Danica Patrick was right in the middle of a 12-car train during Happy Hour Tuesday afternoon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as she tried to get comfortable again with traffic and 225mph.
“It felt pretty good,” said Patrick, who was in between Will Power and Carlos Munoz on the speed chart in 20th spot with a best lap of 222.728mph in her ECR Chevy.
“I’m still not completely confident in traffic. They’re trying to encourage me to use my tools and the bars, you know, the weight jacker and things. I’m like, I need to feel the traffic first.
“Before we create another variable as to what’s going on, I need to familiarize myself and get sharp again with the traffic and just the tendencies of the car.”
Absent from IndyCars for seven years, Patrick turned 91 laps and kept creeping up on speed.
“I felt like it was a really solid day,” said the 36-year-old, who has finished third, fourth and sixth in her seven Indy starts. “I feel like the car has a lot of good natural speed in it. It was very smooth. We tried a handful of things and found some stuff that worked.
“It definitely feels like understeer, and traffic is going to be the determining factor of where you go. You can get a decent lap, but once you get close up on a car in front, you’re going to deal with the front getting really light on you. That’s the job at hand, how do you fix that and make yourself feel comfortable alone, find that balance.”
The only female to ever lead the Indy 500 was asked how difficult it was to acclimate herself to 230 mph in a 1,700-pound car compared to a 3,500-pound stock car she’d driven in NASCAR since 2011.
“Relearning the feel, remembering kind of the pattern of lifting and sort of the timing of it, where you do it in the corner, where you downshift, when you up-shift, when you leave it, little things like that,” she replied.
“I would say that just driving the car and being distracted with other things, like adjustments and traffic and looking in my mirrors and things like that, I’m getting a little bit more comfortable and almost reminding myself like, ‘Hey, you’re not thinking hard enough about that corner there, and you’re doing 230, so…’
“But that’s what you need to get to. You need to get to the point where driving the car is very natural and instinctive on what’s happening, be able to digest the other scenarios, the cars around you, the adjustments you’re making, thinking ahead on the adjustments, timing passes. The race is very little of just driving the car, and a lot of the other stuff.”
Patrick sounded satisfied after day one, and knows she’s got a good support staff at Ed Carpenter Racing.
“I would say for day one of Indy 500 week went really well,” she said. “We accomplished what we wanted to. We ran alone. We tried things. We got the car to turn a little bit better. We go t in traffic for a good few laps, quite a few. I think the team is very solid and we have great cars. It’s a great organization. I don’t need to be silly. We can rely on teammates, you know, pace ourselves a little bit here and there.
“I kind of kept the mantra in mind like I had when I came to the test, that it’s about building confidence, not breaking confidence.”