April 20 in Motorsports History: Danica’s groundbreaking victory

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“Boys, move over.”

That was broadcaster Marty Reid’s famous call when Danica Patrick crossed the finish line on April 20, 2008.

For the first time in history, a woman had won at the top level of American open-wheel racing, coming in a brilliant fuel run at Japan’s Twin Ring Motegi.

Patrick started the race from the sixth position, and while she didn’t have the fastest car, she had the right strategy.

Danica Patrick waves to the crowd after winning the 2008 Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Motegi. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

With roughly 50 laps remaining in the 200-lap event, Patrick began to slow her pace and conserve fuel, dropping to as low as ninth.

That move paid off. As the laps began to dwindle, the cars ahead of her began to drop off, either for having to conserve fuel or come in to pit.

Scott Dixon, who had led the majority of the race, came in to pit with five laps remaining. Then Dan Wheldon came in. Then Tony Kanaan and Ed Carpenter.

Helio Castroneves inherited the lead with four laps remaining, as Patrick rapidly made her charge in second place. On the next lap, Patrick passed Castroneves for the lead on the backstretch and went on to win by 5.859 seconds over the Brazilian.

“This is a long time coming,” Patrick told ESPN following the race “Finally.”

While she wouldn’t win again in IndyCar, Patrick raced the series until 2011. In 2009, she finished third in the Indy 500, the best finish for a woman in the race to date.

After racing in NASCAR full time from 2012-17, Patrick announced she would retire from racing. She made her final NASCAR and IndyCar starts in the 2018 Daytona 500 and Indy 500, respectfully.


Champ Car’s final farewell

Will Power leads the field at the start of the 2008 Grand Prix of Long Beach. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

As word of Patrick’s victory spread across the world, another historic race was taking place in the United States. Champ Car, which was established in 1979 as CART, was running its final race on the streets of Long Beach.

Will Power his victory in the final Champ Car race held at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. (Photo by Paul Mounce/Corbis via Getty Images)

With the inaugural season of the Indy Racing Leauge in 1996, CART and the IRL competed as rival series for the next 12 years. In February 2008, both series reunified under one umbrella, causing several of Champ Car’s races either to be canceled or added to the IndyCar calendar.

With neither Long Beach or Motegi able to change their firmly locked dates, series officials made the decision to run both races as planned. IRL teams would travel to Motegi, and the Grand Prix of Long Beach would serve as an unofficial farewell race for Champ Car.

While points accrued in the race counted toward the IndyCar Series championship, all teams entered were Champ Car entries utilizing DP01 chassis. Additionally, the race also ran under Champ Car rules, which included a 1 hour, 45-minute time limit and a standing start.

Will Power started the race from the fourth position and got an impressive start, taking the lead from pole-sitter Justin Wilson into Turn 1.

Power would dominate, leading all but two laps en route to his third career victory. The future Indy 500 and IndyCar champion will be remembered as the final winner in Champ Car history.

“We got a ripper start,” Power told ESPN. “I was doing plenty of burnouts before, not off the hairpin though. It was a good start, good strategy, and we ran well. The yellows played well into our hands, so it was a good race.”

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.