IRL: Buddy Rice, Vitor Meira teleconference (part 1)

IRL IndyCar Series Teleconference August 10, 2004 Buddy Rice, Vitor Meira MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. We'd like to welcome the two Rahal Letterman Racing drivers to today's teleconference. Both Buddy Rice, currently in second place...

IRL IndyCar Series Teleconference
August 10, 2004

Buddy Rice, Vitor Meira

MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. We'd like to welcome the two Rahal Letterman Racing drivers to today's teleconference. Both Buddy Rice, currently in second place in the IndyCar Series point standings, and Vitor Meira, currently seventh in the standings, join us on today's call.

Rice is a three-time winner in 2004, including the 88th running of the Indianapolis 500 back in May. He trails IndyCar Series points leader Tony Kanaan by 57 points heading into this weekend's race in Kentucky.

Meira joined the Rahal Letterman team at the third race of the season at Twin Ring Motegi and has climbed to an impressive seventh place in the points standings behind four top-five finishes in the last five races. Guys, thanks to both of you for joining us today.

BUDDY RICE: Thanks for having me on.

VITOR MEIRA: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Buddy, we haven't had you on a teleconference since May, but we've kept you quite busy since the 500. Things settling down a little bit for you since winning the 500?

BUDDY RICE: I don't know if they've really settled down because basically, we're in the heart of the season right now and in the midst of this points championship with Rahal Letterman. So I think some of the media travel has toned down a little bit, but otherwise, we're still really busy.

We've also had a test here in the last week and a half with Vitor down in Kentucky and myself up at Nazareth. We're charging super hard to get this championship.

Q: How important are these next three races in regards to that race for the championship?

BUDDY RICE: I think all the races that are left are going to be very important because of how tight the championship is and where everyone's placed at right now. So I think we just need to make sure we stay focused, keep running up front. If we keep both Vitor and myself, both of our cars up front, it bodes very well for us in the championship hunt right now.

Q: Vitor, for people who are in the IndyCar Series world, your rise here to the top is not a surprise, but a lot of folks didn't really know a lot about you coming into this year. You've had such a good run here these last five weeks. Can you talk about your strong run so far this year?

VITOR MEIRA: A big part of it is, I mean, no driver can do a great run without a car or a good engine. And the big part of it is the work that Buddy just mentioned, the work that Rahal Letterman did and the work that Honda has been doing.

I mean, we are clearly stronger in engines and also we had a great team that set up the (Panoz) G Force chassis the way it should. That's honestly the biggest part on the great runs I had. The only thing I'm doing is levelling up the team. It's been the team to beat actually since the beginning of the championship.

Q: Was there a time this year when you were concerned that you may not get in a car this season? I know at Miami and Phoenix, I saw you walking around the paddock area. Were you scratching your head thinking, "There's a chance I might not get in one this year?"

VITOR MEIRA: Well, I was not. The first two races I was out of a ride. That was the monkey on my back, I would say. That's why I was there knocking on every door. I wanted to be in, but I was not sure if people would recognize the job I did before.

Thank God for (Bobby) Rahal and Mr. (Scott) Roembke and also Mr. (David) Letterman from Rahal Letterman Racing. They recognized me, and they gave me the opportunity, together with Honda. And that's how it's been doing since -- that's how we've been going since actually Texas, when Centrix Financial renewed the contract for the whole year.

Q: Either one of you, I think it's probably more directed toward Buddy, though -- would you talk about the contributions that Jim Foley has made to the team and how he plays into your success and all that.

BUDDY RICE: Well, I think with what Jim does on the team from data acquisition and strategy and simulations, I think he puts in a huge contribution with the other engineers.

I think one of the things that we have going, because we have two cars, and all the engineers this year at Rahal Letterman are all focused on the same series, I think it's been a huge help. So now, everybody can kind of put all the resources together to strive in one direction instead of going in two separate directions when they were running the other series.

I think everybody's learning together. I think that's what makes everybody so much stronger. I think, obviously, Foley does a lot of the simulation work and so many other things. I think it's a group effort from everybody.

VITOR MEIRA: I agree with Buddy. Foley is one of the best members of the team. But, again, it's all about the teamwork. I mean, everybody does so well their job, that that's what has to happen. I mean, on the race, you can't win races or you can't be as strong as we are on the championship if there is a failure on the whole system. Everybody does a perfect job at Rahal, and Foley is one of them, together with all the engineers. Also with Buddy, the teamwork that we do.

Again, it's all a part of -- if anything goes wrong, you can't win races. That's why we've been so strong.

Q: Buddy, of all the blur of things that happened in that time after Indy, is there anything that you did that maybe fulfilled some fantasies, dreams of things you've always wanted to do and never had a chance?

BUDDY RICE: Oh, I think there's a lot of things I was able to do things that were just, without winning, I probably wouldn't have been able to. I think definitely throwing out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium was pretty cool. Obviously, I'd been to the White House once before, but I didn't have my own personal tour. We weren't able to meet the President.

Obviously, going into the Oval Office, where so many of the world's decisions get made, not only for our country, but so many others. So I think you always want to go, be able to do those things, but without having the opportunity to actually see what it's all about and learning about that, that's been probably one of the biggest highlights of the whole thing.

Q: Pretty heady stuff for a racer from Phoenix, isn't it?

BUDDY RICE: Exactly. I think the whole thing, even the 500, is still a little bit of disbelief right now. It's just so much. You work so hard to try to get there.

Q: Has your success this year, you're competing for the championship, does that prove there might be some flaws in the methodology that people use to seek out open-wheel drivers in America today?

BUDDY RICE: I don't know. I think that's hard to say. Obviously, some people, we all know that their thought process isn't normal, anyway. I think from that aspect, that's just the way it is.

But, no, I think everybody does a pretty good job of sorting out the open-wheel drivers and stuff. But there's so much, so many things have to fall right into place for everyone to be able to make it. I think that's like been the biggest thing.

I wouldn't say there's a huge flaw in it, no.

Q: Are there other drivers or maybe other owners who didn't take your calls 10 months ago who treat you a little different now that you have established some success in the IRL?

BUDDY RICE: From the driver's side of things, I don't think so. I think racing is such a team deal, a situational sport, that if you're not in the right situation, the right environment, it's very hard to excel in that environment.

Obviously, some people made their own decisions last year in what they thought I was capable or not capable of. But I think we've definitely showed that that thought process wasn't correct. So I think the situation I'm in now, I'm in such a much better team that it's just been huge. The whole thing has just kind of come together all in one big hit.

Q: Are you throwing out the first pitch at the (Cincinnati) Reds game?

BUDDY RICE: I'm not sure. I think that's a possibility. I think I might be doing that this weekend, yes.

Q: Vitor, any plans or hopes or wants to throw out a first pitch this year?

VITOR MEIRA: Well, I've got to learn with Buddy. I've never played. Buddy has to pitch me some (laughter).

Oh, yeah, I don't know. We'll do whatever it takes.

Q: For both drivers, your expectations this weekend for Kentucky Speedway, and also what do you think about that mile-and-a-half track here just south of Cincinnati?

BUDDY RICE: I mean, for both Vitor and I, our expectation is one simple thing: make sure that both cars are up front and they finish up front. I think that's the whole goal. Like I said earlier, if we do that, we'll make sure the championship comes back to Rahal Letterman.

With as strong as we've been on the mile-and-a-half ovals and stuff, I think we stand a very good chance of rolling in there, running up front, and trying to go for the win. I think that's what's very key.

Obviously, with the layout of the track, the facility's awesome at Kentucky. It's very fan friendly. Vitor will be able to talk about this better because he just tested down there, but it sounds like they've grinded the track and made it a lot smoother than what it was the previous year. I think that will be a huge help.

Continued in part 2

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Kanaan , Buddy Rice , Vitor Meira