BRASELTON, Ga. (June 8, 2003) - Just over a week after testing an American Le Mans Series car for the first time, rising young American racing star Danica Patrick has joined one of the strongest teams in the series and will make her ...
BRASELTON, Ga. (June 8, 2003) - Just over a week after testing an American Le Mans Series car for the first time, rising young American racing star Danica Patrick has joined one of the strongest teams in the series and will make her series debut in the Chevy Grand Prix of Atlanta at Road Atlanta June 27-29.
Patrick has joined the driving squad of the British Prodrive team, which on behalf of Care Racing Development will field a pair of Ferrari 550 Maranellos in the GTS class in the eight remaining rounds of the 2003 American Le Mans Series season. The 21-year-old Patrick, from Roscoe, Ill., will co-drive with Anthony Davidson of England in the #80 Prodrive Ferrari.
Being paired with Davidson represents somewhat of a reunion for Patrick, who finished second to Davidson in the 2000 Formula Ford Festival in England, the highest finish ever by an American driver, and raced against him on several occasions. In addition to racing for Prodrive, Davidson is also the official test driver for the BAR Formula One team. Tomas Enge of the Czech Republic and Peter Kox of The Netherlands will share the #88 Prodrive team car.
Patrick will be thrust into the ongoing battle for GTS class supremacy in the American Le Mans Series between the Prodrive Ferraris and the U.S.-based factory Chevrolet Corvette team. Joining the ALMS for the final three races of 2002, the Prodrive Ferrari was the only car able to beat the Corvette team in a race, with Enge and Kox winning the GTS class in the ALMS round at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, along with pole positions by Enge in two of the three races. The Ferrari vs. Corvette battle has been one of the most competitive in the series.
Patrick has been tabbed for racing stardom by many observers since beginning her career at age 10. After dominating go karts racing and winning three national titles from her Illinois base, she moved to England at the age of 16 and spent several years developing her road racing skills. She made her debut in the Formula Vauxhall Winter Series in 1998, then ran a full season in 1999. After her performance in the prestigious Festival event in 2000, she raced in the British Zetek Formula Ford championship in 2001.
Her results in England caught the eye of former Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal, owner of a multi-faceted racing team that includes CART Champ Car and Indy Racing League efforts. Shortly after Patrick won the Long Beach Grand Prix Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race in 2002, Rahal signed her to drive for his team, and she ran a limited Barber-Dodge Pro Series schedule for Team Rahal in preparation for a full CART Toyota Atlantic Series assault in 2003.
But Rahal wanted more opportunities for his young protégé, and he had been working behind the scenes, talking to various teams in the American Le Mans Series to try and put together a ride for Patrick in the remaining part of the 2003 season and beyond. She came to Road Atlanta on May 28 and did a test in the GT class Porsche fielded by Orbit Racing, and negotiations with the Prodrive team accelerated in the next week.
"I feel that it's important for a driver to drive in different types of racing," said Rahal, who won Indy in 1986 and was CART champion in 1986, 1987 and 1992. He also enjoyed success in sports car racing, winning the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1987.
"At Danica's age, and with her lack of experience, racing in this series will really help her," said Rahal. "The more you do as a driver, the more you learn. And endurance racing is really good for a driver because you learn how to take care of a car and when to race."
"I've always wanted to do Le Mans-type racing, and longer races," said Patrick. "I have the racing background and experience to move up to the next levels of the sport. People like Bobby Rahal and our sponsors have a belief in me and I am ready to show everyone that I belong here. I believe I'll show them I can do the job."
"She has the potential to be a big star in motor racing and in sports in general," Rahal said. "I wouldn't be spending this amount of time and money if I didn't think she could make it big. She has the drive and determination to be competitive in the highest levels in the future. I believe she can show everyone that she belongs with the best drivers."