By Aaron Bearden, Open Wheel Editor
INDIANAPOLIS – Danica Patrick’s Verizon IndyCar Series return has gone better than most anticipated thus far.
Saturday’s qualifying run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway exceeded even her own expectations.
Patrick laid down a four-lap average speed of 227.610 mph in her lone qualifying attempt to slot in ninth during the opening day of time trials for the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500. The run guarantees the Illinoisan a shot at the pole in Sunday’s ‘Fast Nine’ qualifying round.
“This exceeded it,” Patrick said of her performance compared to her expectations. “I have high expectations for doing well here. That’s why I was fortunate enough to be able to drive for Ed (Carpenter, owner of Ed Carpenter Racing). They always have great cars, especially here at Indy. They’re always very strong.
“But to think that I was going to come back and be in the Fast Nine right off the bat. I mean, I’m going to tell you, I was doing 208 at the test the first day and thought, I might not be able to do this. 228 is much better.”
Saturday marked the first qualifying laps for Patrick in an Indy car since the 2011 IndyCar season, coming as the final leg of her planned “Danica Double,” a two-race farewell tour that began with February’s season-opening Daytona 500 for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, where Patrick competed full-time from 2013-17.
The effort was announced in February, with Patrick joining Ed Carpenter Racing as a teammate of Carpenter and Spencer Pigot. She would drive the No. 13 Chevrolet, with support from longtime sponsor GoDaddy.
Given her time away from the sport, Patrick’s initial learning curve was steep. But despite her lack of experience with the modern cars, the 36-year-old claimed her machine has had a familiar feel.
“There’s been such a gap in time, to come back to downforce just feels the same to me,” she said. “It’s hard to remember the finite details. I think that a lot of people are dealing with sort of new nuances of the car, even just saying how it handled in the past in traffic versus now.”
“I would say, if anything, it was about getting the rhythm back with lift points, downshift, up-shift, just little things you can do in an IndyCar that I wouldn’t have done in a stockcar. So those things come back.”
Patrick picked up on the new car quick. Because of that she’ll get an opportunity to soar to her first Indy 500 pole – a decade removed from her lone IndyCar win at Twin Ring Motegi.