Before this last decade, only two women had ever started the '500, Janet Guthrie and Lyn St. James. Sarah Fisher joined in 2000, and there have been four more since. Now, a total of four take the green flag for the first time on ...
Before this last decade, only two women had ever started the '500, Janet Guthrie and Lyn St. James. Sarah Fisher joined in 2000, and there have been four more since. Now, a total of four take the green flag for the first time on Sunday.
This is the next logical progression after there were two in 2000 and three in 2007. Fisher, the most experienced member of the quartet, will be making her ninth start at Indianapolis, joined by Danica Patrick in her sixth and rookies Simona de Silvestro and Ana 'Bia' Beatriz.
Certainly Patrick has garnered most of the headlines and other attention since her arrival in 2005. But the other three aren't slouches by any stretch of the imagination.
"I think it's extremely important to have four women who all deserve to be here," Fisher said. "All four are very talented. Simona has been under the gun and pressure and delivered for where she's at and the situation she's in. And Ana has been very impressive with the way she just handles it."
All continue to work to ensure they are referred to as drivers who happen to be women, rather than women drivers.
Fisher has embarked on creating her own team after a career spent primarily with midfield teams. Success has come slowly and each decision has to be part of a strategic game plan since Fisher is not only a driver but a small business owner.
"I want the team to stand on its own, because it's so important to be around and have sustainability," she said.
At Indianapolis, Fisher has a best start of ninth (2002) and finish of 17th (last year, in her own car). Despite the setback of her second car driven by Jay Howard not qualifying for this year's race, it's still been a substantial improvement from where she was after being left in the lurch when a sponsor pulled out before her debut race as a car owner in 2008.
"We'll still complete our schedule as planned," she said. "But there has to be strategy and game-planning involved. That game plan means doing what we do now. We sure figured it out in '08, and have no doubt we can figure it out again."
Rookie is a relative term for the latter two. Both de Silvestro and Beatriz have competed at Indy before -- not necessarily on the 2.5-mile oval, though.
De Silvestro twice finished third in Formula BMW competition on IMS's infield road course in 2006, but this is her first time on the Speedway, and only her second ever oval start.
"I always watched oval racing and I thought this looks easy, and then it's a real eye opener," de Silvestro said. "And then it's 'Oh my gosh, this American racing is crazy!' You get used to it by yourself, and then there's 30 other cars doing the same thing and all flat! I started there in 18th and then opened my parachute and went back."
More on the Swiss youngster's introduction to the Speedway can be found here, and she still is working to ensure a good result to complement her unquestioned pace, poise and passion she has shown.
"Compared especially from last year, I feel like I'm running around a lot (to all the events)," she said. "But it's pretty nice, having people recognize what I'm doing on the track. I just want to let this happen to me -- it's important to get through everything, and feel how it feels. Right now, I just want to let it hit me and the whole atmosphere."
Beatriz, twice a winner in Indy Lights, has run at the Speedway the last two years. Although she finished fifth as a rookie in 2008, she suffered a nasty accident last year, losing the car off turn 1 and crashing into a non-SAFER barrier infield wall over the grass and warm-up lane, destroying her tub.
"The line is pretty similar in both cars, but this car has so much more speed, and is a heavier, bigger car," 'Bia' said. "It's so many things more, like pit stops, and having to work it out with team. But (engineer) Larry Curry and the team have a great environment, all teammates get along well, I can ask them, and it's alright! Larry is very supportive and has so much experience, and helping me learn so many things."
Some rookies are intimidated by the track but Beatriz's teammate at Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Justin Wilson, said the Brazilian has taken it all in like a sponge.
"Rather than thinking she knows it all, Ana is very laid back, professional, and taking it all in, which is very professional," Wilson said. "Plus Tomas (Scheckter) and Mike (Conway) have been great. The four of us have been great together. It makes it easier when you don't have the big ego and we're all trying to achieve the same thing."
Beatriz, for what it's worth, was the only one of the DRR quartet who wasn't participating in a 10-lap simulation of the '500 at a media function for iRacing.com. While Wilson sauntered away to an unchallenged win, Conway and Scheckter collided into turn 3, igniting a multi-car pileup. The beauty of a racing simulation was only egos were damaged, not race cars.