Open Wheel — 20 May 2008


Danica Patrick is sure to revisit the cover of Sports Illustrated, only this time as a champion driver and not a swimsuit model. The stunning 26-year-old has been voted the most popular driver for three years running and now she has proved that she can hold her own against the men.

Danica Patrick will be among the early favorites to win the Indianapolis 500 when practice begins next week.

That’s not so much because of her historic first victory two weeks ago in the IRL IndyCar Series race in Japan as it is due to her feeling at home at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s a place where Patrick has felt welcome since she first arrived there as a 23-year-old rookie three years ago.

“I like Indy a lot,” Patrick said. “I feel very confident there.

“But, at the same time, the place demands a little respect. It’s never easy and you can’t take speed for granted there. You have to really stay with the car and push it to its limit.”

She became an instant sensation at the Brickyard, and from the moment she put a wheel onto the 2.5-mile Indy oval, she was quick.

There was a second round of “DanicaMania” this year following her win in Japan. Now, she’s setting her sights on Indy, but she’ll have to contend with a group of additional challengers arriving at Indy in the wake of the open-wheel merger.

She is particularly proud of her drive in last May’s rain-shortened race.

“I feel like (Indy) was probably some of the best driving I’ve done,” Patrick said of the 2007 race. “There’s just a little bit of bravery that maybe I lacked a little in the beginning years. It’s just having the confidence that you’re going to go into the corner and make it out and beat the (other) drivers.”

She has also gone a long way towards sweeping away the denigrating attitude she has faced as a woman in a so-called man’s sport. But Danica couldn’t care less. “I really don’t pay much attention to the sexist remarks,” she said.

An icon for women, Danica believes she can pave the way for women in the Middle East to take up the sport. “I would hope so, I believe I have shown that women can be as good drivers as men. I think they should at least have the opportunity,” she said.

So, where does she hope to go from here, a career in NASCAR or Formula One maybe?

“As of now I am happy with IndyCar. I guess we will see what the future brings. I have always said never say never. I always leave my options open,” she said.

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