It was not as smooth of a day as Danica Patrick and her Ed Carpenter Racing team would have hoped for to open the month of May, but nonetheless she is cleared for today’s Chevrolet manufacturer test and the first day of Indianapolis 500 practice to be held on Tuesday, May 15.
As rookies Kyle Kaiser, Matheus Leist and Robert Wickens took to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval in the morning session to complete their Rookie Orientation Program, it were the veterans Jay Howard, Sage Karam and Patrick pacing the 2.5-mile course in the afternoon session for veteran refresher programs.
While Howard and Karam navigated the program (which is phases two and three of the ROP curriculum) with relative ease, Patrick was troubled with a couple of issues that put the No. 13 team on a bit of a time crunch as the shadows got longer.
During Patrick’s install lap, the team noted some worrisome engine temperatures and quickly brought her back to pit lane. The brand-new Dallara IR-18 chassis was wheeled back to the garage area where it sat for much of the first half of the three hour session.
“We started off with an install check,” said Patrick. “It’s a brand-new car, so there was a water temperature issue. Took it back to the garage. There’s only three hours today, so you burn an hour pretty quickly getting out there and getting back in, getting back out to pit lane again.”
After a long diagnostic period, the GoDaddy green machine was placed back on the pit lane and Patrick was quickly in the Chevrolet to hurriedly begin the refresher program. Again, after a short period on track Patrick brought the car back to her crew with complaints regarding the steering wheel and the weight of the wheel in her hands.
“The car, it just felt very hard to drive,” Patrick explained. “The weight of the wheel was very heavy for me. So I don’t know what the heck I’ve been doing because I feel a lot stronger than when I was here before.”
It wasn’t until approximately 30 minutes remaining in the practice session where she finally began to build a comfort level in the car and clicking off the laps required to pass the on-track test. With eight minutes remaining before the 5:00 PM local time deadline, Patrick completed the final phase of the program and was cleared for practice for the rest of the month.
In order to lighten the load on Patrick’s steering wheel, engineer Matt Barnes removed some of the front wing angle in order to reduce downforce and therefore make the wheel easier to turn. Of course, the car lost front grip as a result of the adjustment and it kept cornering speeds down for the veteran while she worked through the refresher.
“It was definitely a little too much understeer to go really, really fast. But it was enough to complete the day and move on for tomorrow,” the Illinois native reported. “I felt like I was able to feel the grip limit of the car, especially the front, of course, because took so much front aero out. I was really able to feel the front sliding pretty well, even with the way it felt. That’s good for me. Tomorrow it will feel even more comfortable.”
Today Patrick will hit the track for Chevrolet manufacturer testing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval. She expects to make some strides on the finer things in the cockpit (such as headrest trim and seating position) so that the comfort level will continue to rise and real progress can be made.
“I’ve been waiting to get this day over with for a long time. I say that with love,” Patrick reiterated. “I hope there’s some understanding for the words that I’m using. I want to get through that so I can get to the fun part, which is really running, making changes, making it faster, feeling really comfortable.
“It was just a day of anticipation, a level of not knowing.”
In a month of May that is sure to be as exciting and unpredictable as any in recent memory, this won’t be the last time a driver will be left with a level of uncertainty.
Stay with Open-Wheels.com throughout the month as we cover the Month of May at Indianapolis, including the IndyCar Grand Prix on Saturday, May 12 and the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on Sunday, May 27.
Images courtesy of INDYCAR Media.