|TORRANCE, California, USA, May 18, 2005 - Buddy Rice, who recorded Honda’s first Indianapolis 500 victory in 2004, will be unable to defend his title this year as the result of back injuries sustained in a practice session crash on May 11 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Substituting for Rice at Indianapolis will be Kenny Brack, as the 1999 “500” race winner returns to his former Rahal Letterman Racing team.
Rice sustained a concussion and a severe back contusion when his car spun and crashed into the Turn Two wall on the second day of practice for the 89th Indianapolis 500. Rice sat out the remainder of practice and the first weekend of qualifying in the hope of returning to competition this week. But additional examinations by the Speedway medical staff on Monday revealed a partially torn spinal ligament, which will require approximately three weeks of additional rest and rehabilitation before Rice can return to competition.
“Needless to say, I am extremely disappointed that I won’t be able to defend my Indy 500 championship,” Rice said. “Physically, I feel fine, but I have to trust the Speedway and IRL medical team because they are looking out for my safety. I am optimistic that I will be cleared for Texas [Motor Speedway, June 11]. I think this team can win the Borg-Warner Trophy again, and I hope I can assist them in accomplishing that goal.”
As a result, the veteran Brack will return to the Rahal Letterman team for whom he drove in 2003, Honda’s first year of IRL competition, until he was injured in a crash at the season-ending Texas Motor Speedway event. Brack was IndyCar Series champion in 1998 and “500” winner the following season, both while driving for A.J. Foyt. He has four career IndyCar victories.
“You couldn’t have a Hollywood script like this one – to have Buddy replace me after I was injured, and now I replace him – is almost surreal,” Brack said. “I’m very sorry for Buddy, and hope he gets well soon. But I’m grateful to Bobby [Rahal] and the team for the opportunity, and Honda, who has been very supportive of this decision.”
“Of course, we’re tremendously disappointed that Buddy will be unable to defend his ‘500’ crown,” said Robert Clarke, president of Honda Performance Development. “His victory here last year was Honda's first Indy win and one of the highlights of our 2004 season. At the same time, it’s great to welcome Kenny back to the Honda family. His skill and experience as a IndyCar driver are unmatched, and no one can argue that he is the best possible replacement driver to take over Buddy's car.”
HPD is Honda’s wholly-owned motorsports subsidiary, responsible for the company’s competition efforts in the Indy Racing League. Honda is fielding 14 drivers from five teams at the 2005 Indianapolis 500, the largest effort yet for the company. In addition to Rahal Letterman Racing, other teams using Honda power at Indianapolis this year include Andretti Green Racing, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Newman/Haas Racing and the Fernandez organization [Delphi Fernandez Racing, Super Aguri Fernandez Racing and
Mo Nunn/Fernandez Racing].