SAO PAULO (AP) — Ladies, start your engines.
Danica Patrick will be among four women on the IndyCar grid of the season opener Sunday in Brazil, a record number to start a series race.
Patrick will race with Milka Duno of Venezuela and rookies Simona de Silvestro of Switzerland and Ana Beatriz Figueiredo of Brazil. American Sarah Fisher is set to run on a limited schedule this year, but she will not be in the opener.
Patrick applauded the number of women racing on the streets of Sao Paulo, but said it’s not happening because of her.
“I don’t look at it like I’m responsible for it,” Patrick said. “Everyone that gets to this level — male or female — carved out their own path, one way or another, and is here for a reason.
“I’m happy about anything that brings attention to our series and pulls in more interest.”
The last time three women competed together was in Miami last year when Patrick, Fisher and Duno made the grid. They had raced together on other occasions after Duno joined the series in 2007, but IndyCar had never been able to gather more than three women drivers.
“It’s extremely nice to have four of us racing together here,” said Figueiredo, who likely will be the most-cheered woman this weekend in her hometown. “We are having more and more women with chances to compete in the top level, that seems to be the trend now, and we should expect to see others in the series in the future.”
Figueiredo, a two-time winner in the Indy Lights series, hasn’t secured a full-season ride for 2010. She is hopeful that a good performance Sunday will give her a chance to follow in the footsteps of Patrick, one of the series’ biggest stars.
While Patrick downplays her influence, Figueiredo points to her as a role model.
“Danica is a reference for the women here,” the 24-year-old Figueiredo said. “She is the one who actually opened the doors for others in this series.”
Patrick is a huge attraction since she earned 2005 rookie of the year in the series. She became the first woman to win an IndyCar race in 2008, and last year she had a career-best, fifth-place finish in the drivers’ standings. She also came in third at the Indy 500, the highest finish by a woman.
Before Patrick, there were a few women making their way to IndyCar racing.
Janet Guthrie became the first woman driver at the Indy 500 in 1977, and she was followed by Lyn St. James in 1992. But it wasn’t until 2000 that a 19-year-old Fisher got to Indy.
Fisher was the first to run a full IndyCar season in 2001, and the first to win a pole in a major open-wheel circuit in Kentucky in 2002. She was the most popular driver from 2001-03, but failed to secure enough sponsorship to regularly race in the series. She created her own team in 2008, Sarah Fisher Racing.
The 37-year-old Duno, the series’ first Hispanic female driver, will be making her 27th IndyCar start on Sunday. For the first time, she has a seat for the entire season. Duno, who has four master’s degrees, hasn’t had significant results in the series so far.
Simona De Silvestro is coming from the Atlantic Series, where the 21-year-old driver became the second woman to win a race in the developmental series in 2008. She won four times last season and just missed the title after retiring in the final race.
Terry Angstadt, president of the series’ commercial division, says having women in the mix is good for business.
“It’s just great to have these women in our sport,” Angstadt said. “It’s good for the business. Racing is the only sport where female athletes compete in absolutely the same field as the men, they race on exactly the same tracks, the same cars.”