25 May 2010
Danica: Easier to be a female racing driver in US than UK
In a revealing and engaging interview, IndyCar's cover girl Danica Patrick recalls her early period of racing in Britain - Ford Granada and all - and explains why she likely won't ever return...
Cover girl, swimsuit model, a woman in what is very much a man's world – oh, and IndyCar Series race-winner too – Danica Patrick has revealed in an engaging interview that she has no intention of moving across the Pond to join the F1 circus, reasoning that 'something that's very important to me is having fun'.
For all that she is now a leading name on the US scene, Patrick actually learned the majority of her craft in the UK alongside a group of fellow drivers she refers to as the F1 'brat pack', after relocating from Illinois to Milton Keynes at the age of only 16 as a hugely promising karting ace.
Three years on British shores saw the fast lady from Wisconsin progress through Formula Vauxhall and Formula Ford – with a second place in the 2000 Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch – and whilst she and reigning F1 World Champion Jenson Button never actually raced wheel-to-wheel, Patrick knew the McLaren-Mercedes star and his team-mate and title-winning predecessor Lewis Hamilton on a social basis.
One factor that she appreciated rather less in Britain, however, was what she perceived as the ingrained sexism in motor racing, worse than in her homeland even with the likes of former NASCAR hero Kyle Petty cruelly describing her on air as 'just a marketing machine' more interested in looking good than racing well.
“I wasn't going to be a go-kart driver forever,” the 28-year-old told The Times. “As soon I was old enough to race cars, I took it to the next level. I was told that I could learn more in a year in the UK than I could in five years in the United States. I met Lewis Hamilton at Jenson's 21st birthday party, by which time Jenson was already an F1 driver. We were a brat pack of friends, him and a few other drivers. Button's a nice guy – I was happy to see him win last year.
“It felt much more old-school over there [in Britain], though. Women still cooked and cleaned. I feel the women's movement happened a little faster over here (in America). I remember I was the quickest one day in practice, and one of the team owners I drove for couldn't believe it. To the male drivers he was like, 'She's the quickest – what are you doing? Get out there, go!' as if it wasn't okay to be slower than me. He would tell his wife to fetch him beers.
“It was a downer trading in the [Ford] Mustang I owned in the States for a FIAT Punto in England, too – although I could get it up to 108mph with the wing mirrors tucked in! Then I had a Vauxhall Vectra and an awful 20-year-old brown [Ford] Granada. [Now] I drive an ML 63 AMG – it's the sportiest SUV Mercedes has. It's a very fast car, really quick and very comfortable. It handles really well.
“I have a Lamborghini as well, but I don't drive it. I have to go slower over speed bumps and avoid certain roads because of potholes or dips. There's nowhere to put my drink because there's no cup-holder – and, I'm not going to lie, it looks pretentious. I used to think it was cool to drive a Lamborghini to dinner. Now? No. Like I really need to be looked at anymore? Like I really need people to stare at me?”
Patrick is used to being stared at, as IndyCar's omnipresent poster girl, and she reflects that the bikini photoshoots, TV drama appearances and music video cameos is all part of the game – “I'm having fun with the media exposure; I'm taking opportunities where they make sense and where they portray a part of my personality,” she explains – as the worlds of high-octane, danger-fuelled racing and glamour are never far apart from one another.
Twin Ring Motegi
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