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Woman, Brazilians Among Indy 500 Contenders


Brazilian driver Tony Kanaan has captured the pole position for Sunday's Indianapolis 500 auto race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indiana. But while Kanaan leads the field of 33 drivers into the race, 23-year-old rookie driver Danica Patrick has been getting most of the attention as she tries to become the first woman to win the storied race.

It is no wonder that Danica Patrick has generated high expectations heading into the 89th running of the Indianapolis 500. In addition to being young and beautiful, she has the talent and skills to win the race. Patrick turned in the fastest time in the final qualifying round Friday, completing the four kilometer circuit at the Brickyard at a speed of almost 363 kilometers per hour (362.986).

"I am confident. I am confident in the car and our race set up. I know that I am a rookie and inexperienced in comparison to the other guys in traffic. But let's hope that what I have done in the last four races will be enough for me to be able to go out there and do what I need to do," she said.

The diminutive Patrick, who stands just one-meter, 57-centimeters and weighs 45 kilograms, has been driving for 13 years. She starting with go-karts at the age of 10. When she was 16, Patrick moved to England and made her debut in the Formula Vauxhall Winter Series. She continued honing her driving skills, attending the Formula Ford racing school and moving up in the racing world until she signed a multi-year contract with Team Rahal in 2002.

Patrick, who is just the fourth female to start the race, will be trying to make motor sport history by becoming the first woman to win the Indy 500. Driving a strong car, the Rahal-Letterman team's Panoz-Honda, she captured the fourth spot in the grid during qualifying and will start in the second row, the highest starting position ever by a woman. But Patrick says she does not see herself as a role model. "I do not really care. I drive race cars. I have always driven race cars. And I do not care if I am commented as the first person, first woman to do things. I do not care if people refer to me as being a girl all the time," she said.

Danica Patrick will start the race behind pole-sitter Kanaan, the reigning Indy Racing League (IRL) champion, who finished second last year to Buddy Rice. Starting alongside the Brazilian on the front row Sunday will be two-time IRL champion Sam Hornish Junior and 1996 champion Scott Sharp of the United States.

Along with Patrick on the second row are Scotland's Dario Franchitti and Brazil's Helio Castroneves, who won the Indy 500 titles in 2001 and 2002 in his first two starts. Castroneves says he thinks Patrick has a chance to take the traditional drink of milk on Victory Lane if she can make it through the traffic, and if she has patience, a quality sometimes lacking in rookie drivers.

But in a race where just one wrong move can send you into the wall, whoever wins the race will also need one more intangible, a little bit of luck.

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