Debris from other drivers’ crashes turned Vitor Meira’s race from one of redemption to that of survival at Iowa Speedway Saturday night. Meira finished 18th in the Iowa Corn Indy 250.
Meira endured a hectic night of racing which saw his ABC Supply team replace his front wing and then repair the replacement wing twice after two separate incidents involving more debris.
“I think to survive the weekend is the correct call,” said Meira afterwards. “It’s not the weekend we could have had but I choose to look at the bright side, which is we found a major problem before the race. We were very puzzled about the car after the final practice. I think we found the problem because the car changed completely from last practice. It was another car [in the race]; it had tons of rear grip and it never stepped out on me, if anything it pushed.”
After a dismal final practice which saw the No. 14 last on the speed chart, the team examined the car and found what they believed to be the problem. It was caused by an innovation which solved one problem but caused a handling problem.
At the start of the race, Meira advanced to 14th but then dropped to 16th after 10 laps. When James Jakes crashed in turn 2, everyone pitted under caution on lap 26. Efficient pit work enabled Meira to pick up one spot and then two more when Will Power and Charlie Kimball crashed in the pits.
On the restart though, Meira dropped back several spots, saying the car was loose on cold tires. Ana Beatriz passed him but ten laps later she and Mike Conway crashed in turn 2. Meira had little time to react and clipped some debris from the accident which broke his front wing and bent the right front toe link on the suspension. The ABC Supply crew replaced the nose and then replaced the toe link with Meira stopping six times during the 18-lap caution period.
Meira lost a couple laps but did regain one with the wave around. However, the car was not right so he held on until the next caution period brought about by Will Power’s crash in turn 2 and he pitted on lap 91 to have the toe link adjusted further.
Sebastian Saavedra’s crash in turn 2 on lap 114 brought about another caution period and Meira pitted three times to have a piece of wheel removed from his front wing, have the subsequent hole taped and get a splash of fuel since they were at the end of the pack. Despite all of his travails, he was still only a lap down and in 19th position when racing resumed on lap 129.
However, the car picked up a push and Meira went two laps down on lap 164. About 15 laps later he was told to slow down and pit as Larry and A.J. Foyt observed a flash of fire on the right side of the 14 car as he headed towards turn 1. They thought he may have had a rear suspension failure. After examining the car, the crew found that part of the right front wing had been torn, probably caused by debris on track. It took seven minutes to repair the wing and examine the rear part of the car to make sure it wasn’t damaged.
In retrospect, the debris may have come from Takuma Sato’s car as he crashed in turn 2 moments after Meira had his problem. Once again, he rejoined the field with the instruction from Foyt to “Ride it out” as Meira was many laps down to the leaders.
When the duel for the lead between Tony Kanaan and eventual winner Marco Andretti heated up in the closing laps, Foyt told Meira to pit for good. “We were so far down, we couldn’t gain anything and I didn’t want him to be in the way of the leaders because they were racing hard,” said Foyt.
Meira was philosophical, saying, “A tough two weeks for us but we’re bigger than that. We’re better than the problems we had here so we’ll overcome it. We will learn from it and then we put it behind us and move forward.”
Andretti won the second race of his career over former teammate and 2010 Iowa Speedway winner Kanaan. Third through fifth were Scott Dixon, J.R. Hildebrand and Dario Franchitti. None of the seven drivers involved in accidents were injured. The next race for the IZOD IndyCar Series will be the Honda Indy Toronto on Sunday, July 10th.