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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

IndyCar Season Review: Vitor Meira

Vitor Meira showed a lot of heart by returning to the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2010.

In 2009, his season was ended prematurely after a major wreck in the Indianapolis 500 broke two vertebrae in his lower back. The Brazilian, who had made 97 career IndyCar starts without a win, was not a lock to return to A.J. Foyt Enterprises.

But the immortal A.J. Foyt, after going through a revolving door of replacements the rest of that season, retained his driver for 2010, hoping once again to put together the team's best season in recent memory. Immediately Meira paid back his owner's loyalty.

Meira scored a third-place finish at Sao Paulo, making him the highest finishing Brazilian driver in his home country. An emotional Meira wore a Brazilian flag on the podium to celebrate. He then led 12 laps in the next event at St. Petersburg, a race he may have won on an alternate pit strategy had it been about ten laps longer.

The rest of the season would not be as quite as strong. Meira fell out of the top 10 in points by Long Beach, but through the first five races of the season managed four top-15 finishes. Indianapolis, once again, proved a struggle, but for different reasons; he qualified a poor 30th and crashed out on the backstretch after 105 laps. Regardless, simply surviving the 500 was a small victory.

The first four ovals marked Meira's strongest period of the season, even with the Indianapolis disappointment; all three other tracks, Kansas, Texas, and Iowa, yielded top-10 runs. Meira was now ranked 12th in points, a position he would generally hold to the end of the season.

Meira spent the next five races, all road course events, in the middle of the pack. A negative sign was that Meira never qualified better than 17th in any of those races; however, in four of those five events, Meira made up at least six spots by the end of the race, and never finished outside of the top 20. His Toronto drive was most impressive; from the last starting spot, he posted his best finish of the third quarter of the season, a respectable 11th.

Next up, Meira led his final six laps of the season at Chicago on his way to a ninth place finish, but an errant move in the next race at Kentucky into a passing Simona de Silvestro ended both of their days and killed his momentum. Meira ended his season with a 17th-place run at Motegi and his sixth top-10 of the year at Homestead, a sixth place effort.

Meira's return to IndyCar yielded a 12th place finish in points, his best result since 2007. He also ranked 12th in the oval championship, to go with a respectable 14th in the road course standings. It wasn't one of his best years in the sport as a driver, nor one of Foyt's best as an owner, but the results give both hope for another, even stronger go-round in 2011.

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