Pietro Fittipaldi never wanted to leave IndyCar. With Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in 2024, the 27-year-old Brazilian-American gets a do-over of sorts, winding the clock back to where he wanted to be while bringing a newer and better version of the driver who last competed in the series in 2021.
Fittipaldi’s extended family’s long open-wheel racing history has heavy amounts of Formula 1 and IndyCar; Grandfather Emerson is a champion in both categories and a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner as well. Cousin Christian raced in both series, with wins coming on the CART IndyCar side, and uncle Max Papis followed the same trajectory with time spent in F1’s midfield before capturing CART wins for RLL.
So it was only natural for young Pietro, with a part-time chance at Dale Coyne Racing made possible by sponsors in 2018, to try and launch an IndyCar career in the U.S.
Born in Miami, Florida, Fittipaldi was reared both here and in Brazil, and after proving his talents in one of NASCAR’s development series as a teen, he turned his attention to European open-wheel racing and found considerable success in the junior categories before the big call to do seven IndyCar races with Coyne. Sharing the ride with Canada’s Zacharay Claman De Melo, he clearly had talent, which resulted in a top finish of ninth at Portland. And then the bottom fell out of Fittipaldi’s plans.
Gene Haas and the Haas F1 team saw value in his skills and retained Fittipaldi as a test and reserve driver, but 2019 was a year spent in the wilderness in Germany’s DTM sports car series. He’d add more racing to his schedule during the offseason and into early 2020 in the F3 Asian Championship and would make his first two F1 starts for Haas in place of the injured Romain Grosjean, but in the context of season-long activity, he was coming up short in racing miles.
Fittipaldi’s Haas deal delivered a lot in the way of development experience, but not much when it came to regular opportunities to race. James Sutton/Motorsport Images
A brief return to IndyCar with Coyne in 2021 — handling three ovals Grosjean elected to skip — was the busiest part of the year, along with a few more sports car outings. That’s how his 2022 season went, minus the IndyCar, and 2023 was no different, with endurance racing as Fittipaldi’s main driving outlet after no F1 drives emerged.
At risk of being limited to ongoing participation in endurance racing’s second-tier within the LMP2 class, Fittipaldi’s team began a quiet search for a new home in IndyCar — his third go-round — and found one with RLL.
“I’ve always had the goal to race in IndyCar full time because I love oval racing,” Fittipaldi told RACER. “I’ve won races on ovals, I’ve won a Late Model championship, and I’ve won championships on road course racing. And for me, IndyCar is the perfect series. I was born in the U.S., so to be able to be Stateside is something that I love. I’ve always been trying to come to IndyCar full-time since 2018. Honestly, I never gave up. I’m very persistent, so every year, I would try.”
“There were opportunities in endurance racing as well. And when this opportunity came to be able to join RLL, [this] is something that I’ve been looking for for a long time and I had to grab it with with both hands.”
Fittipaldi has been fortunate to have committed backers throughout most of his career. Although RLL isn’t ready to name the sponsors that will be carried on the No. 30 Honda, the car could feature existing companies within the team’s cadre of backers and new names affiliated with its driver.
“It’s ongoing,” said RLL co-owner Bobby Rahal. “We’re always, obviously, interested in having new associations. And whether they’re created by us or created by others, the whole idea is to have a well-funded effort. And I think we’re going to be in pretty good shape there. But it’s a never-ending process. There’s no such thing as too much money. And there is a such thing of not enough time. So it’s a balance of those two things. But certainly, for Pietro, we’re doing everything we can to ensure that we have the necessary budget to do the right job.”
Fittipaldi’s best IndyCar result to date was a ninth at Portland with Dale Coyne Racing in 2018. Phillip Abbott/Motorsport Images
IndyCar teams and fans have never seen Fittipaldi’s full complement of capabilities. In nine starts spread over four seasons, he raced on every size of oval and on road courses, but he’s older now, with more seasoning from F1 testing and simulator work, not to mention strong runs at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Rolex 24 At Daytona, and other high-profile events.
At his core, Fittipaldi is a jokester and still loves to have fun, but with RLL, he transitions from being a young journeyman into an IndyCar pro who carries a ton of expectations on his shoulders to perform against the series’ best while moving RLL towards the top of the standings.
“When I went into IndyCar in 2018, it was after I won the World Series championship and Sebastien Bourdais was there [at Coyne],” he said. “So naturally, he was a great team leader. But over the past few years, gaining the experience in Formula 1, working closely together with the Haas F1 team as well in the in the World Endurance Championship and the endurance races I’ve been doing this year with Team Jota as well, they’re fantastic team. I feel I’m ready.
“We all want to get results. I understand the position of the team where they want to move forward and improve on what they already did this year, which was a very strong year for them. And I’m absolutely ready. I can’t wait to get started. Pressure is part of the game. The higher the level you go, the more pressure there’s going to be. But that means you’re getting to a higher level. Pressure makes things even better, in my opinion.”