Four women, including Danica Patrick, set to contend in 2010 Indianapolis 500
Monday, May 24, 2010
Danica Patrick could do no wrong in her 2005 debut in the Indianapolis 500.
Her every lap was chronicled as if it bore the historical significance of a lunar landing. And when she seized the lead with 10 laps to go, the 300,000 fans in the stands at Indianapolis Motor Speedway went wild.
Though Patrick finished fourth, forced to conserve fuel in order to complete the distance, it seemed at that moment that the 23-year-old rookie was poised to revive lagging interest in IndyCar racing and redefine what was possible for female athletes.
This past weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Patrick was roundly booed -- and justifiably so -- after blaming a poor qualifying result on her mechanics.
"It's not my fault," Patrick said over the public-address system after her 224.217-mph effort landed her 23rd in the 33-car field, barely locking in one of the 24 starting spots awarded the first day of a new two-day qualifying format.
Patrick wasn't the day's fastest woman, either, outperformed by two rookies: Ana Beatriz of Brazil, who'll line up 21st (224.243 mph) in Sunday's 94th running of the Indianapolis 500, and Simona de Silvestro of Switzerland, who'll start 22nd (224.228 mph).
Day 2 of qualifying saw two other women who were slow on Saturday -- American Sarah Fisher and Venezuela's Milka Duno -- among 13 drivers vying for the nine remaining starting spots in Sunday's race.
Fisher succeeded. Duno did not.
Never before had five women tried qualifying for the Indianapolis 500. And their results were no different from the 32 men who tried making the cut. Some exceeded expectations. Some fell short. And at least one behaved badly.
In short, it no longer is news that women show up at Indy. The news is what they do behind the wheel.
And that, in a sense, is as telling a measure of success as the fact that for the first time in history, four women will race in the Indianapolis 500 this year.
It has been 33 years since Janet Guthrie, trained as an aerospace engineer, became the first woman to compete in the 500. The racing suit and helmet she wore in 1977 now belong to the Smithsonian Museum.