Pippa Mann settles in, earns respectable 18th at Indy

INDIANAPOLIS -- Pippa Mann looked thirsty, relieved and happy. The lone female driver in the 100th Indianapolis 500 had driven to an 18th-place finish, and while that was solid enough on face value, everything considered, her showing was even better than that.

On a sweltering afternoon, Mann avoided the sort of trouble that plagued her in the prelims -- a spin in qualifying, a crash in Carb Day practice -- and broke into the top 10 with less than 10 laps remaining Sunday. But she had to pit for a splash of fuel with four laps to go, and with old tires, she could do no more than keep her pink and white No. 63 Honda off the wall over the final 10 miles.

"It was very hot and slick, we were trying different things with the downforce and different things with the [air] pressures," Mann said. "It was right when we got to the last couple of stints that we finally found something that made me happy and really allowed me to use my [skills]. Four laps on tires that were old was really, really tough at the end."

The 32-year-old Brit had set a goal of finishing around 15th in her fifth Indy, no small feat for a part-time driver racing for a team assembled for one race. She wound up two spots better than her previous Indy best of 20th in 2011. Moreover, it was a victory for the battle against breast cancer. Mann was in her third year of a partnership with the Susan G. Komen organization, and she aimed to raise $100,000 for the fight against breast cancer.

"We had it a little tough in the first part of the race," Mann said. "We had a couple of issues and kept working on the car. The car kept getting better, and these guys [her Dale Coyne Racing crew] kept getting better and better all day. The last few stints there, we were really pretty good. It's a shame we couldn't get a lucky yellow when we needed one, but I have to be pleased with that performance."

After starting 25th and falling to 32nd early, Mann exercised patience and restraint between pit stops. That allowed her to move up as attrition started to take its toll on the field, and when her crew got the car to her liking, she picked up positions on her own.

There were plenty of mishaps on the track and on pit road that could have tripped her up, but Mann was lucky enough to never be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"It's always the way at the Indianapolis 500: things always happen," she said. "They happen around you, behind you, in front of you, on pit lane. I'm actually real grateful to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing [Graham Rahal's crew], because every time they were getting ready to leave in the first half of that race, we were coming in around them, and they spotted me coming every single time. So we just pitted around guys who were on the ball, and my guys did a good job."

Mann is one of nine women who've competed in the Indy 500. The race in recent years has had as many as four female drivers in the field three times (2010, '11, and '13), but Mann was the only woman who attempted to qualify this year. Fellow Brit Katherine Legge had hoped to race in the 100th Indy with "all-female" Grace Autosport, but the effort fell through for lack of an available car.

Danica Patrick holds the records for highest starting and finishing positions by a woman (fourth in 2005, third in 2009, respectively, and she is the only woman to lead the race, with 29 total laps led in 2005 and 2011. Sarah Fisher has the most Indy 500 starts by a woman with nine between 2000 and 2010.