Thiago Medeiros began building his 2004 Menards Infiniti Pro Series championship last year, when he won the season finale after knocking on the virtual doors all year long. Having to race a dominant Mark Taylor in 2003 who had the weight of Panther Racing to support him, Medeiros still never looked out-classed; he just didn't have the right team to work with and to help him succeed as he deserved.
Those problems evaporated for the current Menards Infiniti Pro Series season, as Medeiros has pretty much pummeled his opponents, winning five races - including an Indy Racing League record four in a row - and bringing home seven pole positions in the 11 races held thus far.
As does the premier IndyCar Series, the Menards Infiniti Pro Series holds its final, twelfth race of the year on the high banks at Texas Motor Speedway, as the "second home of the IRL" holds the season finale for the final time. The Pro series race takes place October 16th, and Medeiros hopes to place punctuation marks on his dominant year but repeating in Victory Lane.
The title chase has been no walkover for the tall, likable and quiet 22- year-old Medeiros, even if it looked that way. Joining Sam Schmidt Motorsports in the off-season, the Brazilian has thrived under the former driver's tutelage and, with an energetic crew backing him; Thiago began the year with a second place result on the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway in South Florida.
He then went on to snag four straight victories - on the one-mile Phoenix International Raceway oval, in the Futaba Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, on the Kansas high-banked 1.5-mile oval and on the concrete 1.33- mile Nashville Superspeedway.
Decimating his challengers, including perennial runner-up Paul Dana, Medeiros finally had a wheel bearing problem at The Milwaukee Mile, which allowed Dana to earn his first career Pro series victory and, while it might have appeared to some in Wisconsin that Medeiros had lost his touch,
Thiago rebounded by taking second on 2-mile Michigan Speedway, an uncharacteristic sixth at Kentucky Speedway's 1.5-mile oval, third on the Pikes Peak mile oval and, just as a reminder, he finished first once again at the Chicagoland 1.5-mile oval to give himself a close look at the trophy.
Despite crashing out of last weekend's California 100 on the 2-mile California Speedway oval, Medeiros clinched. All he had to do to earn the title on Saturday afternoon was to start the race, but Medeiros still ran at the front until the crash occurred. "The race wasn't great," he recalled. "I crashed, but I walked away and I'm glad I came out of that safely."
Never looking back, Medeiros always seems to have tunnel vision as he prepares for the next race rather than languishing on what could have been. He's doing the same thing in preparation for the October 16th contest at Texas Motor Speedway.
"I took my first Pro series win at Texas and I have great memories of the track," Thiago reminisced. "We run in such close packs, 2-3 wide there. The track has grip all around and, for sure, I'm looking for the same result. This is a special place for me."
The two previous Menards Infiniti Pro Series champions have moved up to Indy cars, the larger, more powerful machines in the IndyCar Series. But they haven't settled in with great success yet. Neither A.J. Foyt IV nor Mark Taylor have been anywhere close to the front of the competitive IndyCar Series fields; neither has Ed Carpenter, another Pro series graduate.
Can Medeiros make the move up more comfortably than those drivers? If there are no good rides available will he stay with the Pro series in 2005? Those are hard questions for so young a driver, but he has already passed his Rookie exam in a September test with Patrick Racing. "I want to do more tests to learn the cars. It doesn't discourage me that the other champions haven't done well yet.
"We all have different situations. Maybe my situation will be better; maybe not. You need money to develop equipment and I know how tough it is to move up. I just do my best every time I go out and race. I'm working hard, with my manager, to get sponsors to back me in Indy cars and I'm talking with quite a few teams," he advised.
Thiago Medeiros, like so many others in the Menards Infiniti Pro and IndyCar Series started racing on road or street courses, and Medeiros is looking forward to the challenges of returning to his initial discipline next year, no matter which Indy Racing League series he works. "I grew up with that and I look forward to going back to where I cam from.
"I learned about oval racing over the last two years and how not to overdrive the cars. I learned how to drive as hard as I can but not make mistakes," Medeiros recited. "I think everybody in the Pro series learned more about each other over this season and more about their cars. The series is getting so competitive now. We can race more side by side, we can have close racing and the respect between us is growing," he said.
Will there be a good seat available for Thiago Medeiros in the IndyCar Series? Certainly he should have an opportunity to see if he fits in with the serious racers who will contest 17 races - including one on a street course and two road racing venues - in the 2005 season. Medeiros has, after all earned that chance with his Menards Infiniti Pro Series title.