Vitor Meira Is Back In The Saddle After Horrific Crash

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, September 30 2009
Vitor Meira and A.J. Foyt were back together again at a race track this week. Meira was seriously injured during a wreck earlier this season. (Photo courtesy of the IndyCar Series)

Vitor Meira and A.J. Foyt were together again at a race track this week. Meira was seriously injured during a wreck earlier this season. (File photo courtesy of the IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Monitored by open-wheel icon A.J. Foyt Jr., Vitor Meira hot-lapped around Indianapolis Motor Speedway Wednesday for the first time since his horrific crash during the Indianapolis 500 in May.

Foyt’s verdict? Vitor’s still got the “want-to” necessary to compete in the IndyCar Series.

Meira completed a total of 65 laps around the 2.5-mile IMS oval in the No. 14 ABC Supply/A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Honda with a top speed of 222.2 mph. Meira’s return highlighted the second of two days of testing by several series regulars preparing for the 94th Indy 500 on May 30, 2010.

Meira and his mentor both felt the session answered any questions lingering from the events of  last May 24.

“It feels really good to be back,” said Meira, who sustained two broken vertebra during a crash involving Raphael Matos entering Turn 1 on Lap 174 of the scheduled 200. “I can’t deny that I was a little bit apprehensive coming in here. It wasn’t a normal test day for me, but now it’s all good.

“Everything that I’m supposed to feel, I’m feeling so I’m happy about that. That’s what I was most concerned about because you don’t really know what you have mentally since you can’t simulate the conditions out there. You can train as much as you want but you can’t simulate the car running, so I was a bit apprehensive on that. But now all the questions are answered.”

Foyt, the first-four-time winner of the Indy 500, was not concerned about Meira’s speed.

“We came here to run laps, not set track records,” said Foyt, no stranger to returning to the cockpit after a serious crash. “It’s important to get back in the car as soon as possible. That’s what I used to try to do to make sure you even really want to do this, even though you are telling yourself you do. A lot of times, it’s like a race horse – once they get operated on they never seem to come back to their former status.

“With Vitor, I’ve seen he’s right back to where he was before the wreck so we’re real happy and he’s real happy. So that was the biggest thing, was to get him back in the saddle.”

Foyt started a record 35 consecutive Indy 500s from 1958 through 1992. The winner of a record seven Indy-car championships, Foyt also compiled 53 poles and 67 Indy-car victories.

Meira, a 32-year-old native of Brazil now living in Miami, said he knew he would be OK once he reached the middle of Indy’s daunting Turn 1. “I just made sure the car would be there,” Meira said. “On the second run, I was flat-out, no problem.”

Foyt, one of the most versatile drivers in American motorsports history, broke two vertebrae in his back when he hit the wall at Daytona International Speedway during practice for NASCAR’s Firecracker 400 Cup race in 1983. Amazingly, he competed in the Paul Revere 250 sports car race that night – and won.

Foyt sustained his most serious laundry list of injuries driving an Indy-car during a CART event at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., in 1990. Foyt broke his left knee, dislocated his left tibia, crushed his left heel and dislocated his right heel after plowing through a dirt embankment when his brakes failed entering Turn 1 of the natural-terrain layout. “Super Tex” saw his rehabilitation accelerated when he began working out with a trainer from his hometown Houston Oilers of the NFL.

The regimen paid off because eight months later, Foyt qualified in the middle of the front row for the 1991 Indy 500 with a four-lap average of 222.443 mph.

“I was able to come back pretty quick, but a lot of guys couldn’t,” said Foyt, 74. “That’s what I wanted to know (about Vitor). That’s the reason I wanted to come here and get him some laps. Sometimes you say you can, and you can’t come back. I knew Vitor would be able to come back because he wanted to, and he worked so hard to get back. He knows he can now.”

Meanwhile, Foyt Racing will enter just one car, for hired driver Ryan Hunter-Reay, during the IndyCar season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Oct. 10. In addition to Floridian Hunter-Reay, Foyt has employed grandson A.J. Foyt IV and Canadian Paul Tracy this season.

“We were going to run Vitor and Ryan (at HMS), but I felt this was more important than running Vitor in the final race of the year,” Foyt said of the test. “I knew I couldn’t put two crews together to give him a fair shake, and I didn’t want to cheat our other driver, Ryan Hunter-Reay, because I made a deal with him that we’d run him through the season.

“We’re going to do as much testing as we can with Vitor in the offseason to prepare for 2010.”

Hunter-Reay, voted Chase Rookie of the Year after the 2008 Indy 500 while driving for Rahal Letterman Racing, gave Foyt’s team its best finish of the season so far with a fourth-place run at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 9.

“This season has been one of our toughest and you’re going to have seasons like that – you have to take the good with the bad,” Foyt said. “But we’re anxious to get started on next year and make it one of our best.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, September 30 2009
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