good synergy for everyone."

#5 Action Express Racing Chevrolet Corvette DP: Christian Fittipaldi, Joao Barbosa
#5 Action Express Racing Chevrolet Corvette DP: Christian Fittipaldi, Joao Barbosa

Photo by: Jackie Buys

Half-way through the GRAND-AM season, Fittipaldi is second in the Driver Championship while Action Express Racing is third in the Team Championship - just four points out of the lead. A return to Road America victory lane - this time in a Daytona Prototype machine - may be just what Christian needs to take over the championship lead as Action Express Racing eyes the 2013 GRAND-AM championship title.

"I have never been around Road America in anything other than an open-wheel car," said Christian. "The track is the same, but it will be pretty cool to run it in a Daytona Prototype. The most important thing will be to run the least amount of drag as possible. After Mid-Ohio I was talking to my dad about how the last few races were awesome, but we just needed a little bit of luck. Things didn't go our way at the beginning of the year, and we needed some bad luck to hit some of the other championship contenders too and that happened at Watkins Glen so now we are on par with everyone. Now it is a race for the championship! My uncle Emerson won at Road America several times and I've won there. I love the circuit - I've always done well there. The track has been very good to me and to win again at a place like Road America in a Daytona Prototype would be awesome!"

Christian will have his chance again as one of the biggest racing events in Wisconsin returns August 8-11 when the GRAND-AM Rolex Series and the American Le Mans series presented by Tequila Patron (ALMS) bring in some of the top racers in the world to tackle America's National Park of Speed.

Road America

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Series GRANDAM
Article type Special feature
Tags action express, barbosa, daytona prototype, elkhart lake, fittipaldi, frisselle, grand-am, road america, wisconsin