IRL: Meira making his way

IRL: Meira making his way

You could say that Brazilian Vitor Meira is going "cold" into next weekend's Japan Indy 300. The 27-year-old Indy Racing League IndyCar Series veteran will start in an unfamiliar car, with an engine he's never used on a track he's never ...

You could say that Brazilian Vitor Meira is going "cold" into next weekend's Japan Indy 300.

The 27-year-old Indy Racing League IndyCar Series veteran will start in an unfamiliar car, with an engine he's never used on a track he's never driven when race #3 of a 16-event campaign gets underway next Saturday, April 17th at Twin Ring Motegi.

Pitstop for Vitor Meira.
Photo by Jim Redman.
All fourteen of Meira's previous IndyCar Series starts (in 2002-3) have been with John Menard's team, which ran a Dallara/Chevrolet package for him.

Next week, he'll be in a Team Rahal Panoz G Force/Honda, one of three cars the team is taking to Japan in its quest to help Honda, which owns the Twin Ring Motegi 1.5-mile oval, finally win an oval race on its own turf.

The talented Meira has competed all over the racing universe and achieved success in some of the most hard-fought arenas, including South American Formula 3, where he won the 2000 championship with eight victories against big competition in only his second year. He's had similar success in British Formula Ford, Brazil's annual 1000-mile sports car race, British Formula Renault and the European F3000 series.

Meira knew the US was the right place for him to race and took steps to acclimate himself to this country well before he arrived, studying business at Euro-American University in Brasilia. His command of the English language is excellent and almost compares to his talents driving on ovals in an Indy car, a thoroughly American racing discipline.

Unfortunately, Vitor's last time in a race car was October of last year, when he took fourth place for Menard at the IRL's IndyCar Series Chevy 500K Texas finale. That's a long time to be out of the driver's seat, but Meira is a physical fitness aficionado who excels in all triathlon disciplines and squash.

"A driver wants to be in the car always," he said about his layoff, "but Team Rahal and Honda have given me a great opportunity in Japan." The deal is just for the Twin Ring Motegi round, but Meira is hopeful there will be a place for him with the Hilliard, OH group.

Rahal announced, just before the Phoenix IRL race that he would have both of his top-line teams in the IndyCar Series using the same Panoz G Force/Honda package he's got for this year's "super sub", Buddy Rice, currently driving in relief of injured Kenny Brack.

Meira had spoken with Rahal and team manager Scott Roembke after the end of the season, among various other teams, as Menard shut his operation and decided to form a cooperative venture with Panther Racing. "After December, Team Rahal put Buddy in the car but we kept talking." When Rahal decided to make it a two-car operation, "they offered me a ride."

Vitor Meira.
Photo by indyracing.com/Ron McQueeney.
Being out of the car for three months (and more) could devastate a driver in less-than-optimal physical condition, but Meira thinks, "For sure there will be no problem. There's nothing really, really new to this, and we'll do what we know how to do."

He arrives in Japan on Sunday "to get used to the time change and absorb some track time," running not driving, as practice won't start until Thursday. "I have to make sure I'm not on the wrong side of the road," Meira said, no doubt forgetting that traffic travels on the left in Japan.

"So far this is a one-race deal, but after Twin Ring Motegi, if they want me I'll be here. It depends on Kenny's return and my performance in Japan," Meira surmised. "If Kenny's feeling okay, he'll be in the car for sure, but they can extend my contract (which ends at the close of the month) if they wish."

For most drivers, that would mean a lot of pressure to perform, but Vitor Meira considers the most pressure placed on him comes from "inside. I want to do a good job and put I most pressure on myself. Pressure comes also with expectations," and on April 17th, he's got every reason to feel the pressure to perform at his optimum.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Kenny Brack , Buddy Rice , Jim Redman , Vitor Meira
Teams Panther Racing