Rookie Danica Patrick posted the strongest qualifying run of her young IndyCar career with the second-fastest lap Friday in single-car qualifying for the Bridgestone Indy Japan. Patrick becomes the second female racer in IRL history to qualify on the front row, joining Sarah Fisher, who won the pole position at Kentucky Speedway in 2002 and qualified second at Richmond International Raceway in 2003.
The 12th of 23 drivers to make a qualifying attempt, Patrick jumped to the top of the field with her run of 204.502 mph. For a time it appeared that Patrick might join Fisher in winning an IndyCar pole, but a late run of 204.470 mph by Sam Hornish Jr. dropped her to second by just three-hundredths of a second.
Scott Sharp, a winner at Motegi in 2003, made it two Hondas in the top three positions with his own strong run of 204.455 mph for Delphi Fernandez Racing. Local favorite Kosuke Matsuura will start ninth for Super Aguri Fernandez Racing, giving the Fernandez organization two cars in the top 10.
Dan Wheldon led the four-car Andretti Green Racing effort with the fifth-fastest qualifying run, with teammates Dario Franchitti in eighth, defending series champion Tony Kanaan 10th, and Bryan Herta 15th. Patrick’s Rahal Letterman Racing teammates, Vitor Meira and Buddy Rice, will line up seventh and 11th, respectively, with the Dreyer & Reinbold pair of rookie Jeff Bucknum in 18th and Roger Yasukawa in 21st.
In a highly competitive day, the top seven qualifiers are separated by just eight-hundredths of a second, and there is less than a one second difference from pole qualifier Hornish to Yasukawa in 21st. The green flag for Saturday’s Bridgestone Indy Japan at the Honda-owned Twin Ring Motegi circuit flies at 1 p.m. local time, with tape-delayed television coverage on ESPN starting at 12 p.m. EDT Saturday.
Danica Patrick (#16 Pioneer/Argent Mortgage Rahal Letterman Racing Honda) second fastest qualifier:
“I’m very proud of the team, and of Honda. They gave me a car that was easy to drive fast. We’ve only made small changes to it during the practice sessions. I really don’t think too much about what other female racers have accomplished in the past. My focus is on the drivers I have to race against right now in this very strong field.”