SPARTA, Ky. (August 2004) A crash during practice last year at the Kentucky Speedway put IRL IndyCar Series driver Vitor Meira out of race contention. Instead of entering The Belterra Casino Indy 300, he was taken to Indianapolis, where he underwent surgery for a fractured right wrist. Sam Hornish Jr. went on to win the race from the pole.
August Cover of Ky.
Meira, who made his IndyCar Series debut at Kentucky in 2002, will with any luck fare better this year at the track. He plans to compete on Sunday, Aug. 15, in the 300-mile IndyCar Series event, sponsored again this year by Belterra.
A native of Brasilia, Brazil, 27-year-old Meira has been racing since age 13. He has garnered championship titles in the British Formula Ford Winter Series (1995) and the South American F3 Series (2000). He also has raced with relative success in the British Formula Renault Series (1998) and the European F3000 Series (2001-02).
Last year for Team Menard, Meira ran 10 IRL IndyCar Series races. The crash at Kentucky caused him to miss not only the race there but also the following races at Nazareth and Chicagoland. He returned for the final two races of the season at California and Texas and ultimately finished the season a dismal 22nd place in points.
The dark cloud that hung over Meira last season seemed to shadow him again this year. He entered 2004 without a team. But like flowers in the spring, Meiras future blossomed with promise in March when he was picked up by Rahal Letterman Racing. The team is owned by retired three-time CART series champion Bobby Rahal and late night talk show host and Indianapolis native David Letterman.
I missed the first two races, and then, I couldnt have been luckier. I was just walking around the Phoenix paddock, and all of a sudden (Rahal Letterman Racing COO) Scott Roembke gave me the opportunity to go to Japan and Indianapolis, he said.
The deal, initially a two-race contract, was extended at the end of June by the team when primary sponsor CENTRIX Financial agreed to back the No. 17 Honda G-Force car for the remainder of the season. Rahal Letterman Racing announced that Meira will drive the car until Kenny Brack is ready to return.
Brack was injured in a near-fatal crash in last years season finale in Texas. Kennys recovery is nothing short of a miracle, considering the severity of the incident, said Rahal. While mentally he is ready to race, physically, Kenny feels he needs more time to prepare for the rigors of the sport. Kenny has consistently said throughout this process that he wouldnt return to competitive racing until he felt he was 100 percent.
Brack tested at Richmond on June 5 for the first time since his crash but said afterward that he will require more rehabilitation before he is ready to compete again.
In the meantime, Meira will continue to drive for the team. We are very excited to extend our relationship with Rahal Letterman Racing, said CENTRIX Financial Chairman and CEO Bob Sutton.
We have been impressed with the professionalism of the team and Vitor Meira, and Vitor has been extremely strong at the wheel of the Team CENTRIX Honda. We look forward to watching and working with Vitor and the team for the rest of the 2004 IRL season, and we believe well see the No. 17 Team CENTRIX Honda G-Force car in victory lane very soon.
By mid-season, Meira had twice come close, with back-to-back second-place finishes at Richmond and Kansas.
Meira finished second at Kansas to teammate Buddy Rice, who drove the No. 15 Pioneer/Argent Mortgage Honda G-Force for Rahal Letterman Racing. In his second victory of the season, Rice beat Meira by just .0051 of a second, the second closest finish in IndyCar Series history. So close was the margin of victory that it was discernible only through the lens of a high speed digital camera used by TAG Heurer, the IRLs official timekeeper and scorer. The camera, which can shoot 10,000 frames a second fast enough to freeze rotating tires on a car running in excess of 200 mph verified Rices victory.
Team owner and recent International Motorsports Hall of Fame inductee Bobby Rahal was obviously pleased with the 1-2 result.
These guys, the success that were having as a team is, in my mind, absolutely because of the cooperation and the real teamwork that Buddy and Vitor exhibit, Rahal said in a post-race interview. Whether it was at Indy, now were seeing it at each of the races we go to. I think the work theyre carrying out is being honestly done. Nobodys playing games. Its truly a team. I think thats why were running as strong as we are.
Combined, teammates Meira and Rice have earned 10 top-10 finishes.
Despite missing out on victory by less than a second, Meira was happy. I didnt know who won. It was so close. But Ill take second to Buddy because it was a total team effort by Rahal Letterman Racing, the Brazilian said following the race.
This team is really good and they have given me a tremendous opportunity to race a strong car. I think we are going to win one of these races soon. I guess I couldnt get much closer.