Rice Becomes First Zetec Alumni To Win The Indy 500 ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. (May 31, 2004) -In one of the most entertaining Indianapolis 500 races in recent memory, former Formula Ford Zetec Championship driver Buddy Rice, of Phoenix, Ariz., won...
Rice Becomes First Zetec Alumni To Win The Indy 500
ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. (May 31, 2004) -In one of the most entertaining Indianapolis 500 races in recent memory, former Formula Ford Zetec Championship driver Buddy Rice, of Phoenix, Ariz., won "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing". Fellow Zetec Championship alumni Dan Wheldon, of Emberton, England, finished third.
Following a two-hour delay to the start of the race, due to a wet track, Rice led the traditional 33-car field to the green flag. Displaying the speed that earned him the pole position, Rice quickly set the race pace, leading the opening 12 laps. On lap 27, the rain returned, halting the race. Despite concerns that the race would have to be continued on Monday, racing resumed following another two-hour delay. Driving the No. 15 Rahal-Letterman Argent/Pioneer Panoz G Force/Honda/Firestone car to its limits, Rice immediately became the man to beat. Having led the majority of the race, Rice was in the lead in the closing stages of the race, when the clouds darkened and it began to rain lightly. With the field circulating the 2.5-mile oval under the yellow flag and the rain steadily increasing, the checkered flag was thrown on lap 180, giving Rice his first Indy Racing League win. Rice becomes the first polesitter to win the Indianapolis 500 since 1997 and the first American to win since 1998. Winning the first rain-shortened race since 1976, Rice led a race-high 91 laps and is now third in the IRL point standings.
"You can't imagine how I feel right now," said Rice, who is only with the Rahal-Letterman team because regular driver Kenny Brack is still recovering from serious injuries suffered in the season-finale last year. "It's pretty unbelievable and a great reward for all the team's efforts."
In contention for the win throughout the race, Wheldon led 26 laps en route to his third place finish. Driving the No. 26 Andretti Green Racing Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda Firestone car, Wheldon continues to lead IRL point standings, having finished in the top-three at every race.
"That was my most enjoyable race ever from a driving standpoint," Wheldon, who is the reigning IRL Rookie of the Year. "I think that we did an absolutely fantastic job, with three of the top four speaks volumes of Andretti Green Racing. The crew worked very hard all month. I'm very happy."
Racing in the Zetec Championship from 1996 to 1997, Rice had 16 career starts. Finishing fourth in the 1997 standings, Rice won one race, captured two pole positions and posted five top-five finishes.
The 1999 Formula Ford Zetec Champion, Wheldon won a series high six races and captured five pole positions in his rookie season.
Part of the Cooper Tires Championship Series, the Formula Ford Zetec Championship is widely regarded as North America's premier training series. Offering the complete motorsports education, with emphasis on cost-effective racing, the Cooper Series showcases the best up-and-coming drivers from around the world racing throughout the United States and Canada on a challenging mix of racetracks.
The fifth event of 2004 Cooper Tires Championship Series is June 25-27, at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, as part of the American Le Mans at Mid-Ohio.