The latest feature in my series looking at every driver who competed in the 2001 Rockingham 500.
My next series of features will be looking at each driver who competed in my first ever major international motorsport race, the 2001 Rockingham 500, the first time the American CART Championship had raced in the UK since 1979.
Having been confirmed the previous July, the race was held in front of 38,000 people who witnessed, at the time, the fastest ever laps on a British circuit, with hitting speeds of over 215 mph. It was also the first full length oval race in the UK since before the war, when cars roared round Brooklands.
I was seven when I watched the action at a very cold Rockingham, I remember my parents either side of me keeping me warm. However, I also remember the excitement of watching a major motorsport event trackside for the first time, having been to the official opening that May. The speed the cars hit was mind blowing and something I can still recall now.
The race was won by Gil de Ferran who executed a superb move on the last lap to beat Swede Kenny Brack, with fellow Brazilians Cristiano da Matta and Helio Castroneves finishing third and fourth.
Michael Andretti finished fifth ahead of his teammate Paul Tracy in sixth, with 1996 CART Champion Jimmy Vasser in seventh. The fourth Brazilian in the field Tony Kanaan was eighth ahead of home favourite Dario Franchitti.
Spaniard Oriol Servia rounded out the top ten for Sigma Autosport, while just outside the top ten, Italian Max Papis came home eleventh. After Papis in eleventh was Townsend Bell with his Patrick Racing teammate Roberto Moreno just behind in thirteenth. After the Patrick Racing duo of Bell and Moreno was the Forsythe trio of Alex Tagliani, Bryan Herta and Patrick Carpentier.
Following the trio was Fernandez Racing’s Shinji Nakano, a lap ahead of the sole remaining Chip Ganassi Racing entry of Memo Gidley.
Behind Gidley was Bettenhausen Racing’s Michel Jourdain Jr, ahead of PacWest Racing’s Mauricio Gugelmin, who finished five laps down and two laps behind Jourdain Jr. The final driver to finish, also five laps down was Gugelmin’s compatriot Max Wilson, who was racing for Arciero-Blair Racing.
Having looked at non finishers Scott Dixon and Adrian Fernandez, the next driver I am going to look at is the second Newman/ Haas driver Christian Fittipaldi, who retired with gearbox issues after 52 laps.
Prior to 2001, Christian enjoyed a career in some of the world’s premier championships, his career starting however in Formula Ford in 1988 at the age of 16, finishing second in the Brazilian championship at his first attempt.
For 1989, Christian graduated to the SudAm F3 series in which he finished third before winning the championship at his second attempt in 1990. 1990 also saw Christian compete in the British Formula 3 championship, finishing fourth in what was his first season competing outside South America. On tracks that he had never raced before, Christian only finished behind West Surrey Racing teammate Mika Hakkinen, Mika Salo and Bowman Racing’s Steve Robertson. The highlight of Christian’s British F3 season came at Donington Park where he won his first race in Europe.
In what was a dominant championship for the two Finns, however Christian also impressed in his first season away from Brazil, which saw him graduate to International F3000 for 1991 with Pacific Racing, who would later enter F1, alongside Italian Antonio Tamburini.
The grid was littered with talent with drivers such as Alan McNish, Heinz-Harold Frentzen, Damon Hill and Alex Zanardi all competing for top honours in some legendary teams. Despite the fierce competition, Christian won the title with two victories and a further five podiums in the ten round season, beating Zanardi in second by five points.
Despite winning the International F3000 title, Christian also contested the 1991 Macau GP, the most prestigious F3 race in the world, for Edenbridge/ Theodore Racing. Christian finished third behind David Coulthard and Jordi Gene, in what would prove to be his final junior single seater race before moving up to Formula 1 for 1992, with Minardi.
By making his debut in F1 in 1991, at the age of just 19, he became the first driver to compete in F1 who was born in the 1970s and although Minardi always had a reputation for being at the of the back of the grid, Christian fared well, scoring his first F1 point at the penultimate round of the season in Japan, ensuring he remained with the team for 1993.
1993 was a much more promising year for Christian, scoring points in the first race of the season in South Africa, finishing in the points once more at Monaco later in the season. It ensured he ended the season a respectable thirteenth in the standings with five points. 1993 was however best known for his crash at the end of the Italian Grand Prix, when he caught his teammates rear wheel before flipping backwards a fully 360 degrees, landing upright and crossing the line to finish the race.
His impressive results caught the eye of Footwork, who signed the Brazilian alongside Italian Gianni Morbidelli. Two fourth place finishes at Aida and Hockenheim were Christian’s 1994 highlights in what proved to be his final season in F1 before a switch to IndyCar with Walker Racing for 1995.
Despite a fifth place in his first race in the series, followed by a second at the Indy 500 later in the year, Christian’s first season in CART did not yield him the constant success he may have been hoping for, rather being known for his consistent finishing position instead of his outright pace.
1995 was Christian’s only season with Waler Racing, switching to the legendary Newman/ Haas Team alongside Michael Andretti, in what was the first season of the CART, Indy Car split. It was a successful first season with the team for Christian as he claimed two podiums and consistently finished in the points, ending the year fifth in the standings with 110 points.
Christian remained with Newman/ Haas Racing throughout his time in the CART Series, however he never bettered his 1996 successes. By 1999 however, Christian’s consistency was being matched by his speed, which saw him win his first CART race at Road America, seeing him jump to fifth in the standings, before an injury thwarted his season, ending the year seventh.
Another victory at the 2000 season finale at Auto Club proved to be his final win in the championship, before an equal high finish of fifth in 2002 being his last season in the series before moving to Sports Car racing ahead of the 2003 season.
Christian’s first foray into the world of Sports Cars came as early as February 2003, when he competed in his first 24 Hours of Daytona alongside Didier Theys, Forest Barber and Terry Borcheller. The quartet completed 67 before an engine failure resulted in their failure to finish.
Just two weeks later he was back at Daytona contesting his first, and only, Daytona 500. In what was the shortest Daytona 500 in history, the race shortened by rain, Christian finished 35th a lap down on eventual winner Michael Waltrip.
Christian returned to the series later that year for Petty Enterprises, entering sixteen races although he failed to qualify for three of them in what would be his only NASCAR experience.
2004 was Christian’s third championship in three years as he contested five races of the Grand American Rolex Series for Bell Motorsports, which included the 24 Hours of Daytona, which Christian competed alongside Barber and Borcheller once more, the trio being joined by Briton Andy Pilgrim.
After Christian’s 2003 disappointment, 2004 was a welcome contrast as he and the rest of the team dominated the race, eventually winning by a staggering three laps.
It was Christian’s only win of the season however what a win to take. Christian ended his part-time season 27th.
Following on from Christian’s part-time season in 2004, 2005 was another new championship as he contested the entire Stock Car Brasil season for Terra Avallone in a Mitsubishi Lancer, achieving five points finishes and 23rd in the standings. Earlier in the year also saw Christian return to the 24 Hours of Daytona with Bell Motorsports however his defence of the race was unsuccessful as an oil leak ending their chances.
A year later saw a similar fate beset Christian as an engine failure after 669 laps ended his chances once more, although this time he was still classified as a finisher. Christian also contested his second season of Stock Car Brasil, finishing 27th. As well as contesting the Stock Car Brasil championship, Christian also raced the entire 2006 American Rolex Series for Cheever Racing, finishing on the podium once ending the season 18th.
Alongside his endurance racing exploits in America, Christian also made his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut for ACEMCO Motorsports in a Saleen S7-R, once again with Borcheller as his teammate with Briton Johnny Mowlem completing the trio. The duo completed 337 laps and finished the race eleventh overall and sixth in class.
In what was a very busy year for Christian, 2006 also saw him make his single-seater return as he represented Brazil in the inaugural A1 GP season, contesting eight races for his country.
These appearances behind the wheel of the Team Brazil A1 car would prove to be the last single seater races of Christian’s career as he remained with Cheever Racing for 2007 in the Grand American Rolex Series, contesting fourteen of the fifteen races that year. As well as his time in America, Christian also competed in the Le Mans Series for Team Modena alongside Darren Turner in an Aston Martin DBR9 GT1, finishing twelfth in the six race season.
His time with Team Modena also ensured he contested his second 24 Hours of Le Mans with Jos Menten and Antonio Garcia as his teammates. Once again, Christian finished the race, this time seventeenth overall, completing 318 laps in the DBR9.
Christian’s final appearance in the great race came a year later in 2008, once again in an Aston Martin DBR9 alongside Menten once more and Borcheller for Team Modena, finishing the race 30th overall completing 302 laps.
Despite this being Christian’s final 24 Hours of Le Mans appearance, he continued to race in the Grand American Le Mans Series for Cheever Racing, contested five races achieving a single podium as well as driving for the legendary Andretti Green Racing in the American Le Mans Series.
2009 was a sabbatical for Christian, only contesting in kart events before returning to cars in 2010 for his own team in the Trofeo Linea Brasil, a one-make series using the Fiat Linea. Christian won once on his way to fourth in the championship, in which he contested once more in 2011, again for his own team. This time he finished seventh.
However, Christian’s best season in the series came in the championship’s final year before it folded in 2012 as he won twice, ending the year third. 2012 also saw Christian contest a variety of championships such as Superstars Italy and Formula Truck.
It was not until 2013 that Christian had a consistent drive once more as he returned to the Grand American Rolex Series with Action Express Racing winning twice. It ensured he finished fourth in the standings in what proved to be the final season for the Grand American Rolex Series.
2014 saw the unification of the two top American Endurance championships to form IMSA, in which Christian joined, remaining with Action Express Racing partnering Joao Barbosa in a Coyote Corvette Daytona Prototype.
The season started well for Christian, winning his second 24 Hours of Daytona alongside Barbosa and Sebastian Bourdais in what was very competitive grid. Two podiums at Sebring and Long Beach followed for the duo before winning another two races later in the season at Indianapolis and Road America, ensuring he and Barbosa won the inaugural IMSA championship.
However, it got better for the duo in 2015 as although they were not able to defend their 24 Hours of Daytona crown, finishing second, they were able to defend their IMSA crown, beating closest competition Michael Valiante and Richard Westbrook by three points. The duo won twice in 2015, once again at Sebring and the final round of the season at Atlanta.
The duo remained together for 2016 in the hope of making it three championships in a row, however they were sadly unable to achieve this feat, missing out by just three points on their way to second in the championship.
Christian remained with Barbosa and Action Express Racing for 2017 as the team switched both car and team name to Mustang Sampling Racing in a Cadillac DPi. The duo was again were impressive throughout, ending the season third, winning once at Watkins Glenn.
2017 proved to be Christian’s final full season in motorsport as he returned as a part time driver in 2018, contesting five of the twelve race season. However, one of those was the 24 Hours of Daytona in which he won for a third time alongside Barbosa once more and Barbosa’s compatriot Filipe Albuquerque.
It would prove to be his last victory in motorsport, his final appearance in motorsport coming in 2019 when Christian contested the 24 Hours of Le Mans for one final time alongside Albuquerque and Barbosa once more. The trio contested the race in a Cadillac DPi and finished ninth overall and seventh in class, not the winning end Christian surely wanted but he still finished a 24 hour race, an achievement in itself.
Christian is a driver I would have loved to have seen more of as I was growing up however, I sadly did not have the means to watch.
Now that he has the retired, I hope he enjoys watching his family members, Enzo and Pietro, develop and continue the family legacy in motorsport.
NOTE: I must thank Anthony Fosh for his help throughout this piece, I have been lucky to be able to use a lot of his fantastic work within this feature. If you would like to see Anthony's full collection, you can view it here: www.flickr.com/photos/antsphoto
Additional Pictures: www.racer.com, www.sportscarracingnews.com, www.snaplap.com, www.motorsportimages.com