IRL: Fontana: Rahal Letterman Racing preview

RICE'S 2004 WILD RIDE GOT CRAZIER WITH FLIP AT CHICAGO: It's been a wild ride for Buddy Rice in 2004 IRL IndyCar Series and it got wilder on Sept.12 at Chicagoland Speedway. Rice, the newly- crowned Indy 500 champion, was seeking his fourth win...

RICE'S 2004 WILD RIDE GOT CRAZIER WITH FLIP AT CHICAGO: It's been a wild ride for Buddy Rice in 2004 IRL IndyCar Series and it got wilder on Sept.12 at Chicagoland Speedway. Rice, the newly- crowned Indy 500 champion, was seeking his fourth win of the 2004 season when his No.15 Pioneer/Argent Mort- gage Honda G Force machine became airborne on lap 186 in the Delphi Indy 300. Rice was uninjured in the wild flip on the backstraight of the 1.5-mile high-banked oval south of Chicago but the crash all but eliminated the Ra- hal Letterman Racing driver from a chance at the 2004 IRL title. But Rice walked away from the crash like look similar to the one that left Rahal Letterman's previous driver, Kenny Brack, so badly injured last October at Texas. "It is hard to say what happened in the crash but I was okay," said Rice, who came from being out of a ride after the 2003 season to a three-time winner in 2004. "It's just close racing all of the time. It's wheel to wheel and things can happen. It is the second time in less than a year that the No.15 car has been on its lid. That's not what we are trying to do. Actually the crash wasn't as bad as I thought it might be. You know everyone is thinking about Kenny's crash. But when the car moved up in the air, I just grabbed my seat belts and held on. The smack wasn't too bad at first and I was waiting for the big one. But things weren't too bad. The Delphi Safety crew was there immediately. They were right on it and put out any fire that might have happened. It's not something I want to be doing every week but it was okay considering what could have happened. There were no bumps, no bruises. I just held on for the ride. I didn't get into the fence or the wall or the grass. All of the energy was spread out and it was good." Only the roll bar of Rice's car was seriously crushed in the crash. Amazingly, the car has been re- paired at the Panoz G Force factory in Georgia and returned to the team's headquarters in Hilliard, Ohio.

RICE COULD WIN NEW INDYCAR `TRIPLE CROWN' WITH A FONTANA VICTORY: Rice is seeking to record some more history in the Toyota Indy 400 at California Speedway on Oct.3. Only one Indy car driver, Al Unser, has won the old "Triple Crown" of Indy car racing with victories at Indy, Pocono and Ontario in 1978. Two other drivers, Gordon Johncock (1982) and Rick Mears (1991), have captured the Indy and Michi- gan races in the same year as Rice has done in 2004. If Rice wins at California, he will come up similar to matching Unser's 1978 feat with victories at Indy, Michigan and California. No driver has won at Indy and Fontana in the same year. Rice has won races at 300 miles (Kansas), 400 miles (Michigan) and 500 miles (Indy).

MEIRA HAS TO BE CONSIDERED AS A CONTENDER: Vitor Meira has been so close to his first IRL IndyCar Series victory that he can taste it. Everyone in the garage area knows it is only a matter of time before the driver of the No.17 Team CENTRIX Honda Panoz G Force will be standing in victory lane. And Meira would like that celebration sooner than later. "I'd like to have it at California," said Meira. "We have had fast cars at many tracks this year and the car has been good on ovals just like California. I know we are close to winning. I just would like to have had it already. But things haven't worked yet."

MEIRA ENJOYS CALIFORNIA NASCAR RACE: Meira was a guest of his primary sponsor, Centrix, on Sept.5 at California Speedway as he experiences his first Nextel Cup race. "It was great to see those cars racing under the lights," said Meira, who currently ranks ninth in the IRL IndyCar point standings. "Those cars and drivers can lean on one another which is must different than our cars. But they put on a good show for the fans. I just know that are our cars go a lot faster there. I think we'll have more side by side racing too." Prior to accepting his position with Ra- hal Letterman, Meira was scheduled to race a stock car this year in Brazil for Helio Castroneves.

NOTES: Rice has collected a league leading five pole positions this sea- son with No.1 spots at Homestead, Indy, Kansas, Nashville and Kentucky. The IRL record is six poles set by Billy Boat in 1998 for A.J. Foyt Rac- ing... Meira has recorded the fastest race lap on five occasions in 2004 including the fastest overall lap so far at 218.401 m.p.h. at the Indy 500.

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