It may have come over a month late, but on Tuesday Danica Patrick made her long-awaited return to the IndyCar Series, completing the veteran refresher programme at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS).
Tuesday’s session, which was originally scheduled for late March, was meant to give rookie and veteran drivers an opportunity to get up to speed ahead of the Indianapolis 500. Since it has been nearly seven years since Patrick last drove an IndyCar around IMS, she had to complete a two-level refresher test in order to be cleared to drive when the track opens for official practice on May 15.
When Patrick finally got her #13 GoDaddy Chevrolet onto the track, things didn’t necessarily feel the way she had expected. Not only has the car changed a great deal since Patrick’s final IndyCar event in 2011, but she will also have to get used to the absence of power steering, a feature she has grown accustomed to in NASCAR.
“The car, it just felt very hard to drive. The weight of the wheel was very heavy for me,” said Patrick in the media centre Tuesday evening. “I stayed out there and I did all those 20 laps to complete it all. It felt fine.”
In total Patrick completed 52 laps around the speedway, passing both phases of the refresher programme. Timing and scoring during the test wasn’t a clear indication of her potential due to the fact IndyCar restricts the car’s speed to allow the drivers to get comfortable on-track.
While the session brought with it a lot of significance in terms of Patrick’s return to Indianapolis, it also carried a tremendous amount of pressure for the 36-year-old.
“I’ve been waiting to get this day over with for a long time,” Patrick said. “I want to get through that so I can get to the fun part, which is really running, making changes, making it faster, feeling really comfortable. It was just a day of anticipation, a level of not knowing.”
Patrick even went so far as to say the pressure on Tuesday was greater than what she faced during her initial rookie year at the 500 back in 2005.
“No, that (2005 Rookie Orientation Program) did feel a lot easier,” said Patrick. “But I had also been in the car for four races. So, you know, I mean, I sat on the front row at Motegi the race before it, finished fourth. I mean, I had already been up to speed and comfortable.”
Throughout the month of May Patrick will likely face a tremendous amount of media coverage and fan support, something the Ed Carpenter Racing driver is not unused to.
“I said to everyone on pit lane, We need a before and after of my 2005 pit road gaggle of photographers, and 2018, because it felt similar. It was really a cool feeling,” Patrick said.
In the thirteen years since Danica Patrick made her Indy 500 debut, the native of Roscoe, Illinois has become one of the most successful female drivers of all time. She has announced that this year’s race will be the final event of her career.
Patrick will participate in today’s manufacturer test session, before the series takes a break for the Indianapolis Grand Prix. Practice officially begins for the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500 on Tuesday May 15.