Sebastien Bourdais, right, has been a big influence to Pietro Fittipaldi, left, both before and after the latter's crash two weeks ago in Belgium. Photo: Getty Images.

As he recovers from injuries, Pietro Fittipaldi soaks in welcoming Indy atmosphere

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The only thing standing – no pun intended – between Pietro Fittipaldi and climbing into an Indy car Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a pair of crutches and a cast. But his heart and emotion was more than ready to go.

Fittipaldi planned on being at IMS this week to take part in practice for what he hoped would be his first appearance in the May 27th Indianapolis 500.

But Pietro will be watching from the sidelines this year, cheering for teammate Zachary Claman Demelo, who will be driving the No. 19 Honda for Dale Coyne Racing.

Fittipaldi, who hoped to follow in the footsteps of grandfather and two-time Indy 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi, suffered a fractured left leg and broken right ankle while qualifying for a sports car race on May 4 at Belgium’s famed Spa road course.

The 21-year-old Brazilian (he turns 25 on June 23) is expected to be sidelined until at least early July, but still holds out hopes he’ll have a few more IndyCar starts later on this season.

To date, he’s only had one career IndyCar start: earlier this year at Phoenix, where he qualified 10th but completed just 40 laps, knocked out by a crash that resulted in a 23rd-place finish.

Pietro spoke with the media Thursday at IMS about his crash, his recovery and his future during an interview session. Here are some of the highlights of that interview:

HOW IS HE FEELING: “I’m a lot better. I got here on Friday. I’ve been working with all the IndyCar doctors. Dr. (Terry) Trammell has been helping me a lot. It’s good to be in the racing environment because it keeps me active. They got me training every single day doing physical therapy and everything. Also to be close to the team, a lot of drivers came by the motorhome to come and talk to me, see how everything’s going. That’s really cool.”

ON BEING AT INDIANAPOLIS: “It’s good to be in this environment. Obviously I would like to be in different circumstances. I’d like to be racing. But it is what it is. Working hard to get back racing soon.”

ON LIVING AT IMS IN HIS MOTORHOME, EVEN THOUGH HE’S SIDELINED DUE TO HIS INJURIES: “I couldn’t really get much closer than that. We decided with all the doctors to stay at the track, at the motorhome, because Dr. Trammell is at the medical center here every day, with all the nurses there. Denise also works with IndyCar. They’ve been helping me out a lot. I’ve been training at Pit Fit doing the physical therapy here, and at the same time trying to stay up to speed with the team. The team gave me a radio. When I’m at the motorhome not doing anything, I’m just listening, trying to stay along with everything.”

MORE SPECIFICS ABOUT HIS PHYSICAL CONDITION: “My upper body feels normal, feels very strong. That’s what we’re trying to keep so when I get back in the racecar I’m really fit on the upper body. They’re already working on the lower body, as well, doing a lot of quad and hamstring stuff.

“I’m already weight bearing on the left leg, which is quite early, but the doctor has been pushing me quite hard. We’re already doing that here. Then getting the mobility back on the right ankle is going to be important, which we already are. The plan is to be back at Mid-Ohio.

“Obviously Indianapolis, I would have loved to be racing at the 500, at the Indy Grand Prix. We ran well at the test here at the GP (just days before his crash at Spa). I was really looking forward to it. Obviously, the team had a very good car. I knew before coming here we were going to have a good weekend. Unfortunately the accident happened. Now it’s fully focused on getting back recovered as soon as possible and get back to racing.”

HOW IS HE FEELING EMOTIONALLY? “Of course I’d love to be racing. Racing is like this. Things happen that sometimes are out of your control. We had an electrical issue. I lost power steering, went straight into the wall in qualifying. We all know the risks and dangers in auto racing.

“It’s like this. Now it’s my other race. Now I’m focused on getting back as fast as possible, you know, getting back to be able to do a good job.

“I’m disappointed, I’m hurt that I’m not being able to race here in the 500. But it is what it is. It’s toughen up and get back as soon as possible. … Obviously I’m going to be focused on my IndyCar schedule. Doing those last five races are going to be very important. But, you know, I’m a racer. I always want to race as many things as possible, be competitive. My focus right now is to get back as soon as possible. Like the plan is already in a week to get back in a go-kart. That’s what we want to do, then get back in Mid-Ohio. That’s going to be my first race.

“… As racers, if you love the sport, as soon as you know you have an injury, first thing you ask the doctors, When can I be back racing? You don’t even know what you have, When can I be back in the racecar? That’s the mentality we have most of the time.”

HAVE HE LEARNED ANYTHING FROM HOW DALE COYNE RACING TEAMMATE SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS CAME BACK SO QUICK FROM HIS CRASH HERE AT INDIANAPOLIS LAST YEAR? “Yeah, of course. Sebastien came to my motorhome yesterday. I was speaking to him for an hour or so. He was telling me all about his recovery, his rehab, how he got back in around eight to ten weeks, something like that. It’s obviously very inspiring.

“Even with my cousin, Christian Fittipaldi, when he got injured, he came back, he had one of his best races. He had the same injury that I had on my left leg. I’m getting a lot of input from a lot of friends and family, which is always good. It’s putting me on the right path to getting back.”

HOW MUCH HAS HE SPOKEN TO GRANDFATHER EMERSON? “Quite a lot. He was actually supposed to come visit me today, but he’s going to be coming next week. He has been following me throughout the whole process, when I got injured, when I had the surgery there in Belgium, then I got transferred here to Indianapolis last Friday.

“Another person that’s been helping me a lot is my uncle, Max Papis. He was actually in Belgium. He was going to arrive for my qualifying. I actually met him at the hospital. He helped me to connect me with all the IndyCar doctors here who have been doing a fantastic job. I really can’t thank them enough. The program they put together for me it’s top of the line. I’m really happy to be here.

“Yeah, just my whole family, my mom who has been with me, I feel bad for her because she’s been doing most of the work, getting me in and out of the wheelchair, doing everything for me. So thank you.

“I just want to take this opportunity also to thank all the fans and all my friends and family who have been sending me messages through social media, through my phone, just thank you so much. We’ll be back very soon.”

HE ONLY COMPETED IN ONE INDYCAR RACE. HOW HAS THE COMMUNITY RESPONDED TO HIM, PARTICULARLY IN LIGHT OF HIS INJURY: “It’s amazing. The environment, it’s great. I think from all the drivers, it’s a much closer community than what we’re used to in Europe. You’re very friendly. Obviously when you’re racing on track, it’s everyone for themselves. When you’re out, especially how it is at the motorhomes, I can’t experience that now, but usually you would have barbecues and stuff outside with other drivers after practice day, after a race day.

“Then obviously working with the team, since my first test at Sebring with the Dale Coyne team, the environment’s been great, with my engineer, Michael Cannon, and even from the other side, Craig Hansen, as well. They’re two very experienced engineers that I’ve been able to feed off and learn.

“I was really confident that this year we were going to be able to show some really good results. It was unfortunate what happened, but we’ll be back.”

*******************************

Team owner Dale Coyne also took part in the media session and answered a few questions as well:

WHEN DO YOU HOPE TO SEE PIETRO BACK IN A RACE CAR? “Initially you think a broken bone, six to eight weeks. The right ankle is probably going to be a little bit longer for him than his left leg. Putting weight on his left leg already. Realistically, his original schedule was to do the (INDYCAR) GP, this race, Texas, then not come back till Mid-Ohio. I think the plan is we’ve moved some races around with Zach (Demelo), so he’ll do this race, probably Texas. But that frees the whole rest of the season up so (Fittipaldi) can come back at Mid-Ohio and finish up the season.”

HOW GOOD IS IT TO SEE PIETRO AT IMS? “He’s a racer. This is the environment he lives in. These are the people that support him. You always learn. You’ve got to be here to learn. Every day there’s something to learn, whether he’s in the pits or just a radio away, people talking to him at night or in the morning. He’s going to learn every day. It’s great to have him here.”

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F1 Preview – 2018 French Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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It’s hard to believe that the French Grand Prix, the oldest grand prix event on the planet, as it dates back to June of 1906, was ever removed from the Formula 1 calendar.

Alas, not since 2008 at Magny-Cours has Formula 1 held a race on French soil. Yet, that all changes this weekend, as Formula 1 visits the Circuit Paul Ricard for its first French race in a decade.

Formula 1 teams are not strangers to Paul Ricard. It has been a popular testing facility for years, as evidenced by the below photo from 2016, featuring Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari in a wet tire test.

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – JANUARY 26: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Scuderia Ferrari drives during wet weather tire testing at Circuit Paul Ricard on January 26, 2016 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

However, in terms of racing, Paul Ricard has also been absent from the calendar for quite a long time – the last time Formula 1 race at Paul Ricard was in 1990. Alain Prost won for Ferrari that day.

1990: Alain Prost of France punches the air in celebration after passing the chequered flag in his Scuderia Ferrari to win the French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard circuit in Le Beausset, France. Mandatory Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport

As such, despite being a known quantity as a testing facility, how a race weekend will shake out is anybody’s guess.

And what’s more, it marks the beginning of three consecutive race weekends – The French Grand Prix, The Austrian Grand Prix, and The British Grand Prix – which F1 teams and drivers are calling “the triple header.”

Talking points ahead of the French Grand Prix are below.

A Journey Into the Unknown?

Like all new venues, or resurrected and refurbished ones in this case, the Circuit Paul Ricard represents somewhat of an unknown, as there’s no available race data to make predictions off of.

And the 3.61-mile, 15-turn track itself represents a range of challenges. It has fast corners, like Turns 1 and 2 (S de la Verrerie), a technical section between Turns 3 and 7 (Virage de l’Hotel through the Mistral Straight Start), and a 1.1-mile straightaway in the Mistral Straight, though it is separated by a chicane (Turns 8 and 9).

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff discussed the challenge of the circuit, highlighting the lack of data to build off of as well the tough three-race stretch ahead as especially challenging, in a preview on Formula 1’s website.

“France should be an interesting race. We don’t often get to race on a track where we have little to no historical data. It makes preparing for the weekend a bit trickier than usual, but that element of the unknown also adds to the challenge. The French Grand Prix marks the first race of the triple header, which will test all F1 teams to their limits, but also offers the chance to score a lot of points over the course of three weeks – which is precisely what we’re setting out to do,” said Wolff.

That element of the unknown makes Paul Ricard one of the biggest wildcards on the 2018 F1 calendar, and a championship shake up could be in the cards as a result.

Ferrari, Mercedes Continue Their Back and Forth

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari and Mercedes have traded jabs throughout the 2018 season, with neither able to pull away from the other so far through seven races.

Sebastian Vettel enters the French Grand Prix with a one-point lead over Lewis Hamilton, and holds a slight edge in victories – three to Hamilton’s two – and comes off a thorough domination of the Canadian Grand Prix.

Vettel led every lap at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on his way to victory, while Valtteri Bottas had to carry the Mercedes flag in finishing second. Hamilton languished in fifth, a surprising and disappointing result given his previous success there.

The aforementioned Toto Wolff described it as a “wake up call,” though Mercedes will roll out a power unit upgrade this weekend – Ferrari and Renault, which also powers Red Bull Racing, rolled out upgrades of their own in Canada.

With four long straightaways present at Paul Ricard, power will certainly be at a premium, so such upgrades will be vital in giving Mercedes a chance to make amends after Canada’s disappointment.

Trio of French Drivers Look to Impress on Home Soil

It comes hardly as a surprise that the three French drivers – Romain Grosjean, Pierre Gasly, and Esteban Ocon – are keen to make an impression at their home race.

And all three could certainly use a boost. Gasly has only one finish inside the points (seventh in the Monaco Grand Prix) since his stellar fourth place effort in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Ocon is coming off back-to-back points finishes (sixth in Monaco, ninth in Canada), but he has only one other finish inside the points this year (tenth, in Bahrain). And Grosjean, despite showing the speed to finish in the points, is yet to score any in 2018.

As such, all three are hoping for big things in their home race this weekend.

“I want to get a good weekend, have some luck, get my first points of the season, and get a lot of support from the fans,” said Grosjean. “I think we should be in a nice place at Paul Ricard. I’m always looking forward to jumping back in the car. I just love driving an F1 car.”

Ocon, who has raced and won at Paul Ricard in the past, expects his prior experience could be a big help.

“I did race at Paul Ricard early in my career – it was actually where I had my first victory in single seaters in 2013 so I have some fantastic memories of the place,” Ocon described. “I hope we can add some more success this weekend. Having been there in the junior categories makes getting used to a new track in a Formula One car much easier. I think I will find my rhythm quite quickly.”

Gasly’s excitement level obviously matches that of his French compatriots, with the added bonus that the return coincides with his rookie F1 effort.

“For me it will be absolutely incredible that my first full season of Formula 1 coincides with the return of a French Grand Prix to the calendar for the first time in 10 years,” said Gasly. “That has to be a reason for me to be very happy and I’m really excited to be racing in my home country. I can tell it will be a special feeling going out on track and actually, I have spoken to Jean Alesi and Alain Prost about it and they both told me that it will feel really special and something that you really have to experience as a Frenchman racing in France.”

Qualifying for The French Grand Prix begins at 9:55 a.m. ET on Saturday, with Sunday’s race at 9:30 a.m. ET.

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