Three years after becoming the first Latin American NASCAR champion, Davidson’s Pietro Fittipaldi has added a European title to his racing resume and taken another step toward one day following in his grandfather’s footsteps into Formula One.
In 2014, the 18-year-old Fittipaldi, grandson of two-time Formula One champion Emerson Fittipaldi, dominated the Protyre Formula Renault Championship. Driving for the MGR Motorsport team, the young Fittipaldi won 10 of the season’s 15 races. He had eight consecutive victories between May and August and recorded a dozen podium finishes in his sophomore season in the series.
“It was a great year,” the young Fittipaldi said.
In 2015, Fittipaldi sees himself advancing to Formula Three and competing in 33 events on 11 race weekends throughout Europe from March to October. Prior to reaching that decision, he tested F3 and World Series cars, primarily in Spain, before returning home Dec. 22. He also tested in Germany, Belgium and France from October to December.
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“The World Series car was a really powerful car,” said Fittipaldi, who gets to remain with his family in Davidson until the end of February. “I had never driven such a fast car. It was great and I loved it.”
Before moving to open-wheel, Fittipaldi won the Hickory Motor Speedway track title and Rookie of the Year in the Limited Late Model division in 2011. He was doing well in NASCAR, but his next racing opportunity came in open-wheel thanks to Escuderia Telmex, a program for young drivers funded by Mexican businessman and philanthropist Carlos Slim.
“He asked me if I wanted to join the program, but race in Europe,” Fittipaldi said about Escuderia Telmex, which has produced Formula One drivers Sergio Perez and Esteban Gutierrez. “I said yes, that it was a great opportunity.”
The teenager relocated to Ascot, England, for the racing season and quickly learned the responsibilities that come with adulthood, including cooking and cleaning. He admitted he was homesick in the seven to eight months he was away, but his family’s visits every couple of months helped him deal with the situation.
“They would stay a couple of weeks with me, go to my races,” he said. “My family has always supported me since I started racing. Now I come back and I appreciate what my parents do a lot more. I have matured a lot.”
In addition to adjusting to a new lifestyle, Fittipaldi also found European racing quite different from that in the United States.
“It’s almost like a different sport because of the different driving styles,” Fittipaldi said. “When I went there I basically had to relearn everything. The principals are the same – you want to be the fastest, you want to win the race – but everything else is a lot different. You race all over Europe and in different countries. I had to get used to the traveling, driving a different car and different teams all the time. It’s a different atmosphere.
“It was hard for me to adapt when I went from NASCAR to open-wheel because I brought a lot of good habits that were in NASCAR, but were bad habits in open-wheel in the way I was driving. The downforce in the open-wheel is massive and that’s one of the things that was tough to adapt to because you’re going through a corner and you think you have to brake, but it’s actually almost flat out with an open-wheel car. In NASCAR, you would have to brake and downshift twice to make the corner.”
Fittipaldi noted all of the competition in Europe occurs on road courses and the cars are much lighter and more agile with more downforce than the stock cars used in NASCAR.
“I like them both, but my opportunity is in Europe,” Fittipaldi said.
Fittipaldi said NASCAR and open-wheel racing in Europe were both intense, but European racing was more technology oriented.
“I had to get used to that,” Fittipaldi said. “I had to learn how to use it to my advantage because they use data and telemetry every time you go out in a session. You come back and you can compare what you’re doing driving-wise to your teammate. You can learn a lot from that.”
Fittipaldi hopes to be in Formula One within the next three to four years. He and his grandfather always talk about his F1 aspirations, but they both know they must concentrate on the next step.
“When I was learning, he always told me the most important thing was to finish the race,” Fittipaldi said about his grandfather’s advice. “If you don’t finish, you’re not going to win. If you spin or something, it’s always better to finish because you always need experience. Finishing races is what brings championships.”
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