IRL: Meira moving up

IRL: Meira moving up

These are tough times for journeymen drivers, the guys who show up on any Indy Racing League IndyCar Series race weekend hoping that they might land the next great ride. Just think of them as a group of "Buddy Rice in waiting." Vitor...

These are tough times for journeymen drivers, the guys who show up on any Indy Racing League IndyCar Series race weekend hoping that they might land the next great ride. Just think of them as a group of "Buddy Rice in waiting."

Vitor Meira.
Photo by indyracing.com/Ron McQueeney.
Such a driver is Rice's current teammate at Rahal Letterman Racing, Vitor Meira. The 27-year-old Brazilian drove for Team Menard the past season and a half in a sporadic manner, with opportunities coming to him due to the misfortunes or missteps of other drivers, not always through his measurable talent.

Meira will be working his fifth event for Rahal Letterman Racing this weekend in the Argent Mortgage Kansas Indy 300 on the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway oval. Driving the #17 Team Centrix Panoz G Force/Honda/Firestone racer, Vitor has brought home some good results for the Hilliard, OH-based team.

While Meira retired with clutch failure at Twin Ring Motegi this April, he finished sixth in the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, sixth again at the Bombardier 500K on Texas Motor Speedway's high 1.5-mile banked oval and last Saturday night earned second place in the SunTrust Indy Challenge on the .75-mile Richmond International Raceway bullring. The latter was Meira's best IndyCar Series result in 18 races.

Meira has spent nearly a decade trying to get to the top "and now I want to stay," he reveals. "The IRL is the top of everything. I thought I did a good job the last two years and suddenly, at the start of 2004 I was without a ride." Former patron John Menard decided to merge his outfit with that of Panther Racing, placing 2003 Menards Infiniti Pro Series champion Mark Taylor in the driver's seat. At least for the first six races: Taylor was relieved of his driving duties today.

So for the first two races of the 16-event 2004 IndyCar Series campaign, "I was walking around," Meira recalls. "Rahal Letterman Racing gave me the opportunity to go to Japan and Indy and, while it's not the best thing in the world, I couldn't be in a better place," he stated.

"The guys are so professional and they work so hard that I'm not really worried about tomorrow. I worry about today and do the best I can for Rahal Letterman Racing." Meira is marking time as his current team prepares for the return of driver Kenny Brack, injured last October in a horrendous accident at the IRL's Texas finale, where Meira took fourth place with Menard's outfit.

Vitor Meira knows he's got a job this weekend, but beyond that it's anyone's guess. He was part of a three-car assault on Indianapolis that gave his RLR team first, sixth and tenth places in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

The team's Centrix sponsorship was only supposed to carry through Indy, but has gone to Texas, where Meira was first to qualify on a track that grew progressively better (hence his 13th place start), Richmond and now Kansas.

After placing himself in the top ten thrice in a row, Meira is pretty pleased with the results. "I drove quite a few cars before this and I'm surprised how the team comes up with the right setups and we get results from my work and teamwork at Rahal Letterman Racing. I'm surprised how it is all working out so well."

Meira is "working to keep on the rest of the year. The team is very happy with the results and I don't see a reason why I would not continue. I only pray that Team Centrix wants to continue both on and off the track." Not really auditioning for future work, Meira is simply "doing what I know how to do, just trying my best for the team. I'm glad to drive, to do the best I can. I'm in a good place," his sly smile reveals.

He seems awfully patient for a young racecar driver, doesn't Meira? "My patience comes from wanting it so bad, maybe," he explains. "I give my maximum effort all the time. Maybe the patience comes from doing this since I was six years old. I learn at every step," Meira insists.

He has a quiet confidence about him as the team prepares for the Kansas race. "There's no reason not to be confident. Victory is something I am always looking for but it's very difficult to make it happen. We have to work, work, work and do our best every day. As long as we keep on this way we are going to happen, sooner or later."

Meira's forte is as a racer and his qualifying lapses are another hurdle. "For the races I always have a good car. Being first out at Texas to qualify was tough because the track got so much better. Racing is the important thing," he recites.

"Don't get me wrong, qualifying is important and qualifying up front is important because problems happen on the starts. The racing part has been a bit stronger for us but we need to figure out qualifying. It's just a part of the package."

After a season and a half driving with a Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone parcel Meira finds it fairly easy to adapt to the Panoz G Force/Honda/Firestone package. "It's just a different seatback and buttons. It's not the best situation but not bad to change. When you have speed, it's easy to put everything together. You can find speed in any type of car."

Finding speed appears to be one of Vitor Meira's specialties. While he hasn't had the best luck at Kansas in his sole previous appearance (clutch failure there last year), it seems this Boy from Brasilia has all the tools at his disposal to put together another good finish with Rahal Letterman Racing in the Argent Mortgage Kansas Indy 300 on July 4th. Come Sunday afternoon, he could easily be providing the fireworks.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Mark Taylor , Kenny Brack , Buddy Rice , Vitor Meira
Teams Panther Racing