Patrick Heads To IRL
December 8, 2004 | 9:21 A.M. EST
In announcing its driver line-up for 2005, the team formally announced the signing of Rice, the 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner, to a multi-year contract extension. Rice started the 2004 season as a substitute driver for Kenny Brack who had been injured in the 2003 IndyCar season finale. Rice made the most of his opportunity winning three-races, including Indianapolis, five pole positions and finishing third in the championship. The last 12 months have capped a meteoric rise for the 28-year-old native of Phoenix, Arizona.
The highly touted Patrick, a 22–year-old native of Roscoe, Illinois, has driven the last two seasons for Rahal Letterman Racing in the ultra competitive Toyota Atlantic Championship. She will become the second female driver to run the entire IRL IndyCar Series schedule and attempt to become the fourth woman to run the Indianapolis 500.
A three-time national karting champion, Patrick raced in the highly competitive Formula Ford Championship in Europe. She posted the highest finish ever for an American driver at the prestigious Formula Ford Festival in 2000. She joined Rahal Letterman Racing in mid-2002 and ran a partial schedule in the Barber Dodge Pro Series. She moved to Atlantics in 2003 with backing from Argent Mortgage Company and finished on the podium in her first Atlantic race. In 24 Atlantic starts she collected five podium results and 15 top-five results. In 2004 she posted ten top-five results in 12 races and collected three podium results including a second place finish at Portland. She finished third in the championship.
The Argent/Pioneer cars of Rice and Patrick will combine with the car of Vitor Meira to give Rahal Letterman Racing its first full-season three-car program. All three cars will be Honda powered G-Force chassis utilizing Firestone Firehawk tires. Sponsorship details for Meira’s car, while already finalized, will be announced at a later date.
"A three-car full-season IndyCar Series program is the most ambitious undertaking we have had at Rahal Letterman Racing in quite some time," said Bobby Rahal team co-owner and 1986 Indianapolis 500 champion. "I have always been a proponent of a multi-car team, but we didn’t always have the resources or the driver talent to expand to this level. Certainly the success we enjoyed at Indianapolis last year with three cars showed us the benefits of a multi-car program. There are challenges with adding a third car and we had to carefully evaluate where we allocated our personnel. Two elements were vital to our ability to elevate the IndyCar program to this level. First was the incredible support we received from our partners at Argent, Pioneer and Honda and secondly the unique trio of talented drivers that we will campaign this season. Last year was a phenomenal season for our team, but with Buddy Rice, Vitor Meira and Danica Patrick I see greater accomplishments ahead."
"We had a great year working with Rahal Letterman Racing, and are very pleased to expand our 2005 partnership with the addition of Danica Patrick to the IRL program," said Wayne Lee, president of Argent Mortgage Company. "Argent has been a huge supporter of Danica’s career sponsoring her in the Toyota Atlantic Championship and we cannot be more excited to help her advance to the IRL and join Indy 500 champ, Buddy Rice. These talented drivers share the same characteristics that have made Argent Mortgage a leading national mortgage lender — teamwork, determination and innovation — and we look forward to another stellar racing season in 2005."
"Following the tremendous success of Buddy Rice and the entire Rahal Letterman Team this year, Pioneer is geared up for a repeat in the 2005 season," said Michael Townsen, vice president of marketing for mobile entertainment at Pioneer Electronics (USA) Inc. "We're thrilled to have Buddy Rice, winner of the 2004 Indianapolis 500, back in the drivers seat again this year. And we're doubling the excitement with the addition of a second car driven by Danica Patrick, a young driver with great potential."
"I had the opportunity to see Danica's test in Phoenix last month, and I was very impressed with her focus, her discipline and her methodical approach in the race car," said Robert Clarke, Vice President and General Manager of Honda Performance Development, Inc. "She showed an ability to get up to speed very quickly, and her times were extremely competitive. We're looking forward to seeing many successes from Danica during her rookie IndyCar season."