MEIRA LOOKS TO CAPITALIZE ON PAST RLR SUCCESS AT THE MILE HILLIARD, Ohio -- Recently when asked by a newspaper what would his secret power be if he were a super hero, Rahal Letterman Racing's Vitor Meira has joked that he is in fact the...
MEIRA LOOKS TO CAPITALIZE ON PAST RLR SUCCESS AT THE MILE
HILLIARD, Ohio -- Recently when asked by a newspaper what would his secret power be if he were a super hero, Rahal Letterman Racing's Vitor Meira has joked that he is in fact the invisible man. With apologies to Jessica Alba and the Fantastic Four, off track Meira is occasionally overlooked in the bright media spotlight that shines on his RLR teammate's Danica Patrick and 2004 Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice. On track Meira has stood tall for RLR in 2005 as the 28 year old native of Brazil has posted the top RLR finish in six of the nine races. He enters this weekend's ABC Supply/A J Foyt 225 at the Milwaukee Mile in seventh place in the championship, a standing that would be significantly higher if two apparent podium results hadn't been sidetracked by other drivers in on track incidents.
As is well documented, Meira is still searching for that elusive first IndyCar victory and as the defending pole sitter at the Milwaukee Mile this might be the week Meira breaks through to claim that win. Meira can look to the recent history of Rahal Letterman Racing to see that the Milwaukee Mile has been a welcoming stop on the racing calendar.
In 2003 while RLR was running a split program between the IRL IndyCar Series and the Champ Car World Series, the lone stop in Milwaukee was with the team's single car CCWS program featuring a young Michel Jourdain Jr., who was just two races removed from a heartbreaking outcome at the Grand Prix of Long Beach where he lost an apparent victory with a faulty gearbox. Jourdain put the frustration behind him and posted one of the dominate race wins in CCWS history leading 238 of 250 laps en route to his first win. Could the Milwaukee Mile produce another first time RLR winner this weekend?
"The first win is something that is always there in my mind, but I can't dwell on it," said Meira. "All I can do is focus on the task at hand and make sure that we are making the car as competitive as possible for the track we are at. The Milwaukee track is a tricky one. We run on a lot of banked tracks in the IndyCar Series, but the Milwaukee Mile is nearly flat. You have to have a special setup for that kind of track. It is wide and you can pass if your car is handling well. Plus you need power off the corners at Milwaukee and I'm sure glad I have the Honda engine for that. Our car was very good there last year and, while we weren't that good at Phoenix earlier this year, I believe we'll have a proper setup for Milwaukee."
Jourdain's 2003 win isn't the only recent RLR victory on the Milwaukee Mile. 1998 IRL Champion Kenny Brack won at Milwaukee in 2001 while piloting a RLR Champ Car. Brack's victory, while not as dominate at Jourdain's, did see the Swede lead 130 laps as he edged Michael Andretti for the victory.
Meira will be busy this weekend as this race is the home race for his primary sponsor Menards. "Anytime you race near a sponsor's headquarters it makes that race a little more special and a little more busy. Since this is the closest race near Menards headquarters it would be very exciting to win for Menards in Milwaukee."
RICE LOOKING TO RECAPTURE 2004 FORM
If 2004 was a dream for Buddy Rice as the Phoenix native won the Indy 500 and finished third in the IRL IndyCar championship, then 2005 has been akin to a nightmare. Rice has battled a horrid run of luck that has produced four DNF's and forced him to miss the defense of his Indy 500 crown. Rice enters this week's IRL IndyCar Series event at Milwaukee in 16th place in the championship. A year ago Rice entered Milwaukee in the midst of four straight races where he either won or finished second. Rice started third at Milwaukee in '04 and finished second, one of five podium results last season.
"Last year, I thought we had a good car and we were really closing in on Dario (Franchitti) at the end," said Rice. "Unfortunately, there was a late race yellow and I couldn't get close enough at the end. I have raced at Milwaukee in the Atlantics and it is a great traditional track. I think we can race two abreast in Milwaukee. There can be an outside line there at times and, if the outside is working well, the racing is great. Milwaukee is a classic old track that has seen every big name racer compete over the years. The Milwaukee fans are always very knowledgeable and enjoy good racing.. I always looked forward to going to Milwaukee each year."
Rice has posted three top-ten results this season with a season best of third at Motegi in April. "It seemed like we had just started to get back on track heading into Indy and then I got hurt. We have had some really tough breaks since Indy, but these are the tracks we really had some success on last year so I am confident we will get things going."
PATRICK FAMILIAR WITH THE MILWAUKEE MILE
For Danica Patrick it will be a welcome site this weekend to see the Milwaukee Mile. For the first and only time this season Patrick will race on a track where she has prior experience. Patrick's first two career oval races came on the Milwaukee Mile in the Formula Atlantic Championship. Patrick finished sixth in 2003 and fourth in 2004.
"It's always good to have seen a track before, just to kind of know where the little bumps are here and there, and just the general feel for the size," said Patrick. But everything seems to shrink when you go faster. It's obviously going to be tougher and it's going to feel different in an IndyCar as opposed to an Atlantic car. From a view perspective, at least I have an idea."
Milwaukee will be the tenth race of Patrick's rookie IRL IndyCar Series campaign. She has posted five top-ten results including a pair of top-five finishes (Motegi & Indy) and has led 61 laps. Patrick holds the lead in the Bombardier Rookie of the Year standings entering round 10.
Much of the mainstream media has initiated the Danica Win Watch keeping an eye on the high profile rookie and anticipating her first IndyCar series win. Of the 23 drivers who took the green flag at Nashville, 12 had posted an open-wheel racing win in the IndyCar Series or Champ Car. The average number of races it too those drivers to post their first win was 33. Only three of the 12 posted a win in their first 17 races, the number of races Patrick will run in her rookie season.
"I'm very early in my career," said Patrick. "I've done so little, and I've done so little oval racing, and there's just so many things that are new to me. People who are close to racing and know what is going on in the sport understand where I'm at in the learning curve. They have a good grasp of what's going on each and every weekend and they understand that this is a process that takes time. Nobody wants me to win more than I want to win for myself. With media expectations or without expectations I will give the same effort and try just as hard for that win."
In the history of the IRL IndyCar Series only three true rookies have ever won a race. The last to do so was Tomas Scheckter in 2002 and he won in his eleventh IndyCar Series start.
A TREND IN THE MAKING?
Rahal Letterman Racing has won two races at the Milwaukee Mile since 2000. Kenny Brack led 130 laps and won the CCWS event in 2001. Michel Jourdain Jr. led 238 laps and won the CCWS event at Milwaukee in 2003. Can Vitor Meira, Buddy Rice or Danica Patrick keep the every other year streak alive in 2005?
RAHAL LETTERMAN RACING NOTABLES. . .
Vitor Meira has posted the top Rahal Letterman result in six of the nine races this season. . .The three Rahal Letterman drivers have combined to lead 116 laps this season led by Danica Patrick with 60. RLR cars have led in six of the nine races. . .Rahal Letterman Racing has won at least once race every season since 1998. That seven year streak is the second longest such streak in North American open-wheel racing. . .Patrick is currently the leader in the Bombardier Rookie of the Year competition. Patrick is vying to become the second RLR driver in the team's history to win Rookie of the Year honors. Kenny Brack captured the CART Rookie of the Year honors in 2000. . .Although she is a rookie, Danica Patrick is actually the senior member of the RLR driving trio in terms of starts with the team. Patrick will make her 39th start this weekend when she takes the green flag at Nashville, while Buddy Rice will make his 25th RLR start and Vitor Meira his 24th start. Bobby Rahal is the career leader in starts for RLR with 116 starts. . ..After nine rounds of the 2005 season Vitor Meira (219 points) leads his teammates Danica Patrick (197 points) and Buddy Rice (148 points) in the Hilliard, Ohio Mayor's Cup Standings.