Injured Meira And Foyt Set To Reunite At Watkins Glen

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, July 3 2009
Vitor Meira, who was badly injured at Indy, returns to A.J. Foyt's side this weekend.

Vitor Meira, who was badly injured at Indy, returns to A.J. Foyt's side this weekend.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

A.J. Foyt Racing is anticipating a pair of morale boosters this weekend, when the IndyCar Series visits Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International  for the Camping World Grand Prix at The Glen.

Substitute driver Ryan Hunter-Reay returns as defending champion, although the 28-year-old American won last year’s event while racing for Rahal Letterman Racing. Meanwhile, the team is anticipating the return of regular driver Vitor Meira, who will attend his first IndyCar race since sustaining two broken lower vertebrae in his back in an accident during the Indianapolis 500 on May 24.

“The reason I want to go to Watkins Glen is first to be with the team, with ABC Supply and A.J. Foyt Racing,” Meira said in a statement earlier this week from his home in Key Biscayne, Fla. “They’ve been giving me a lot of support since the accident and most of all, they’re all my friends and I want to be with them. Second, to be at the racetrack, that’s where I always want to be and that’s where I love to be. I don’t want to be at home if I can be at the racetrack.”

Meira plans to pitch-in and help the team prepare for the famed 3.4-mile layout where Darren Manning scored a second-place finish for the Foyt organization last summer.

“I’ll probably go around the track and watch some cars with a stopwatch and take some times and take notes on different lines so I can keep Ryan updated on what people are doing out there,” said Meira, who finished 22nd at WGI while driving for Panther Racing in 2008. “I’ll do whatever else the team asks me to do but I’m just not going to be very good changing tires and fueling…the rest I will do.”

Meira recently returned from a 10-day trip to his native Brazil, where he visited his family and checked in with his personal physician. “I saw my family and my family doctor to keep everybody abreast…not to get a second opinion because I value Dr. (Terry) Trammell’s opinion,” Meira said. “It kept me busy a little bit.”

Hunter-Reay is scheduled to start practicing in the No. 14 ABC Supply Dallara/Honda Saturday morning, with qualifying in the afternoon. Hunter-Reay claimed his first series victory at WGI by 2.4009 seconds over Manning.

“I think there’s just as much pressure as when I showed up last year, just because I put more pressure on myself than anybody else does on me,” said Hunter-Reay, who has joined Foyt’s team on-loan from Vision Racing. “We’re still in the early days of the partnership between myself and ABC Supply Racing and I think that gives us a little bit of wiggle room. But I’m the winner from the race last year and I’m driving the car that only finished a couple seconds behind me in second place, so the numbers are adding up to a potentially successful weekend. We’re going to do everything we can to maximize the full potential of the team.”

Hunter-Reay passed Manning’s car on Lap 52 and led the final nine laps en route to victory. Manning, who pitted on Lap 39, inherited the lead on Lap 42 when Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon went to pit lane for their final stops. Briscoe, who led a race-high 37 laps, came out of the pits just behind Dixon, a three-time winner at The Glen. Hunter-Reay was fourth.

Hunter-Reay’s opportunity surfaced on Lap 49, when Dixon spun while warming his tires under caution. Briscoe made contact with Dixon and both cars stalled in Turn 10. Hunter-Reay narrowly missed the carnage and moved up to second place. He then drove inside Manning through Turn 1 three laps later and claimed the lead.

The victory was the first for Rahal-Letterman Racing since 2004, and Manning’s second-place finish was the highest for the team owned by four-time Indy 500 champion A.J. Foyt Jr. since Airton Dare won at Kansas Speedway in 2002. During the past three years at The Glen, Foyt’s team has finished in the top-five twice _ fifth with Felipe Giaffone in 2006 and second with Manning last year. Manning also placed ninth on the road-course in 2007.

“Indy-cars racing on that track (WGI) is a great match; they’re made for each other,” Hunter-Reay said. “It’s a very high-speed track with technical sections in it, lots of ascents and descents. That track is meant for top-level open-wheel racing and that’s what we’re doing. Watkins Glen has everything I look for in a racetrack.

“I think it’s (the setup) just getting the car to really work through the high-speed, falling corners, and at the same time you have to get down the straights very fast in order to pass. There’s a combination of carrying a lot of downforce and drag to make the car go fast through the corners and carrying little downforce and drag to get the car down the straight fast, so finding the right balance of downforce is key to setting up the car.”

The race will be broadcast live on ABC-TV Sunday starting at 1 p.m., EDT.

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, July 3 2009