Rice Thrown Into Cheever Mix

Accident-prone driver Tomas Scheckter has been warned, reportedly threatened, and now Cheever Indy Racing team owner Eddie Cheever may be prepared to cut the South African rookie loose and bring in Buddy Rice to replace him.

Reports began circulating through the media earlier this week that Scheckter’s crash in the Firestone Indy 200 at Nashville Superspeedway last weekend was the final blow and Cheever wants to replace the rookie. Scheckter, the son of 1979 Formula One World Champion Jody Scheckter, has two Top 10 finishes, two poles, and seven Top 5 starting positions, but also has seven DNFs in 10 races, including crashes at California, Nazareth, Indianapolis, Kansas, and Nashville. Scheckter led 85 laps of the Indianapolis 500 before sliding into the wall coming out of Turn 4.

Rice, who tested well for Cheever in Fontana and Phoenix in February, will drive the No. 53 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara-Infiniti at Michigan this weekend. It will be the 25-year-old driver’s Indy Racing League debut, and though Cheever says the deal is for just one race the rumors are fast circulating. The entry list for the Michigan Indy 400 reportedly had Scheckter’s No. 52 entry initially listed as “to be announced,” before Scheckter’s name was added.

“We have a commitment to ourselves and Red Bull to win races," said Cheever, who is 10th in the IRL standings. “Buddy, who has been very impressive in testing with us, is joining the team to give us another shot at winning on Sunday. Given our performance at the superspeedways this season, I am hopeful that with three cars in the field, Red Bull Cheever Racing can leave Michigan with a victory in hand.”

This season Cheever himself has four Top 10 finishes, one pole, and four Top 5 starting positions with five DNFs.

Rice, a native of Phoenix, passed his IRL rookie test Tuesday at Kentucky Speedway, completing all four speed phases in just 59 laps with a top speed of 218.2 mph on the 1.5-mile oval. The 2000 Toyota Atlantic champion developed a relationship with Red Bull Cheever Racing started in November 2001 when he tested for the team at California Speedway. He signed a testing contract with the team in June.

”This is an excellent opportunity," Rice said. "Red Bull Cheever Racing is one of the top teams in the IRL, and they've been fast all year. Red Bull has been very supportive of my career since 1998 when they signed me as one of their athletes. This is really what we have all been working so hard to achieve."

This season, Rice has driven in three sports car races for Miracle Motorsports in the Grand American Rolex sports-car series. He competed in the Toyota Atlantic series from 1998-2000, racing against reigning IRL champion Sam Hornish Jr. in 1999 and winning the championship in 2000. He started racing karts at age 11, winning several national titles.

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