Pietro Fittipaldi has parted ways with G-Drive Racing’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and European Le Mans Series squad due to the Brazilian’s clashing open-wheel programs.
Algarve Pro Racing, which runs G-Drive’s LMP2 operation, announced on Wednesday that Roberto Merhi will replace Fittipaldi in the No. 25 Aurus 01 Gibson alongside full-season drivers John Falb and Rui Andrade for the remaining ELMS events.
Fittipaldi is the reserve driver for the Haas Formula 1 team and also holds an NTT IndyCar Series oval drive with the Dale Coyne Racing and Rick Ware Racing collaboration.
The IndyCar round at World Wide Technology Raceway in St. Louis falls on the same Aug. 21-22 weekend as the rescheduled 24 Hours of Le Mans.
While there are no more direct clashes between the ELMS and Fittipaldi’s confirmed IndyCar program, the 24-year-old explained that travel challenges during the coronavirus pandemic made it necessary to re-evaluate his set of programs.
“Unfortunately, I’m unable to continue racing with G-Drive Racing operated by Algarve Pro Racing because of conflicting dates,” he said.
“The 24 Hours of Le Mans was moved to conflict with my IndyCar commitments, and the frequent date changes coupled with travel restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have made it difficult to continue with the ELMS and Le Mans.
“It’s disappointing and I wish I could carry on because we finished P2 in class in Barcelona, and I’m sure there’s more to come.
“It was great to work with John [Falb] and Rui [Andrade], but let’s see what happens in the future because I’d love to have another opportunity to work with them and Algarve Pro Racing.”
Merhi will step in to share the No. 25 Aurus with Andrade and Falb for the next five ELMS rounds, starting this weekend at the Red Bull Ring.
The ex-Formula 1 driver also represented G-Drive in the team’s recent FIA World Endurance Championship cameo at Spa, in place of Fittipaldi who had a pair of races at Texas Motor Speedway.
Algarve Pro Racing team principal Stewart Cox said that his team supports the direction taken with Fittipaldi.
“We’re naturally very disappointed to see Pietro go because he’s been a pleasure to work with, he has already brought a lot to the team and I have no doubt he would have made a significant contribution to our overall 2021 European Le Mans season,” he commented.
“We completely understand and respect the need to streamline his program due to recent changes in the motorsport calendar.
“We’re currently living in very unusual, challenging times when you have to be adaptable and international travel is difficult, and there’s no workable solution in this instance.
“We wish Pietro all the best with his Haas F1 and IndyCar commitments and hope we have a chance to work with him again in the future.”
Sargeant to Make LMP2 Debut with TF Sport
In addition to G-Drive Racing’s full-time lineup change, there are a handful of updates on the 41-car entry list for round two of the ELMS at the Red Bull Ring including an LMP2 debut for American open-wheel prospect Logan Sargeant.
Sargeant, who finished third in FIA Formula 3 last year, will sub for Hary Tincknell who is unable to be with the TF Sport-run Racing Team Turkey outfit this weekend due to his clashing IMSA DPi commitments at Mid-Ohio with Mazda Motorsports.
Sargeant sampled Racing Team Turkey’s TF Sport-run and JOTA-engineered Oreca 07 Gibson at the ELMS Prologue pre-season test last month and is now set for his category race debut alongside full-season drivers Charlie Eastwood and Salih Yoluc.
Ross Gunn is also affected by the IMSA clash and will be replaced in the TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage GTE by Le Mans class winner Jonny Adam.
The GTE category has grown by one since the 4 Hours of Barcelona season-opener with AF Corse’s Francois Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard and Alessio Rovera kicking off their campaign with a Ferrari 488 GTE Evo at round two.
This addition keeps the field at 41 cars considering the planned absence of Frederic Sausset’s Association SRT41 ‘innovative’ entry from the Red Bull Ring.
2019-20 Formula 3 Asia champion Joey Alders has joined Eurointernational’s Ligier LMP3 lineup, along with Turkish racer Cem Bolukbasi.
Poland’s Mateusz Kaprzyk, who drove for Eurointernational at Barcelona, has switched to Inter Europol Competition’s No. 14 LMP3 entry in place of Alessandro Bracalente.
Ulysse de Pauw, who drives a Bentley in Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS Sprint Cup, is also joining Inter Europol for the Red Bull Ring round.