Wilson Fittipaldi has Died

The Copersucar F1 car was pretty but not terribly quick - photogarpher unknown
Wilson Fittipaldi raced in F1 but was never as successful as his younger brother, Emerson – photographer unknown

Wilson Fittipaldi has died. The elder brother of two-time Formula One champion and two-time Indianapolis 500 titleholder Emerson Fittipaldi was 80. He passed on February 23. No cause of death was given, but he did suffer cardiac arrest on his birthday last December 25th.

While not nearly as well known as his accomplished brother, Wilson Fittipaldi did participate in 38 Formula One races, starting with the Argentine Grand Prix in 1972, where he raced with Motor Racing Developments in a Brabham BT33 and, later in the season a BT34. At the time when he competed, points were given only for first through sixth and Wilson Fittipaldi, who competed for three seasons – 1972, 1973 and 1975, earned three championship points during that period.

He ran the family enterprise, Copersucar Fittipaldi Formula One team between 1974 and 1982, and drove in a variety of non-championship F1 contests. While he remained in the shadows of his younger and more successful racing sibling, Wilson Fittipaldi’s business acumen helped start the Copersucar team for which he both drove and participated in its management.

Wilson Fittipaldi had success in karting – using karts that he and Emerson built in Brazil during the 1960s – and he briefly competed in Formula Three (F3) in Europe. Racing against drivers who would become famous for their F1 exploits, like Carlos Pace, eventual F1 champions Niki Lauda and James Hunt. He moved to Formula Two in 1971 and had several good outings, racing alongside Emerson for Team Bardahl-Fittipaldi using both Lotus and March chassis.

Wilson’s successes in smaller formulae allowed him to gain a position with the Brabham F1 team for the 1972 season as a pay driver and his Formula One career began with a podium at his home race in 1972, the Brazilian Grand Prix, albeit a non-championship-points-paying endeavor. He wasn’t able to repeat that kind of performance in points-paying races but he was moderately competitive mid-field runner. Wilson Fittipaldi took the 1974 season off to start the Brazilian Copersucar team and was its first driver, managing six finishes with a best of 10th at the USGP on Watkins Glen International’s road course.

The Copersucar F1 car was pretty but not terribly quick – photogarpher unknown

After climbing from the driver’s seat Wilson Fittipaldi took over management of the Copersucar team in 1976, when Emerson joined McLaren, occasionally driving in the 1980s and early 1990s and was victorious for Porsche in the classic Mil Milhas race founded by his father, in 1994 and 1995, sharing the cockpit with his son Christian, who took over as the family’s lead driver after Emerson Fittipaldi’s 1996 Michigan Speedway crash.

Wilson Fittipaldi was able to watch son Christian, who followed his father and uncle into F1, find success in the United States, where he was a driver for Newman/Haas Racing (NHR), one of the most successful outfits in CART.

This writer has a fun memory spending time with Fittipaldi at Road America back in the 1990s, when Christian was racing with NHR. At the time, the women of CART had a wine tasting after each race’s final qualifying session on Saturday afternoons. No men were allowed, but Wilson Fittipaldi found fabric to tie around his waist like a skirt, placed a flower between his teeth and tried to enter the gathering. Plenty of laughs ensued, but he was turned away, alas..

Wilson Fittipaldi is survived by his brother, Emerson, and son Christian.

About Anne Proffit 1245 Articles
Anne Proffit traces her love of racing - in particular drag racing - to her childhood days in Philadelphia, where Atco Dragway, Englishtown and Maple Grove Raceway were destinations just made for her. As a diversion, she was the first editor of IMSA’s Arrow newsletter, and now writes about and photographs sports cars, Indy cars, Formula 1, MotoGP, NASCAR, Formula Drift, Red Bull Global Rallycross - in addition to her first love of NHRA drag racing. A specialty is a particular admiration for the people that build and tune drag racing engines.

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