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Danica Patrick completes Indy 500 veteran refresher test

by Mike Haag | Posted on Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

Courtesy of the Verizon IndyCar Series

INDIANAPOLIS – It took a little longer than anticipated, but Danica Patrick is officially cleared to drive when Indianapolis 500 practice begins on May 15 after completing her veteran refresher test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Danica Patrick watches work on her machine from the Ed Carpenter Racing garages at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway — Photo by: Chris Owens

Patrick was among three Indy 500 veterans and three rookies who turned laps Tuesday on the 2.5-mile oval. Each successfully passed the testing phases involving progressively increasing speeds. Like Patrick, Jay Howard and Sage Karam completed the two veteran refresher portions, while Kyle Kaiser, Matheus “Matt” Leist and Robert Wickens ran through the three required rookie phases.

INDIANAPOLIS 500 ROOKIE/REFRESHER TEST: Combined results

Driving the No. 13 GoDaddy Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing, Patrick is back at Indianapolis for the first time in seven years as she looks to conclude a groundbreaking career in the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on Sunday, May 27. Overcoming water temperature issues and an ill-handling car along the way, Patrick wasn’t able to complete her refresher phases until the final 10 minutes of the three-hour session.

Danica Patrick leaves her pit stall for her refresher program at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway — Photo by: Joe Skibinski

“It’s been seven years since I drove an Indy car here,” said Patrick, the first woman to lead the Indianapolis 500 (as a rookie in 2005) and the best female finisher of the race (third place in 2009). “Yeah, it’s been a long time.

“So I just wanted to get through today, get more comfortable, be able to get on with the job. There’s been a lot of anticipation on this day for me.”

The 36-year-old admitted she’s still not comfortable in the car, citing how heavy the wheel without power steering felt despite her noted fitness routine. She expects to resolve some of the issues during a manufacturer test day on Wednesday at IMS, the final on-track availability on the oval prior to Indy 500 practice opening on May 15.

Danica Patrick sets up for Turn 1 during her refresher program at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway — Photo by: Chris Jones

“My old engineer Matt (Barnes) ran me today,” Patrick said. “He made it easier to drive. It’s still not by any means where I want it, but it was enough that we could complete today.

“I think that once I’m flat out the whole way around, I’m feeling comfortable, feeling the changes, you can really work from there.”

Howard used Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate James Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda to complete his refresher in fast fashion.

“Today was excellent,” said Howard, seeking to make his third Indy 500 start. “I’m really happy, the car feels better than it did last year, which is great. … I’m really happy, really confident – certainly no complaints. I’m looking forward to a good month of May.”

Danica Patrick sails through Turn 1 during her refresher program at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway — Photo by: Joe Skibinski

Karam is chasing his fifth straight Indy 500 start, driving a fourth time for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. The 23-year-old Pennsylvanian finished his refresher as the afternoon session ended.

“This is most comfortable I have been here at Indy in the very first day of running,” said Karam, driving the No. 24 WIX Filters DRR Chevrolet. “Usually, the cars don’t feel the best after a refresher day, but this is the best I have ever felt after Day 1. The car felt good coming through the refresher speeds and even better when we added speed.”

The Indianapolis 500 rookies had the first three hours of the day to complete their programs. Kaiser, driving the No. 32 NFP/Juncos Racing Chevrolet, breezed through his in less than 30 minutes.

Kyle Kaiser sails through Turn 1 during the Rookie Orientation Program at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway — Photo by: Joe Skibinski

“I went out, felt comfortable, we knocked out the laps,” said Kaiser, who moved up to the Verizon IndyCar Series this season after winning the 2017 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires championship. “No hiccups on anything, which is exactly you want on a day like this.”

Wickens also resorted to using Hinchcliffe’s car to finish rookie orientation after his No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda suffered gearbox issues after the first phase. Undeterred, the Canadian posted the fastest lap of the day at 220.111 mph.

“We had to scramble a little bit to get James’ car ready because it wasn’t scheduled to be going on track, so we had to do some quick fixes and get everything ready to go,” said Wickens, who has a pair of top-four finishes in the first four races this season.

Sage Karam sails through Turn 1 during his refresher program at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway — Photo by: Joe Skibinski

“It wasn’t ideal because we didn’t really do a seat fit for me in his car. Apart from the seat going in, everything was more ‘get on with it, get the orientation done.’ We were actually a little pressed for time to get all the phases through in the time allocation we had.”

Leist is already a winner on the IMS oval, taking the checkered flag last year in the Freedom 100 Indy Lights race. The 19-year-old Brazilian needed less than an hour to run through his rookie phases in the No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet.

“The feeling was not that much different than Indy Lights,” Leist said. “The Indy Lights cars have less downforce and go 20 mph slower in the straights, but the feeling is pretty much the same. This car has more downforce so you feel a little more comfortable with the speed, so it was not a big deal for me.”

Wednesday is set aside for Chevrolet and Honda to conduct manufacturer testing at the track involving 12 drivers. Then focus turns to the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS road course, which runs May 11-12.

The INDYCAR Grand Prix on May 12 (3:30 p.m. ET) and the 102nd Indianapolis 500 (11 a.m. ET) both air live on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

‘What They’re Saying’ from Rookie Orientation Program/Refresher test day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Rookie orientation done, ready to race or test. It was good fun. The ABC car was looking good today. Tony (Kanaan, teammate) did a great setup yesterday, so the car was pretty neutral and fast. I went through all the phases pretty well. The first one was 205-210 mph, the second one was 210-215 mph and then 215-plus mph. The car was feeling good all day long, so pretty happy. The feeling was not that much different than Indy Lights. The Indy Lights cars have less downforce and go 20 mph slower in the straights, but the feeling is pretty much the same. This car has more downforce, so you feel a little more comfortable with the speed, so it was not a big deal for me.  We’ll see how it’s going to be in qualifying, but so far so good. I’m looking forward to the month of May.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): “It was a tricky morning. We had a gearbox issue on my car after the first phase of the orientation. We had to scramble a little bit to get James’ (Hinchcliffe, teammate) car ready because it wasn’t scheduled to be going on track, so we had to do some quick fixes and get everything ready to go. It wasn’t ideal because we didn’t really do a seat fit for me in his car. Apart from the seat going in, everything was more get on with it, get the orientation done. We were actually a little pressed for time to get all the phases through in the time allocation we had. The guys worked hard to get the No. 5 car ready. I love it around here. It was my first taste of Indianapolis. I love the oval. I ran the (road) course 12 years ago. It was good to do my first laps at the oval, full throttle laps, flat laps. It was very special. Day Zero for us. Looking forward to getting May started. I think it’s going to be a pretty special place when there are 33 other cars on lap.”

JAY HOWARD (No. 7 One Cure SPM Honda): “Today was excellent. I’m really happy, the car feels better than it did last year which is great. The One Cure SPM boys have done a really good job with the car. I think the results early on in the season have reflected that, so it’s kind of what we expected. I’m really happy, really confident – certainly no complaints. I’m looking forward to a good month of May.” 

DANICA PATRICK (No. 13 GoDaddy Chevrolet): “We started off with an install check. 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. Then it was out one time, coming in just to make sure everything was OK. Then the next run was just too slow. It wasn’t above 210 mph. The car, it just felt very hard to drive. 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. (…) I can pick some weight up. But I did not feel very strong out there. My old engineer Matt (Barnes) ran me today. He made it easier to drive. It’s still not by any means where I want it, but it was enough that we could complete today. With 30 minutes to go and five laps of the second phase and 15 laps of the third phase together, I’m like, I don’t know if I’m going to get through this today. But I stayed out there and I did all those 20 laps to complete it all. It felt fine. Actually felt fairly comfortable at that point in time for the level of discomfort with the way the wheel felt, things like that, and with the amount of front aero we took out of it to lighten the wheel up for me. Here we go, my old words, a little bit of ‘understeer’ out there. I was going to say ‘tight’ but I corrected myself. 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. 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. But I’ve been waiting to get this day over with for a long time. I say that with love. 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.”

SAGE KARAM (No. 24 WIX Filters DRR Chevrolet): “It was a really good day for me. This is most comfortable I have been here at Indy in the very first day of running. I haven’t been in an Indy car since last May here.  In fact, I haven’t been in a race car since last October in sports cars. It’s been a long wait. I’m so excited to get behind the wheel. This is a new car, so it’s a big challenge for myself and the team. We had to work all of the little kinks today in just three hours. So, it is a tall task in the refresher program. We ran laps today and I feel good as we got through so much information today. We are extremely pleased at how the WIX Filters Chevrolet ran today. Usually, the cars don’t feel the best after a refresher today. But this is the best I have ever felt after day one. The car felt good coming through the refresher speeds and even better when we added speed. I’m anxious to get to the Speedway in a few weeks to get going for the greatest race in the world.”

KYLE KAISER (No. 32 NFP / Juncos Racing Chevrolet): “Overall we had a really smooth run, which is exactly what we were all hoping for. We went out and were the first to finish with our ROP testing. We only went through two sets of tires doing it and the car felt great. We had good speed considering we didn’t even get into trimming the car at all and we were running competitive times. I am really happy with the team and I am looking forward to getting back on the road course now. Then we have the month of May, which this is the big one. This was a good first taste of the oval and I am looking forward to more this month.”

About the Author

Mike Haag has covered motorsports in San Antonio and South Texas for more than 30 years. In addition to working for the San Antonio Express-News for nearly 28 years, Mike also has co-hosted TrackSmack with Dawn Murphy for 15 race seasons. In addition to being a writer, Mike also teaches English at Floresville High School.