Getty Images

Danica Patrick hopes to go out a winner in final Indy 500 before next chapter of her life

2 Comments

The 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500 will be the final start of Danica Patrick’s 26-year racing career. But make no mistake about it, Patrick — who turns 36 on March 25 — isn’t going to Indy just to simply run laps, maybe sell a few souvenirs and collect a paycheck.

On the contrary. Patrick’s goal for the May 27th race is straight-forward: she’s in it to win it.

Just over 2 1/2 months away, the Greatest Spectacle In Racing will be Patrick’s final race in any series, piloting the Chevy-powered No. 13 for Ed Carpenter Racing, with backing from long-time sponsor GoDaddy. She’s already raced in her final NASCAR Cup race, last month’s Daytona 500. Now it’s on to the second part of the so-called “Danica Double.”

“I love how everything is coming full circle,” Patrick said. “I’m going to close out my racing career at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the place where so many amazing things have happened for me. I’m back in GoDaddy green and joining a great team. Ed Carpenter Racing is consistently competitive at Indy. I can’t think of a better way to finish out my racing career than at the Indianapolis 500 with this team and GoDaddy.”

Even though she last raced at Indianapolis in an Indy car in 2011, Patrick’s history at the fabled Brickyard has been significant. In her rookie season of 2005, she became the first female to lead laps in the 500. And in seven overall starts there, she earned six top-10 finishes, qualified on the second row in 2008, and in 2009 she finished third, scoring the highest finish ever for a woman in the biggest race in the world

.After the 500, Patrick will move on to a new career that will focus on several of her businesses that focus on fitness, lifestyle, cooking and luxury.

In a phone interview with MST on Wednesday, Patrick talked about racing in her final Indy 500 as well as what the future holds in her post-racing career:

MST: You’re kind of at the same point as you were after Homestead: about 2 ½ months until your last race – first it was NASCAR, and now IndyCar. How much are you thinking about your last race and what are you thinking about it?

Patrick: “I’m thinking about the last race in the capacity of winning it. I’m not thinking of the last race in the capacity of it being the last race. I’m really not. I’m just getting jacked up and excited about and focused on what I want to do, which is win. I’m just trying to think about it as much as possible and manifest the reality I want.”

I’m thinking about the last race in the capacity of winning it.

MST: Will you be at St. Petersburg this weekend for the IndyCar season-opening race, and what kind of testing will you do prior to the Indy 500?

Patrick: “No (she won’t be at St. Pete). I don’t plan on going to any IndyCar races. I’m going to be in Indy at the beginning of next week to do my seat fitting, and then I’m testing at Indy at the end of March for a day (March 29).”

MST: Will that be the only test you have before the 500?

Patrick: “Yes.”

MST: Have you talked to some of your former competitors in IndyCar about the new car, how things have changed since you last raced in an IndyCar, etc.?

Patrick: “I’ve talked to people about it like engineers and people I know, like Ed (Carpenter) and Matt Barnes, my old engineer who works now as head of engineering for Ed’s team (Ed Carpenter Racing), which was another reason why I really wanted to drive for him. We’ve talked about that kind of stuff, I’ve asked questions for sure, but there’s nothing like feeling it out for yourself. From what I understand, it should be maybe more downforce than from when I raced (previously in IndyCar from 2005-2011), but less than what they had last year. I’m just hoping it’s like riding a bicycle.”

MST: How much do you think you’ll miss racing in general after the Indy 500?

PATRICK: “I don’t miss it right now. It’s only been a couple weeks (since her last NASCAR race), but I’m good. It’s not like I came to the conclusion to be done racing after Daytona and Indy this year overnight. It was all year last year, from the point where I had the very unique situation of a sponsor (Nature’s Bakery) leaving, to coming to the realization that I was really excited to pursue all these other businesses, and they brought me a lot of joy. Not only was it so fantastic that GoDaddy came into the picture to be my final sponsor, but also because they’re helping me with that stuff. That’s what they do. I’m excited about all those. I’m also not afraid of change. I think a lot of people are afraid of change. It’s not that I’m not afraid at all, it’s just that I get nervous but then I get more excited about what could be than worried about what was. And so, I’m excited.”

MST: Do you think you’ll ever see yourself involved in motorsports in any capacity going forward, and if an opportunity comes along that’s so good, would you be tempted to come back and race again?

Patrick: “Actually, the answer probably goes the same for both. I never thought I’d do the Indy 500 again – I really, really didn’t. And here I am. So that’s my ongoing lesson of never say never – unless you put it before the word never. I don’t plan on any of that, I don’t plan on coming back, I don’t plan on being involved with a team or anything like that. All my other businesses are quite different, they’re fitness, lifestyle, cooking and luxury. They’re very different and I very much enjoy them, so I’m excited about them. No, I don’t see that (racing again), but then again life surprises me in ways every couple years that I wouldn’t expect, so I’m always open.”

MST: You’ve become such an inspiration and role model in your racing career. That’s a big responsibility, but you’ve handled it so well. What do you hope you’ve imparted upon aspiring female racers, both on and off the racetrack?

Patrick: “Thank you. I have to say that’s something that kept me going for quite a while at the end. While sometimes it wasn’t fun, I felt like I had a job and I was given a very unique gift and I was supposed to use it to inspire. Even when I felt my day wasn’t going so well, I still was doing things that other people were dreaming about and I stayed attached to that thought. One of the things that was sad about leaving racing was the potentially smaller platform to inspire wasn’t so unique or so big. Again, that’s all in my head. I feel I have the power to do even more beyond racing now that I’m entering into it. But I do hope to continue to inspire. That’s the one thing that I don’t want to go away just because I’m leaving racing and what I grew up doing. I want to continue doing that through my other businesses, whether it be through charitable organizations, attachments through my companies to charity, or messaging through my businesses, through branding that create empowerment, through the books I would like to write that will open people’s minds up and start to develop this healthy relationship with yourself, food, exercise and your thoughts, to create a mind-body connection and look within in instead of out. These are all the things I hope to do. I just don’t want the inspire part to go away because it’s still powerful and I want to do it. I’m not one of those athletes that ever said, ‘I didn’t ask for this.’ I didn’t, but I’m lucky to be able to do it.”

MST: One of the hallmarks of your career is there has never been fear in you, you’ve always met things head-on. I’m asking this in a light tone, but you’re going to be racing in the No. 13 (in the Indy 500). How did that all come about?

Patrick: “Lucky No. 13. It’s also been 13 years since my first Indy 500. So actually, my race shoes are going to have 2005 on one and 2018 on the other shoe to signify my first and last Indy 500. And green is supposed to be unlucky in racing, as well, but obviously we’re GoDaddy green. Whenever anybody has asked me about superstitions, which has been many times over the years, my reply is always, ‘they’re only real if you believe them.’ So, I don’t believe they’re real and I believe green and 13 are going to be lucky.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

 

Alexander Rossi hopes to dodge oncoming traffic in second Baja 1000

Honda Photo
Honda Photo
Leave a comment

One of the great viral videos of last year’s offseason was the sight of Alexander Rossi’s Honda Ridgeline off-road vehicle and its near head-on collision with a passenger SUV coming in the wrong direction of last year’s Baja 1000.

The video of the incident overshadowed an outstanding debut for Rossi in the SCORE OFF Road Desert race.

Rossi (pictured above on the right along with fellow driver Jeff Proctor) told NBCSports.com that driving down the same roads still used by passenger traffic is one of the unique challenges of the Baja 1000.

“The most demanding form of racing is IndyCar racing,” Rossi told NBC Sports.com. “But the big thing for me in the Baja 1000 is mentally being able to understand the terrain that is coming at you at 120 miles an hour in the dust and pedestrians and other cars, people and cattle that come along with this race.”

Rossi is becoming a modern-day Parnelli Jones, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. He wants to race anything on wheels and win.

Since the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season concluded with the Sept. 22 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, Rossi competed in the Bathurst 1000 in Australia on Oct. 13. Earlier this year, Rossi drove for Acura Team Penske in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

This weekend, the winner of the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016 and a perennial contender for the NTT IndyCar Series championship will compete in the Baja 1000 for the second straight year.

Rossi will be driving for the Honda Ridgeline Racing team and is the sixth Indy 500 winner to compete in the Baja 1000.

Other Indy 500 winners who have raced in the SCORE Baja 1000 include Jones, the 1963 Indianapolis winner and a two-time Baja 1000 race winner (1971 72); fellow Honda IndyCar Series driver and Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, the Indy winner in 2014; Rick Mears, who won the Indianapolis 500 four times, 1985 Indy 500 champion Danny Sullivan and 2004 Indy winner Buddy Rice.

NTT IndyCar season champions who have raced in the Baja 1000 include Mears, Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais, Jimmy Vasser and Paul Tracy.

Rossi has a better understanding of what to expect in this year’s Baja 1000 after last year’s rookie experience.

How valuable was last years’ experience?

“It’s hugely valuable,” Rossi said. “The course changes each year. There will be some elements that are the same, but it’s a new route from start to finish this year. That is why we go down a week early. We do pre-running in a similar type of vehicle and take course notes and analyze each individual section of the course, find the danger areas and what you need to do come race day.

“Ultimately, the biggest thing is having the knowledge of how to prepare for the race and what to expect once you roll off the starting line. That is something I will have going for me this year that I didn’t have last year.”

As an off-road rookie, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“I don’t know that I can pinpoint any highlights other than just the whole experience,” Rossi said of last years’ experience. “The whole week and a half I had down there in 2018 was phenomenal. The team made me feel part of the family from Day One. I just love driving a desert truck through Baja California. It’s an experience unlike any other.

“The entire event was a highlight more than one specific moment.”

Getty Images

Driving an off-road Honda Ridgeline through the desert of Baja California in Mexico is vastly different than Rossi’s regular ride in the No. 27 NAPA Honda in the NTT IndyCar Series. But Rossi believes there are many similarities, also.

“It’s very different, for obvious reasons, but ultimately, a race car is a race car,” Rossi said. “It has four wheels, and you are trying to get it from Point A to Point B quicker than other people. The general underlying techniques of getting a car through the corner efficiently is all the same; it’s just a different style.

“Everyone here is very talented at what they do and very good so in order to win this race, you have to be at the top of your game.”

The Baja 1000, like most forms of off-road racing, is more against the clock than a wheel-to-wheel competition such as IndyCar. Rossi believes it is a different form of endurance racing, similar to IMSA in many ways.

“You have to compare it like an endurance race,” Rossi said. “It’s a race where the first part of it, you are trying to get through and not take chances and stay in touch with the people you are trying to stay in touch with.

“When you get down to the final 20 to 30 percent, that is when you try to either close the lead of extend the lead of whatever position you are in. That is similar to the Rolex 24 at Daytona. It comes down to the last three or four hours, and we take a mentality closer to that.

“The only difference is if you get it wrong at Daytona, you spin in the grass. Here, it can be more dramatic than that.”

As an off-road rookie in 2018, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“The Honda off-road guys and my co-driver/navigator Evan Weller make it so easy for me to just jump right in and go to work,” Rossi said. “I can’t wait to share the seat with Jeff [Proctor] and Pat [Dailey] once again, and hopefully, bring home a win.”

The Honda Off-Road Racing Team has had an outstanding 2019 season, including class wins for the Baja Ridgeline Race Truck at the Parker 425, the Mint 400 and the Baja 500; where the team successfully debuted the second-generation “TSCO” chassis; and a second-place Class 7 finish at the Vegas-to-Reno event.

Proctor won his class in the Baja 1000 in both 2015 and 2016 with the Ridgeline, finished second in class in 2017 and 2018; and won the companion SCORE Baja 500 race both in 2016, 2018 and again earlier this year. The Ridgeline competes in Class 7, for unlimited six-cylinder production-appearing trucks and SUVs.

“We are stoked to have Alexander back racing with us in Mexico for his sophomore attempt at this iconic off-road race,” Proctor said. “This year’s 52nd annual Baja 1000 course covers ALL of the toughest terrain and areas in Baja Norte….as always, it will be tough.

“Alex is one of the brightest motorsports minds I’ve worked with, and he is a great asset to our team.”

The Baja 1000 begins Friday and runs through the weekend along the Baja Peninsula of Mexico.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500