Danica Patrick has officially made her return to the Verizon IndyCar Series after getting back behind the wheel at Indianapolis Motor Speedway yesterday. The American, who is returning in a one-off appearance in next month’s Indianapolis 500, drove an IndyCar for the first time in almost seven years and ended the day by passing her mandatory veteran refresher test.
“It’s been seven years since I drove an Indy car here,” said Patrick, who has reunited with former long-term sponsors GoDaddy for her final race, “It’s been a long time. I just wanted to get through today, get more comfortable, be able to get on with the job. There’s been a lot of anticipation on this day for me.”
Patrick will be driving for Ed Carpenter Racing in what will be her last race before retiring from motorsport. The event was the site of many of the strongest showings in her IndyCar career before she left the sport in 2011 to race in NASCAR.
In that time away, IndyCar has changed massively. Couple that with the fact that the NASCAR she has driven for the last few years is an entirely different animal to an IndyCar and you can see that Danica has a challenge ahead of her.
After climbing from the cockpit yesterday, she ran through how the day went and the particular issues she had to tackle throughout the course of the test.
“We started off with an install check,” she recounted, “It’s a brand-new car, so there was a water temperature issue. Took it back to the garage. There are only three hours today, so you burn an hour pretty quickly getting out there and getting back in, getting back out to pit lane again.
“Then it was out one time, coming in just to make sure everything was OK. Then the next run was just too slow. It wasn’t above 210 mph. The car, it just felt very hard to drive. The weight of the wheel was very heavy for me, so I don’t know what the heck I’ve been doing because I feel a lot stronger than when I was here before. I can pick some weight up. But I did not feel very strong out there.
“My old engineer Matt [Barnes] ran me today. He made it easier to drive. It’s still not by any means where I want it, but it was enough that we could complete today.”
In order to be allowed to race in the Indy 500 on May 27, Danica, along with her fellow returning drivers, had to complete a mandatory orientation program. This involved running fifteen laps with an average speed of 210-215mph before going on to a final run of fifteen laps between 215mph and 220mph. After her troubles early on, Danica only just managed to complete the two phases, with less than ten minutes remaining in the session by the time she was confirmed to has met her targets.
“With 30 minutes to go and five laps of the second phase and 15 laps of the third phase together, I’m like, I don’t know if I’m going to get through this today,” Danica admitted, “But I stayed out there and I did all those 20 laps to complete it all. It felt fine. Actually felt fairly comfortable at that point in time for the level of discomfort with the way the wheel felt, things like that, and with the amount of front aero we took out of it to lighten the wheel up for me.”
“I felt like I was able to feel the grip limit of the car, especially the front,” she would go on to say, “[…] I was really able to feel the front sliding pretty well, even with the way it felt. That’s good for me.
“Tomorrow, it will feel even more comfortable. But I’ve been waiting to get this day over with for a long time. I say that with love. I hope there’s some understanding for the words that I’m using. 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.”
Danica will return to the track in the #13 GoDaddy Chevrolet later today, as she is one of a handful of drivers taking part in a private manufacturer test at Indianapolis. After that, she will have to wait until May 15 to get back out on track again in the first official practice session for the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500.