St. Pete: Panther Racing race report

Meira's Clash with Rookie Perera Ends with Panther in 19th Place Delphi National Guard Team Runs as High as Second; Watches Good Run End Early HOMESTEAD, Fla. (April 6, 2008) -- An early pit call to switch to slick tires between driver Vitor...

Meira's Clash with Rookie Perera Ends with Panther in 19th Place
Delphi National Guard Team Runs as High as Second; Watches Good Run End Early

HOMESTEAD, Fla. (April 6, 2008) -- An early pit call to switch to slick tires between driver Vitor Meira and race strategist John Barnes nearly propelled the Panther Delphi National Guard team into another Top Five finish on the rain-soaked street course in St. Pete.

But, with under 10 minutes remaining in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Conquest Racing rookie driver Franck Perera hit Meira's No. 4 car in its left rear, forcing the team into the tire barrier and a 19th place finish.

Meira started the race in the 17th position, but moved to 13th place by the first caution period of the race. Panther elected not to pit during the Lap 14 yellow period, but instead waited until the third caution of the day, on Lap 32, to pit the No. 4 car.

A debate ensued between Vitor and Barnes regarding if they should remain on rain tires, or make the change to slicks, with a moderate amount of water still on the track. Meira admitted to his team boss over the radio that it would be "very risky" to go to the slick tires, but they decided it was worth the danger.

The risky move paid off, as Meira's Delphi National Guard car skyrocketed to the front of the field. After being in 18th position on the Lap 36 restart, it took just nine laps for Vitor to climb into second place, trailing only countryman Enrique Bernoldi. Vitor remained inside the Top Three until he pitted, as the leader, on Lap 60 during a caution.

Meira was back to eighth place when his Dallara was struck in the left-rear wheel by Perera, as the two competitors entered Turn 10 on the 77th lap of the race. As Meira's car was wedged in the tire barrier, former Panther driver Townsend Bell struck the front of the No. 4 car, causing a significant increase in crash damage.

As Vitor climbed from his car, he confronted Perera; pointing to the area on his car where the rookie struck him entering the turn.

Meira currently ranks 19th in the IndyCar Series championship points race, just 16 points outside the top seven.

The IndyCar Series will be off next weekend in preparations for a trip to Japan for the Japan Indy 300 on April 19 at Twin Ring Motegi.

Vitor Meira, No. 4 Delphi National Guard Dallara Honda:

(On crash with Franck Perera) "What an absolutely stupid rookie mistake. (Franck) Perera was totally wrong. It was a dumb rookie move and something you'd expect out of somebody that doesn't know what they're doing on a street course. To pass here, you have to be side-by-side, at least, and you can't pass where he crashed me with just your nose inside. He didn't have one-fifth of his car in a position to pass me. He ruined a great run in the Delphi National Guard car and our decision to go with slick tires early in the race, which put us in a position to finish top five or six in the No. 4 car."

John Barnes, Panther Racing co-owner and CEO:

"Maybe next year Conquest will hire drivers who can see."

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Enrique Bernoldi , Townsend Bell , John Barnes , Franck Perera , Vitor Meira
Teams Panther Racing , Conquest Racing