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Danica Patrick talks through her mixed first day back in an IndyCar

Danica Patrick talks through her mixed first day back in an IndyCar

After some continual adjustments to the front wing, she thought she could feel the grip limit of the vehicle.

The 36-year-old race auto driver jumped back in an open-wheeled vehicle for testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Tuesday ahead of the Indy 500 on May 27 for what will be her final race before retiring.

She emphasized twice not to read a negative connotation into her words, but the popular driver knew her much-anticipated return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a refresher test would be the start of a laborious process.

"I think she's a little nervous because it's been so long", he said. Initially, things got off to a rough start for Patrick, whose No. 13 GoDaddy Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing was plagued with a water temperature issue when she first ventured out on track, prompting the ECR team to bring her back in for a quick check of the vehicle. Today was just a day of anticipation, a level of not knowing.

Patrick explained that the swift remedy to lighten the steering load - reducing the amount of front aero - had limited her ability to go as quick as she wished, but had provided more feel.

Then, during the winter, everything seemed to be in place.

Patrick will be back on the track Wednesday during manufacturer testing. Rookie drivers and drivers needing a refresher are participating in open tests on the oval today.

Team owner Ed Carpenter senses Patrick is a little anxious about climbing back into an Indy vehicle cockpit for the first time since leaving the series for NASCAR following the 2011 IndyCar season. But after a Tuesday where she passed her test and turned a quick lap of 218.5 miles per hour, she now knows that the speed and comfort will come and that soon she'll be able to do the job she came to Indy to do.

Behind the scenes, it was different.

Patrick left her pit area with authority, doing a nice burnout on her way out of her pit box. "Yeah, it's been a long time", she detailed in a press conference afterward.

Like it or not, Patrick has earned her spot on the central stage for the final month of her racing career. Instead, Patrick looked determined as more than a dozen reporters gathered for her pre-driving routine. After turning an out lap, the Ed Carpenter Racing one-off driver immediately returned to her pit station because of a water temperature issue on her bright green No. 13 GoDaddy auto. This involved running fifteen laps with an average speed of 210-215mph before going on to a final run of fifteen laps between 215mph and 220mph.

Twenty minutes later, Patrick was back in the pits because the vehicle wasn't steering like she expected.

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"The auto just felt very hard to drive", Patrick said.

"Tomorrow, I'll feel even more comfortable", she said.

Unlike a NASCAR stock vehicle that has power steering, Indy cars do not, and that can be a bit of a change for a driver that has been away for some time.

Her biggest issue came with acclimating herself to the feel of the vehicle after six years in a stock auto, and she was concerned that the wheel felt heavy in her hands as she tried to steer.

For former Indy Lights drivers Kaiser and Leist, the IMS oval is nothing new.

"You didn't see me come into the pits the second time when I was like, 'Shoot, where's neutral?'" Patrick joked. I'm not looking in my mirrors, checking my dash all the time, moving buttons around.

"Baby steps, right?" she said.

She said she felt significantly more comfortable after several practice laps, and she broke 217 miles per hour by the end.

Patrick is the only woman to win an IndyCar race, lead laps in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500, win the pole for the Daytona 500, and the highest-finishing woman in both iconic races. The event was the site of numerous strongest showings in her IndyCar career before she left the sport in 2011 to race in NASCAR.

Castroneves, the three-time Indy 500 victor, also got his first laps around Indy in the 2018 configuration of the auto.

Asked about her comfort level back in 2005 when she was a rookie at IMS, Patrick said, "There were times where I was driving off the belief that everything was so locked down for me that nothing can really go wrong with the back of the auto, just drive through it". "Riding a bike is much easier than that". "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".

"This is just a test. I want to be a day with good information leading into two weeks from now where we really are going to have to get down to business".