IRL: Rice injury too severe to defend Indy win

IRL: Rice injury too severe to defend Indy win

Reigning Indianapolis 500 Mile Race winner Buddy Rice was looking forward to getting back into his ...

Reigning Indianapolis 500 Mile Race winner Buddy Rice was looking forward to getting back into his #15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda tomorrow to continue preparations for the 89th Indy 500 on May 29th.

2004 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice.
Photo by Ron McQueeney - IRL.
Those preparations will have to wait a bit longer for Rice, who was injured in a single-car crash in Turn 2 on May 11th. Initially, it was believed the Phoenix native sustained a mild concussion and mid-back contusion. Rice was tested at Methodist Hospital and released after spending a single night at the facility.

After meeting with Dr. Henry Bock, director of medical services for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Indy Racing League, Rice discovered the injuries to his back were more severe than originally thought.

Bock's further evaluation of Rice revealed a partially torn spinal ligament in his mid to lower neck area. The ligament is essential to maintaining the alignment of the spine, Bock detailed.

League medical staff advised rest and rehabilitation for Rice, who will be re-assessed in about three weeks. Rice will remain in the Indianapolis area for rehab over the next two weeks, his Rahal Letterman Racing team stated.

A dejected Rice affirmed he is "extremely disappointed that I won't be able to defend my Indy 500 championship. I have spent the last several months thinking about, working towards and planning how I would defend my Indy 500 victory.

"Physically I feel fine, but I have to trust the Speedway and IRL medical team because they are looking out for my safety," Rice acknowledged. "I am optimistic I will be cleared for the Bombardier 500K at Texas (June 9-11) and will be able to get back in the car.

"I plan to stay here and help our team in any way I can. I think this team can win the Borg Warner Trophy again and I hope I can assist in accomplishing that goal," Rice said.

Buddy Rice joined Rahal Letterman Racing under similar conditions to those he is facing at this time. He substituted for Kenny Brack, severely injured in the 2003 IndyCar Series season finale at Texas Motor Speedway.

His was intended to be a short fill-in for the Swede but Rice proved his worth in 2004, winning the Indianapolis 500 from MBNA Pole, the Argent Mortgage 400 at Kansas Speedway and the Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

Rahal Letterman Racing signed Rice, the 2000 Toyota Atlantic Championship titleholder to a long-term contract due to those three victories, the Arizonan's five pole positions and a third place finish in the final 2004 point standings.

Team co-owner Bobby Rahal understands the disappointment his driver is feeling. "This has been a difficult obstacle for Buddy; our first concern is that he recover physically from the accident and we have been assured by Dr. Bock that, in this case the time off will be the solution," Rahal noted.

"Our intent is to move forward over the next two weeks with a replacement driver who will qualify and race the #15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda car."

Rahal Letterman Racing will announce its plans for the balance of this Indy 500 race meeting in a press conference tomorrow morning before practice commences at noon. Qualifying for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing is scheduled for Saturday, May 21 and Sunday, May 22.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Bobby Rahal , Kenny Brack , Buddy Rice