PATRICK PRIMED FOR THE CHALLENGE OF HER FIRST OVAL HILLIARD, OH . . . The start of the 2003 Toyota Atlantic Championship season has seen the highs and the lows of competition for Team Rahal's Argent Mortgage Company driver Danica Patrick....
PATRICK PRIMED FOR THE CHALLENGE OF HER FIRST OVAL
HILLIARD, OH . . . The start of the 2003 Toyota Atlantic Championship season has seen the highs and the lows of competition for Team Rahal's Argent Mortgage Company driver Danica Patrick. Patrick, the highly touted 21-year-old rookie for whom Bobby Rahal created an Atlantic program, claimed a podium finish in her first race at Monterrey and then suffered the frustration of a DNF (contact) at Long Beach. For the ultra competitive Patrick, the last six weeks since the Grand Prix of Long Beach have been frustrating.
"Anytime you are headed into a down period, it is nice to do so with a solid result under your belt," said Patrick. " The DNF at Long Beach not only cost us points, but it was a disappointment because we had made some progress in the race. One thing Bobby [Rahal] and Jimmy [Prescott, Atlantic Team Manager] have told me is that you can't dwell on the setbacks. You learn from them and then you move on. I have two races in Atlantics and Team Rahal has two races in the series as well. We set our expectations high because we want to succeed, but there will be a learning curve for the team and myself."
This week that learning curve will include Patrick's first oval track race. Patrick came out of the karting ranks and has driven Formula Ford and Barber Dodge but has never raced on an oval. Her prior oval experience is summed up in a Busch test she did in 2002 and in two days of testing conducted by Team Rahal earlier this month in La Crosse, WI.
To Patrick's credit the oval is a challenge that she has embraced and is looking forward to. "I have been picking the brains of Bobby, Michel [Jourdain] and Kenny [Brack] for their words of advice, but all the advice in the world can't substitute for actual time on the track. Fortunately my engineer Walt Preston has a good idea of where we should be and the early part of Thursday's practice will be spent getting familiar with the track."
One person who is confident that Patrick will come to terms quickly with the art of oval racing is three-time CART champion and Patrick's mentor Bobby Rahal. "I have been impressed with what Danica has accomplished over the first part of the season," said Rahal. "There has been a lot of attention focused on her as a driver and as a female in motorsports, but she has handled the attention like the pro she is. That attention is a curse and a blessing for a young driver. When you succeed that spotlight is great because everyone will see your success, but when you meet with adversity, that spotlight can feel like it weighs a ton. One of the things that has impressed me with Danica is how she can balance the different aspects of the job and give the necessary attention to each detail."
This week Patrick will look to write another chapter in her growing legacy. She started the season on a high note by making Toyota Atlantic history when she became the first female driver to reach the podium in the 30-year history of the series.
"While there is only one oval on the Atlantic schedule, oval racing is something I will need to master if I want to run at Indianapolis," said Patrick. "Having been at the Speedway last week, the Indy 500 is an amazing event and something I very much want to do at some point in my career. Right now I am not worried about running Indy only in trying to be successful this weekend and to leave Milwaukee with a solid result which will help us in the championship."
Team Rahal's full-season single car Toyota Atlantic Championship entry is sponsored by Argent Mortgage Company, Norwalk Furniture Company and Miller Brewing Company. The entry in the CART Ladder System is Team Rahal's first support program since the team ran a full-season effort in Indy Lights in 1998.
PATRICK WRITING ATLANTIC HISTORY
Danica Patrick's third place result at Monterrey, Mexico was the first time in the 30-year history of the Toyota Atlantic Championship that a female had managed to finish on the podium. Coupled with the fact that Patrick is the first female to run a full season program and Patrick is making series history each time she drives the #24 Argent Mortgage/Toyota/Swift.
Patrick doesn't mind the attention but she knows she will have arrived when the fact she is a female is no long the story. "I want to be known as the best driver period," said Patrick. "Everyone is always looking for the latest and greatest thing, but for me racing isn't about being the best female driver in the sport but being the best driver I can possibly be. I cringe sometimes when I hear people say that I am the first female driver to do this or that. Don't get me wrong I know that I fill a unique niche in racing so I will use that to my advantage to benefit my sponsors, but I know I will have made it when the media and the other drivers simply refer to me as a driver."
A BUSY STRETCH FOR TEAM RAHAL
With the arrival of Memorial Day, the 2003 race season kicks into high gear and the next several months will be the busiest in Team Rahal history. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day Team Rahal will run 28 races in three series (Champ Car, Toyota Atlantic, IRL IndyCar). The 44 traveling members team will juggle the schedules of the three series and log over 615,000 miles this summer as they race around North America.
Team Rahal is the only open-wheel team in North America to field full-season entries in the Champ Car World Series, IRL's IndyCar Series and the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship.
The Toyota Atlantic Championship will run nine of the scheduled 12 races between now and Labor Day. The lone race remaining after the busy summer will the TAC stop at the Grand Prix Americas in Miami, FL.
"The three programs have presented a number of logistical challenges to the teams, but we wouldn't have undertaken this aggressive schedule if we didn't think we had the personnel to handle the job," said Team Rahal Chief Operating Officer, Scott Roembke.
The first time all three series raced on the same weekend, Team Rahal captured three top-five results (Jourdain 2nd, Patrick 3rd and Brack 5th). The second time the three series all ran on the same weekend Brack finished second at Motegi and Jourdain dominated Long Beach only to lose the victory to a failed gearbox seven laps from the checkered flag.