A Star Is Born
June 1, 2005 | 8:40 A.M. EST
But, we all know she accomplished so much more during the month of May on the world’s most famous racing facility. The Roscoe, Ill., female driver drove her No. 16 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Honda Panoz Firestone car to a spectacular fourth place finish and Monday night she reached her goal by captured the Top Rookie honors.
Patrick became the first woman to lead a lap at the Indy 500, she was the top qualified woman ever in the Indy 500 (4th), she was the highest placing woman ever (4th) and she is the second woman to win the rookie of the year honors (Lyn St. James won in 1992). But Patrick’s prominence with the media and the racing fans have given the Indy 500 and the IRL IndyCar Series a jump in interest that hasn’t been seen in decades.
“Hey, I’m just a racer who happens to be a woman,” said Patrick after her history run Sunday. “I made several mistakes today but I am with a great team and they helped me get back in the fight for the lead. At one point, I thought, “Wow, I could actually win this thing.’ But we had to be conservative on fuel at the end. I knew Dan (Wheldon, the winner) and Vitor (Meira, her teammate who placed second) had more fuel to use and it was very difficult to hold them off.”
But Patrick led the world’s biggest race in the world for 19 laps and had the nearly 300,000 spectators on their feet with just ten laps remaining as she passed Wheldon to retain the lead. Wheldon passed her back on lap 194.
The fourth place for Patrick was her second straight after an impressive run last month at Motegi, Japan and Danica has now moved to ninth in the current IRL point standings.
Meira, the unsung driver of the Rahal Letterman Racing team, has grabbed the nickname as the “Stealth” after another superb drive Sunday in his No. 17 Team Menard/Johns Manville Honda Panoz Firestone machine. An untimely yellow flag on lap 198 kept Meira from making a last charge on Wheldon for the victory and he had to settle for the runner-up position.
Vitor was hoping to match his teammate Buddy Rice’s 2004 victory but still matched his IRL career best finish and collected $656,955 on Monday’s award celebration.
“I really have to thank our Menards Johns Manville crew today,” said Meira, who now ranks fifth in IndyCar points headed to Texas on June 11. “Every time I came into the pits today – maybe seven or eight times – we gained positions. That made my job much easier today. I’m proud to be on this team and today was a good day for Rahal Letterman Racing and Honda.”
Kenny Brack, Rice’s replacement after a May 11 practice crash, made an inspirational return to the driver’s seat in the No. 15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Honda Panoz Firestone car by clocking the fastest qualifying speed at 227.598 m.p.h. But Brack had to start 23rd from his third day qualifications but a loose nut in the steering system halted Brack’s amazing comeback.
Despite his early retirement from the race, Brack’s racing return was very emotional for the team and racing fans. It was 19 months ago that Brack suffered a devastating incident at Texas Motor Speedway. Last night, Brack was awarded the prestigious Scott Brayton Driver’s Trophy to the driver who best exemplifies the character and racing spirit of the late driver. Helio Castroneves, the 2004 recipient, presented the trophy to a surprised Brack.
“We had a pretty good car today,” said Brack. “But a little part (three cents) took us out of the race. I felt the steering wheel twisting a little bit in my hands. I thought the track was just slippery but the wheel got worse. We didn’t try to push it early and we were letting the race come to us. To be honest, I had the same racecar as Vitor and Danica. We wanted to get to the second half of the race today. But we didn’t get there. I showed that I am back and ready to race in the future if I want to do it.”