Pietro Fittipaldi thought he would be preparing for his Indianapolis 500 debut this week. Instead, he is recovering from multiple leg fractures and watching someone else drive his race car.
Fittipaldi was injured in a crash during a qualifying session for the 6 Hours of Spa Francorchamps in Belgium earlier this month. The 21-year-old grandson of two-time Formula One world champion Emerson Fittipaldi returned to Indianapolis last Friday after surgery to stabilize his legs.
"I'm disappointed, I'm hurt that I'm not being able to race here in the 500," he said Thursday. "But it is what it is. It's toughen up and get back as soon as possible."
Fittipaldi is expected to be sidelined at least eight weeks, and Dale Coyne Racing has picked rookie Zachary Claman De Melo to drive the No. 19 in the May 27 Indianapolis 500.
Fittipaldi is staying in a motorhome at Indianapolis Motor Speedway the next two weeks.
"I couldn't really get much closer than that," he said. "We decided with all the doctors to stay at the track, at the motorhome, because Dr. (Terry) Trammell is at the medical center here every day, with all the nurses there. They've been helping me out a lot."
Being at the track also helps Fittipaldi keep his spirits up after missing a chance to participate in "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing." His Brazilian grandfather won the race in 1993.
"It's good to be in the racing environment because it keeps me active," he said. "A lot of drivers came by the motorhome to come and talk to me, see how everything's going. That's really cool. It's good to be in this environment. Obviously I would like to be in different circumstances. I'd like to be racing."
Coyne said it was important for Fittipaldi to be at the track, even if he's injured.
"This is the environment he lives in. These are the people that support him," Coyne said. "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."
This is the second consecutive season Coyne has had to adjust his Indy 500 lineup. Sebastien Bourdais crashed during qualifying and broke his pelvis and hip eight days before the Indy 500. Doctors told Bourdais he'd be out the remainder of the year, but his rehab program was so intense that he returned to the car months ahead of schedule. Bourdais spent about an hour with Fittipaldi discussing his own comeback, and he's already questioning the timetable doctors gave him.
"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?'" he said. "You don't even know what (injuries) you have, but it is, 'When can I be back in the race car?' That's the mentality we have most of the time."
Added Coyne: "They never believe (the doctors). They want to cut that (recovery time) number in half."