INDIANAPOLIS — Buddy Rice, last year's Indianapolis 500 winner, will not defend his championship May 29 because a back injury is more serious than previously thought.
Rice was hurt in a single-car crash in Turn 2 in practice last Wednesday and Dr. Henry Bock, Indianapolis Motor Speedway medical director, said Tuesday that the driver had a partially torn spinal ligament in his mid to lower neck. The ligament is essential to maintaining the alignment of the spine, Bock said.
Rice missed the first weekend of qualifications, but had expected to return to the Rahal-Letterman team for resumption of time trials this weekend.
"Needless to say, I am extremely disappointed that I won't be able to defend my Indy 500 championship," Rice said in a team statement. "I have spent the past several months thinking about, working toward and planning how I would defend my victory. Physically, I feel fine, but I have to trust the Speedway and IRL medical team because they are looking out for my safety."
Bobby Rahal, team co-owner, said there would be a replacement driver in the No. 15 car today, giving the sub a chance to drive the car before trying to qualify it.
Coincidently, an injury to Kenny Brack, the 1999 winner, gave the then-unemployed Rice an opportunity with Rahal-Letterman Racing last year.
When Brack did not return, Rice became the lead driver.
Rahal already has two drivers in the 500, Danica Patrick, who qualified fourth, and Brazilian Vitor Meira, who will start seventh. Rice said he planned to remain in Indianapolis to help his teammates prepare for the race.
"I think this team can win the Borg-Warner Trophy again, and I hope I can assist them in accomplishing that goal," he said, adding that he hoped to be back in the car in time for a Texas race June 11.
Rice is the second driver sidelined because of crash injuries this month. Paul Dana, a rookie with Hemelgarn Racing, was seriously injured two days after Rice's accident at almost the same place Rice hit the wall.
Practice for the 500 will resume today after drivers and crews took two days off following Sunday's trials.