Pietro Fittipaldi says he’s on target to return to the cockpit for IndyCar’s Mid-Ohio round, after testing a kart for the first time since his Spa sportscar accident.
Fittipaldi, who has been rehabilitating with renowned orthopedic surgeons Doctors Terry Trammell and Timothy Weber and at PitFit Training in Indianapolis, returned home to North Carolina two days ago and went karting at the GoPro Motorplex track in Mooresville with his brother Enzo, and uncle, former Indy car racer Max Papis.
It’s the first time Fittipaldi has put in track time since his WEC shunt at Spa-Francorchamps in May, that broke his legs and caused him to miss the Indy GP and Indianapolis 500 – due to be his second and third IndyCar races with Dale Coyne Racing.
His place at Indy and Texas was filled by the other signed Coyne driver of the #19 DCR-Honda this season, Zachary Claman De Melo, while in the Detroit double-header, GP2 driver Santino Ferrucci made his IndyCar debut. Having now shuffled races with Claman de Melo, Fittipaldi is due to compete in the final five races of the season, starting with Mid-Ohio at the end of July.
“I have been using a simulator, but this was my first time driving something ‘real life’ since the accident,” Fittipaldi told Motorsport.com. “Everything was really good because Dr. Weber and Dr. Trammell looked after me really well in Indy, overseeing my surgeries and giving me really good programs to work on. I was actually doing my swimming rehab at Dr. Trammell’s house almost every day, and the physical therapy program I did with them was very intense, very helpful.
“Obviously I feel the injuries a little bit when I’m going over curbing – those karts have no suspension really, it goes straight through your body. But it’s normal and I’m really happy with everything. It’s not 100 percent yet which is why I’m still working on the recovery – I mean, things like walking. But when I got in the kart I could drive very well.
“So at Mid-Ohio [on July 17] I will test a Formula 4 car and then the IndyCar too. I don’t know the track, but at the same time I’m learning the new track, I’ll be seeing how I feel. It will be a shakedown.
“The F4 car has steel brakes and you don’t have to hit the brakes as hard as the carbon brakes like you have in IndyCar, so I’m gradually making steps, getting into it slowly.”
Always kept the faith
Fittipaldi says that the confidence of such a swift return, as expressed in May at Indianapolis, both to the media and to Motorsport.com’s Julia Piquet, was genuine, but now admits there had been some nagging doubts.
“Honestly, you just never know how fast the bones are going to heal,” he said, “but I’m really lucky. My ankle has healed extremely well and stayed mobile and strong, and they’re both really important characteristics. And the bones on my left leg that broke, they take longer just because they’re bigger bones. But they’ve been healing very well, also, so thank God that my body heals very fast.
“When you have an accident like that, you have to set a goal for recovery otherwise it becomes a bit too open, you know? And so I looked at the IndyCar calendar and counted down and I set myself an optimistic goal. I sat down with Dr. Trammell and we said, ‘OK, this is the goal for this week, this is the goal for this week, this is the next goal,' and so on.
“It makes you think about what you have to do out of the car to be able to drive. And so although it was optimistic, it was possible and achievable and we’re still on target and I can come back strong.”
2019 target is “to do something full-time”
Fittipaldi admitted that despite his focus on full recovery and the last five IndyCar races of 2018, he is still thinking about his options for next season. This year, the 22-year-old was combining part-time campaigns in IndyCar, Japanese Super Formula and WEC, while he's also been a candidate for a Formula 1 seat with Haas in 2019.
“Next year I do want to do something full time,” he said. “Maybe I'll do something in Formula 1 toward the end of this year. I don’t know at all.
“My main focus right now is returning to do these five races with IndyCar, but I’m only going to return if I know I’m coming back at a strong level. I’ll know more about it after the Mid-Ohio test.
“When we spoke in May, I said about the talks with Haas, having a couple of meetings with Gunther Steiner [Haas team principal]. That was the other unfortunate thing about the accident, as well as missing the Indy 500 – the focus had to switch to recovery as first priority.
"But you never know what could happen at the end of the year, after the IndyCar season is over. For now, I want to just think about these five IndyCar races with Dale Coyne Racing.
"So like I say, in 2019 I’m looking to do something full-time. That's my goal for next year. But my next goal is IndyCar and I’m really happy to be working with Dale’s team. They’re a great group of people, they work really hard, and we’re gonna be back strong and I will do my best for them."