Currently reading: From the motorsport archive: on this day in 1996
High-speed horror crash pushes Emerson Fittipaldi into retirement

After being thrust into the role of team leader at Lotus in 1970, becoming the youngest Formula 1 World Champion to date in 1972 and repeating the feat with McLaren two years later, Emerson Fittipaldi’s career underwent a significant downturn.

After being beaten to the title by Niki Lauda in 1975, the Brazilian made an ill-fated move to his brother Wilson’s Copersucar Fittipaldi team. Between 1976 and 1980, he recorded just two podiums before quitting F1. 

His next long-term venture would involve the US-based CART Indycar series, where he would enjoy considerable success, most notably two Indianapolis 500 wins and the overall championship in 1989, achieved while driving for Penske. 

However, his American open-wheel racing career was suddenly cut short at the 1996 Marlboro 500 in Michigan, when he hit the barriers at more than 190mph, sustaining fractured vertebrae and a collapsed lung.

Fittipaldi made a full recovery and – despite his initial insistence on continuing – never raced in CART again. His only subsequent outings were at the short-lived Grand Prix Masters series in 2005 and 2006 and a one-off appearance in the 2014 6 Hours of São Paulo.

Hamir Thapar

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