Danica Patrick back in the car ahead of return to Indy 500
INDIANAPOLIS -- Danica Patrick had hoped that getting back into an IndyCar for the first time in nearly seven years would feel like "riding a bike."
So was it?
"God no," Patrick said after three hours of testing Tuesday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "Riding a bike is much easier than that."
It took her some time to get adjusted to going nearly 220 mph in an open-wheel car around Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but Patrick accomplished what she needed to Tuesday when she turned 15 laps between 210 and 215 mph and then another 15 laps at more than 215 mph to be approved to run the Indianapolis 500 later this month.
Patrick's top speed Tuesday was a lap of 218.5 mph.
She will test her Ed Carpenter Racing car again Wednesday as part of a manufacturer test and then won't be back in the car until the week of qualifying for the May 27 race.
Her biggest issue came with acclimating herself to the feel of the car after six years in a stock car, and she was concerned that the wheel felt heavy in her hands as she tried to steer.
"The car just felt very hard to drive," Patrick said. "The weight of the wheel was very heavy for me. I don't know what the heck I've been doing because I feel a lot stronger than when I was here before ... but I did not feel very strong out there [to start]."
The team made some changes to the aerodynamics at the front of the car that allowed it to feel better for Patrick, who said it was still "not by any means where I want it" but also knows she has plenty of practice time to get more comfortable.
Team owner and driver Ed Carpenter said Patrick's issues weren't totally unexpected, as former Chip Ganassi Racing driver Dario Franchitti had told him that is one thing he had to adjust to when he transitioned to NASCAR and then back to IndyCar several years ago.
"The steering feels a lot different," Carpenter said. "I talked to Dario about that from his transition. ... I think she was really starting to feel like she was driving the car and in control of the car toward the end.
"We changed a couple of things just to try to make the feel a little better for her. Some of it's getting used to it and I'm sure it will be a combination of both going forward."
Patrick, whose third-place finish in the 2009 Indianapolis 500 is the best for a female driver, left IndyCar racing following the 2011 season to drive stock cars full-time.
She announced in November that 2018 would be her last year in racing and she would compete in two events: the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. Since then, Patrick has been waiting to get into an IndyCar, and had to wait an additional five weeks after the original testing dates were canceled because of poor weather.
"I just kind of wanted to get today over with -- not in a negative sense but just that it's been seven years since I've drove an IndyCar here," Patrick said. "It's been a long time. I just wanted to get through today and get more comfortable and be able to get on with the job.
"There's been a lot of anticipation of this day for me. ... It's been since fall of last year thinking about what the hell it is going to feel like. So now I know."