Dale Coyne says he hasn’t decided who will sub for Pietro Fittipaldi in the Indy 500, after the Brazilian-American broke both legs in a sportscar shunt at Spa on Saturday.
Fittipaldi shares the #19 Dale Coyne Racing-Honda with Zachary Claman De Melo in 2018, with the grandson of two-time F1 champion and two-time Indy 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi scheduled to compete in seven of the 17 races.
Given his doctors’ verdict that it will take eight weeks to recover, Fittipaldi is due to miss three of his planned IndyCar races – next week’s Indianapolis Grand Prix on the IMS road course, the Indy 500 two weeks after that, and the Texas Motor Speedway race in the second weekend of June.
Coyne told Motorsport.com: “The most important thing is that Pietro is going to be OK. That’s a nasty injury, although I’m surprised it was that bad from that shunt.
“I spoke to his dad and from what he says the doctors have told him, Pietro should be back with us for Mid-Ohio, at the end of July. Zachary was already down to do Detroit, Road America, Iowa and Toronto, so no change there.
“As far as standing in for Pietro is concerned, we haven’t talked to Zachary about the Indy 500. He’s the logical choice for the Indy road course next week, isn't he? But the 500… I don’t know. It’s a big step. We’d have to talk a little more about that.
“We’ll also talk to PaySafe [De Melo’s sponsor] on Monday about what they might want to do. Texas is another one I’m not so sure about Zachary doing at this stage of his career.”
Some of the more obvious substitutes for Indy 500 have already been taken, in a year in which there will be 35 entries for the 33 grid slots.
For instance, James Davison, who was Sebastien Bourdais’ last-minute stand-in at Coyne last year when the Frenchman suffered his pelvis-breaking shunt, will this year drive a third AJ Foyt Racing entry.
2012 Indy Lights champion Tristan Vautier, who raced for Coyne for most of the 2015 season and was fighting for the lead in the DCR car at Texas last year, has a Blancpain Endurance round at Silverstone on Indy 500 qualifying weekend.
However, someone else could qualify the car for Vautier, and he could start the race from the back of the grid.
Matt Brabham is another young gun who already has Indy 500 experience, but Ryan Briscoe, 2012 Indy 500 polesitter, is perhaps the most logical choice of all, should the Australian wish to do it.
Not only is Briscoe a proven IndyCar winner, his fulltime racing for Chip Ganassi’s Ford GT program means he already has a working relationship with Coyne incumbent and Ford enduro driver Bourdais.
The pool of potential candidates to drive the #19 DCR-Honda at Texas will be suddenly deepened by the Indy 500 one-offs in 2018 – Carlos Munoz, JR Hildebrand, Oriol Servia, Conor Daly, Sage Karam and Davison.
Other obvious possibilities are current leading Indy Lights drivers such as Patricio O’Ward, Colton Herta and Santi Urrutia, while Juan Piedrahita was known to be trying to put an Indy deal together, and has a decent record on ovals.
Said Coyne: “The good thing is that after our Indy performance last year [Bourdais was a pole contender until his accident, while teammate Ed Jones finished third despite a damaged car], we’ve got quite a few people interested.
"This year, we’ve been strong on ovals again – Sebastien got pole at Phoenix and Pietro started top 10 for his first IndyCar race.
“So I think we should have something figured out toward the end of next week, hopefully before then.”
Fittipaldi, unlike fellow rookies and refreshers, did not run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this week, and was due to take his Rookie Orientation Program on Tuesday 15 May. That slot therefore remains open for whoever substitutes for him.