Patrick becomes first woman IndyCar winner

4-20-08 -- Danica Patrick made history on Sunday as the first ever female IndyCar winner, taking the Indy Japan 300 race in her 50th start in the series.

The American covered 200 laps over the 1.52-mile (2.5-kilometre) Twin Ring Motegi oval in one hour 51 minutes 02.6739, beating Helio Castroneves of Brazil into second and Scott Dixon of New Zealand into third.

Castroneves timed 1:51:08.5333 and Dixon 1:51:12.7298, ahead of Dan Wheldon of Britain and Tony Kanaan of Brazil.

After three years on the circuit the glamorous brunette was relieved to chalk up a win at last.

"Finally. This is a long time coming," said Patrick, who turned 26 three weeks ago.

"I've been asked so many times when I'm going to win my first race, and finally, no more of those questions."

Patrick made her IndyCar debut in 2005 after years on European junior formula tours and in the Toyota Atlantic series. Her previous best finish was second place at Detroit last September.

"I had a lot of opportunities last year that were missed due to bad luck. I can only say I'm just glad it's over," she said.

With six laps remaining, Dixon had a 3.6-second lead but had to enter the pits for fuel on lap 195. Then Wheldon and Kanaan had to follow suit on lap 196.

That left the door open for Patrick and Castroneves, whose last pit stop came on lap 148. She overtook Castroneves on lap 198.

"It was a fuel strategy race, but my team called it perfectly for me," Patrick said. "I know I was on the same strategy as Helio and when I passed him for the lead, I couldn't believe it. This is fabulous."

"I kind of knew from the start if we had enough fuel that I was going to have a chance because I was saving fuel from the first lap and nobody else looked like they were," she said.

"I've always said that I wouldn't do this, but on my last lap I was kind of just excited," she added. "I was as relieved as I expected I would be years ago, how I knew I would feel when I won my first race."

It was the third leg of the 16-round Indy Racing League series. The next race will be the RoadRunner Turbo Indy 300 at Kansas in a week.

Patrick has come close before.

She started on the front row and finished fourth here in the fourth round in 2005. A month later, she became the first woman to lead the Indianapolis 500 before finishing fourth, the highest ever finish for a female driver at the prestigious event.

Asked if there is any advantage for women in the male-dominated racing world, Patrick said: "Well, I think that the disadvantage to overcome was just that I hadn't won.

"A lot of women hadn't really proved on a consistent basis that they could be a good driver and always run up front. I think there had been times when they had done well but not consistently."

"I can't tell you that I blame them for not believing that we could do it," she said. "I grew up with never really using guys as a reference, using drivers as a reference, and if I wasn't fast enough, I wasn't fast enough. That was the most important thing."