Christian Fittipaldi uses experience, adaptation to stay competitive racing sports cars

Christian Fittiapldi still has plenty in the tank.

No, he’s not the 21-year-old who broke into Minardi like so many Formula 1 hopefuls have. He’s not the 25-year-old who comes to America to race in CART , the 28-year-old winner at Road America or a 30-year-old getting into the foreign world of stock cars with Richard Petty.

No, Fittipaldi is 46, a sports car veteran, a sports student who loves the highs and suffers the lows as much as ever and wins more.

“I think the dynamics of the sport have changed a bit since I started running when I was 11,” said Fittiapaldi, from São Paulo, Brazil.

“If you keep going, you’re cool. There are some things you can’t tackle the same way you did years ago because the cars are different. The way they run the race is different.

“So if you evolve all the time and approach the sport in the right way… I don’t see that as a problem.

“There is sometimes a problem when a driver stops in time.”

Fittipaldi and his longtime Action Express teammate, 42-year-old Portuguese driver Joao Barbosa, have never stopped adapting or learning. Or win.

The pair combined for the 2015 IMSA title and finished second to teammates Dane Cameron and Eric Curran last season.

This year they narrowly missed winning the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona when an aggressive move by Ricky Taylor sent their first No. 5 Cadillac – with Felipe Albuquerque at the wheel – spinning less than 7 minutes to play. Fittipaldi and Barbosa won last month at Watkins Glen, NY

They head to Elkhart Lake this weekend for the Continental Road Race Showcase (1:35 p.m. Sunday, FS1) looking to turn things around with their teammates and match their success from three years ago.

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This season is the perfect example of what Fittipaldi means when he talks about learning and adapting. Along with General Motors’ move from Corvette to Cadillac (that’s okay), the series has moved from its old Daytona Prototype car to Daytona Prototype International, a variant of the LM P2 in Europe.

The car carries more downforce and is stiffer, more like the single-seaters he drove decades ago than last year’s IMSA prototype.

Christian Fittipaldi says the new DPi car looks more single-seater than the previous MSA Daytona prototype.

“When you drive the car for the second time and you get a new reaction, you say, ‘Wow, that’s quite different’, then you go back and say, ‘Okay, where have I experienced this before? ‘” Fittipaldi said.

Maybe the feel is reminiscent of an Indy car nearly two decades ago. Or maybe something else. The thing is, Fittipaldi and riders like him have that knowledge base to build on.

“You’re always learning, no matter how old you are,” Fittipaldi said.

“I always criticize myself – in a good way – after every race weekend. I collect the good things I’ve done and analyze the bad things I’ve done and try to improve and improve them. move on to the next weekend.

“If you don’t, the young wolves will certainly eat you alive.”

Fittipaldi doesn’t feel particularly old. He was surprised to learn that it had been 18 years since he had beaten then-teammate Michael Andretti at Road America for his decisive CART victory.

Paul Newman, co-owner of this team, was an active driver who was part of a class-winning team at Daytona at the age of 70, which makes 46 seem quite young.

Fittipaldi has no doubt that he will stop before Newman. Although he doesn’t know when it might happen, he knows how he will find out.

“It’s very simple,” he says. “The day I lose and for whatever reason I don’t get mad or heartbroken, and the day I win and I shrug my shoulders and walk away and I don’t feel excited, there’s no reason for me to be here.”

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