IRL: Forgotten man at Indy?

IRL: Forgotten man at Indy?

"Dan won, Danica finished fourth, so who wants to talk about the second place guy?" asked Vitor Meira, who brought his ...

"Dan won, Danica finished fourth, so who wants to talk about the second place guy?" asked Vitor Meira, who brought his #17 Menards/Johns Manville Panoz/Honda/Firestone Indy car to the stripes just behind winner Dan Wheldon in Sunday's 89th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.

Vitor Meira.
Photo by Jim Haines - IRL.
Meira, the amiable Brazilian who made his third start this year in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing (and second with Rahal Letterman Racing) was disappointed in only one facet of his month at the historic 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "Only qualifying wasn't up to our expectations," when he secured seventh on the grid during time trials to set the top 22 positions in the field of 33 cars.

Meira fell to 11th place in the early going but that was as far south as he'd go during the 3-plus hour contest. "Our car wasn't very good at the beginning but it was good later," when it counts. "In the final practice before Carburetion Day, I could run everywhere but then, we were not on the track for five days and it changed a lot."

That's the trouble with racing at Indy, as 28-year-old Meira has discovered. The change in temperatures, in wind force and direction and the amount of rubber on the track can make the surface totally different hour-to-hour, day-to-day.

"Our team guessed that, after more cars were on the track running it would behave in a certain way and we made the right decisions for the race," Meira confirmed. After Carb Day his team made few changes and during the race, "The track came to our car. What we thought would happen in the race actually did."

Vitor Meira.
Photo by Ron McQueeney - IRL.
Meira passed eventual winner Wheldon on the 162nd lap to take over the lead and called it "pretty exciting. I had to focus on not doing anything wrong because I knew he'd come back. I had to try and stay ahead, try not to make any mistakes."

Vitor Meira never made the mistakes but Wheldon, unfortunately for him had the stronger car when it counted.

All credit to his fine finish, Meira acknowledged, goes to his over-the- wall pit crew. "Every time I came into the pits I gained at least one position over seven stops and that's passing a lot of cars. The team performance, on a one-to-ten scale was an 11 last weekend," he detailed.

"We were a bit weaker in traffic than we wished and that's maybe where we could have improved from a team standpoint. But it was crucial to get positions in the pits and that is where we excelled," Meira said.

As for his own performance, the veteran in his fourth year of Indy Racing League IndyCar Series competition said, "I always give my best but I can make mistakes. I wish I did the start better; it wasn't my best, but over the race we gave our best shot and that is what counts."

Getting into a race rhythm after about 15-20 laps, triathlete Meira realized there was "no reason to push 100 percent in the first ten laps. You have to think about what to do there on the track as it improved. As I said, our car was not as good at the start than it was at the end of the race."

In the middle of the 500, debris punctured the glove on Vitor's right hand. While he didn't feel much different (due to the adrenaline of racing), when I took off the gloves, one hand was much more red than it was supposed to be. But the hand is fine and I'll be fine for the next race at Texas."

Meira believes "Indy made me a better driver. It is not an easy race. Everybody out there has something to prove so I thought about what to do and what not to do, when to push and when not to push. At this race you need to use more of your head than at other tracks."

Together with the balance of the IndyCar Series competitors, Meira and his Rahal Letterman Racing team head for the high banks of Texas Motor Speedway in a week and a half for the first night race of the season. While he didn't believe RLR had a very good setup there in the past, "One good thing is that Buddy will be coming back.

"We work good together and it's a shame about his accident," Meira said. "It's really a pleasure to work with him. It's so much easier this year working together, Buddy, Danica and me. For that reason I think our results at Texas will be good" once the Bombardier 500K is run.

At the end of 500 miles of racing, the final lap held under yellow flag conditions at Indianapolis this past weekend, Meira's first thought was, "We could have won it. Twenty seconds later I was over it. Stop complaining, I said to myself and enjoy it. Then I thanked my over-the- wall crew because they sure made my day so much easier," he smiled.

Coming in second at the Indianapolis 500 means you are the first loser, but Vitor Meira had a tougher time than most, dwarfed by the attention given rookie teammate Danica Patrick, who finished fourth in her maiden Indy race. "All I can do is my best and win races," Meira acknowledged.

"It's not that I am content to be in the shadows," he continued. "Everybody wants the spotlight but it really doesn't bother me. I can't change the lack of press; had I won it would be different, wouldn't it?"

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Dan Wheldon , Danica Patrick , Vitor Meira