For first time since 1970, Brazilian GP will have no homegrown drivers

Pietro Fittipaldi will be a test driver for Haas F1 Team in 2019. Photo: IndyCar
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SAO PAULO (AP) — For the first time since 1970, there will be no Brazilian driver in a Formula One race in Brazil.

So fans in the racing-crazy South American nation, home to eight F1 titles by three champions, are putting all their hopes on two young test drivers who will have a bigger role in the series next year.

Pietro Fittipaldi, the 22-year-old grandson of former F1 champion Emerson Fittipaldi, was announced Friday as test driver for Haas starting after the season-ending Abu Dhabi GP.

Sergio Sette Camara, the 20-year-old who is the only Latin American driver in Formula 2, will be McLaren’s test driver next year.

Sette Camara is sixth in the F2 standings with one race to go this season, while Pietro Fittipaldi drove as a part-time driver in the IndyCar Series. Both had their seasons marred by crashes that forced them to miss races.

Despite not having the same impressive results as some of the former Brazilian drivers before they reached F1, Sette Camara and Pietro Fittipaldi are the closest the country has to F1 since Felipe Massa retired last season after a successful career in the series.

The standards are high for Brazilian fans who were used to cheering for racing greats such as Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna, and more recently for less legendary names such as Massa and Rubens Barrichello.

“I hope these test drivers are better than fans expect. What are their names again?” said 45-year-old engineer Augusto Daniel, wearing a Mercedes cap. “I love racing regardless of seeing any Brazilian on the grid, but it is obviously disappointing not to be able to wave our flag for a local driver. It will be a strange experience this time, it will be a bit less emotional too.”

Senna was the last Brazilian to win the F1 title, in 1991. Pique won his three world titles in the 1980s, and Fittipaldi won two in the early 1970s.

Massa came close with Ferrari in 2008, losing the title by one point to Lewis Hamilton in the last lap of the season-ending race at Interlagos.

“There are just too many reasons as to why we have no Brazilian drivers on the grid,” McLaren’s sporting director Gil de Ferran said. “There is the lack of sponsorship deals for younger drivers, there needs to be a better organization of the local racing calendar, professionals need better pay. Also, the country is in a long economy crisis. It is just too many factors. We have to root for our test drivers to succeed for now.”

Earlier in the week, five-time world champion Hamilton said he doesn’t know what Brazil is doing to put drivers into F1, but he can see what other nations are doing well.

“Mexico is putting a lot of money to put their drivers in F1, Russia too,” the British driver said.

Hamilton said he did not know much about Sette Camara, who had just been announced as McLaren’s test driver.

“But there’s definitely space for Brazil, this is a country of hardcore racing fans,” the Mercedes driver said.

Mexican Sergio Perez of Force India is the only Latin American driver on the F1 grid this year.

Sette Camara trusts Brazil’s traditions in F1 to end the short drought of local drivers in the series.

“This moment will pass because we had those mavericks opening the way, we are acknowledged as a country where talent flourishes, even if our economy is not as strong as Europe’s,” he said.

Pietro Fittipaldi said Brazil’s return to F1 could have happened earlier, as he was supposed to test for Haas before the Hungarian Grand Prix this year. He couldn’t because he broke both legs in a serious accident while driving in the World Endurance Championship.

He also believes the shortage of samba on the grid will be gone soon.

“There are several young pilots, including me, Sergio. I am 100 percent sure there will be another Brazilian driver in F1 pretty soon,” the young Fittipaldi said. “And there is also my brother, Enzo…”

Racing specialists see 17-year-old Enzo Fittipaldi as the biggest upcoming Brazilian talent. This year he had the best performance among all Ferrari academy drivers and ended with a Formula 4 title in Italy. He and Pietro will live together in Maranello, where the youngest will be able to learn from F1 much before he ever has a chance to fight for a cockpit.

Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

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Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in a thrilling final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a 4.369-second victory over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

“That was incredible,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Matt Yocum. “I’ve never dug so deep in my life. The adrenaline. I did that for the guys. I was so motivated to win this thing this weekend. But I’ve got to thank everyone on the whole team.”

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Blomqvist said he gained the lead because of a shorter fuel fill after he had worked on being efficient in the second-to-last stint.

“The team asked a big job of me with the fuel; I had a big fuel number to hit,” Blomqvist said. “We knew that was probably our only chance. The yellow came at the right time and obviously we had a bit less fuel to fill up, so I was able to jump him and then it was just a matter of going gung-ho and not leaving anything on the line. And obviously, the opposition had to try too hard to make it work. I’m so thankful.”

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1.

It’s the first prototype championship for Meyer Shank Racing, which also won the 2021 Indy 500 with Castroneves.

“We’ve had in the last four years, three championships for Acura, the Indy 500 win and the Rolex 24, it doesn’t get any better,” team co-owner Mike Shank told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee.

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing, which won the first Daytona Prototype international championship in 2017. The premier category will be rebranded as the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with the LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”