Indy-car driver Vitor Meira circles the tracks of the circuit at lightning-fast speeds just like everyone else. He uses the same Dallara chassis that his competitors use, the same Honda engines, same tires. He finishes in the top 10 week after week, despite one fundamental difference. Meira's florescent orange, No. 4 car lacks the sponsor logos that the other drivers have.
The single-team, Panther Racing driver ranks sixth in the IRL IndyCar Series point standings without major funding from a corporate sponsor. Meira currently has a streak of five consecutive top 10s, with another second-place finish last weekend at Richmond.
In his first year with Panther Racing, the fledgling team has found some success with Meira at the helm. Panther Racing is no stranger to winning; they have won championships before ¿ in 2001 and 2002 with Sam Hornish Jr. But the familiar Pennzoil yellow is gone, forcing the team to carefully balance its finances week to week and race to race.
The team and Meira have maintained a consistent momentum this season, and will look for its first win together at Sunday's Kansas Lottery Indy 300 at Kansas Speedway, a track he has labeled "bitter sweet."
"I've always done well (at Kansas Speedway)," he said. "It just brings very good memories."
The Brazilian driver has come close to capturing the checkers at Kansas Speedway twice, losing by less than a combined three-thousandths of a second in the past two years. In 2004 Meira lost to then-teammate Buddy Rice by .0051 seconds. The following year he finished third behind Tony Kanaan and series champion, Dan Wheldon, in the sixth-closest finish in series history.
Victory has eluded Meira, leaving him with a streak of 52 races without a trip to victory lane. But he finds the positives being involved in thrilling finishes. He said he wouldn't mind being involved in another side-by-side-by-side finish at Kansas Speedway, but with him as the victor.
"Obviously we want to win," he said. "That's what we want to accomplish and that's what we are going to try to do differently."
The five-year veteran of the series said his team has worked hard both on and off the track to keep his car competitive. And the team continues to search for sponsors to elevate it to a championship contender.
"That's why I believe so much in this team. Even with all this difficultly we've been able to have great results," he said. "When we have time and have the right funding I think we will be right there fighting for the championship in races."
Meira will try to make it to Gatorade Victory Lane in the Kansas Lottery Indy 300 at Kansas Speedway on Sunday, July 2. The IRL IndyCar Series race concludes a weekend of action-packed racing with the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and ARCA RE/MAX Series hitting the track on Saturday, July 1.
Fans can catch all the excitement by calling 913.328.RACE (7223) or toll free at 866.460.RACE (7223) for tickets.