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Hot on the wheels

Wednesday, 26 July 2006 - 10:24pm IST

This Indy car racer can send your pulse racing, even before she turns the ignition on. She’s the biggest face of Indianapolis.

Up Close and Personal: Danica Patrick

Danica Patrick, the most marketable commodity in the Indy Racing League, could have devastated the series by defecting to the more popular and lucrative Nascar Nextel Cup next season. Instead, she merely shook up the IRL by announcing on Tuesday that she would remain but move to Andretti Green Racing next season, from the Rahal Letterman team that helped lift her to stardom.

“I’ve said all along that I just want to win races,” Patrick said in an interview to ESPN. “Andretti Green has won more races than anyone in the series. I’ve said all along that my passion, my heart, my soul has always been in IndyCar racing. If there was a team that was going to give me a chance to win in the Indy Racing League, that’s where I’m going to be.”

Patrick, 24, has been the face of the IRL since last year, when she surprised the Indianapolis 500 field by leading the race as a rookie before finishing fourth. She was also ‘Rookie of the Year’ in the series and ended 12th in the points standings while driving for Rahal Letterman.

Last year, the ravishing Danica was asked by Playboy to have her pictures taken, but she declined the offer, though she had previously posed for FHM, and has also appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Danica was born to TJ and Bev Patrick. The senior Patricks met on a blind date at a skimobile event when Bev was a mechanic for a friend’s skimobile. TJ raced skimobiles, motocross, and midget cars. Currently, TJ manages her website and merchandise trailer. Bev handles her business. She has a sister named Brooke.

She is married to Paul Edward Hospenthal, who is 16 years older than her. They were married on November 19, 2005 in Scottsdale, Arizona, where they currently reside.

They met in 2002 when Patrick had to receive medical attention for a hip she injured while doing ‘extreme yoga’ when she was 20. Hospenthal is a physical therapist, certified strengthening and conditioning specialist, and a personal trainer. He has trained various athletes, and runs the Desert Institute of Physical Therapy in Scottsdale.

This year, Patrick finished eighth in the Indy 500 and is ninth in the standings. She has yet to win a race in 26 career starts. At least some of the blame has fallen on Rahal Letterman’s race cars, which have not been as competitive this year.

Andretti Green Racing is led by Michael Andretti, and its drivers have won the last two IndyCar Series titles. Tony Kanaan captured the points championship in 2004 and Dan Wheldon won in 2005. Wheldon, now with Target Chip Ganassi Racing, also won the Indy 500 for Andretti Green in 2005.

The terms of Patrick’s contract were not released. She will join Kanaan and Marco Andretti, Michael’s son, as drivers for the team next season. A fourth driver has yet to be named.

“Danica has shown great talent during her first two seasons in the IndyCar Series,” Michael Andretti said in a statement released by the team. “Our focus has been and always will be on winning races and winning championships. We certainly believe Danica will do that. She has made it very clear that one of her goals as a driver is to win the Indianapolis 500, and we are looking forward to giving her a great opportunity to do that.”

Speculation that Patrick might join Nascar was fueled by her father’s appearance at a recent Nextel Cup race. Patrick said on Tuesday she would not rule out that move down the road.

“From our standpoint, it’s definitely a good day for the IndyCar Series,” John Griffin, spokesman for the IRL, said in a telephone interview. “But the reality is, we were quite confident about her return to the league. She has said many times in the past that she has goals she wants to accomplish in the IndyCar series, including a championship, and she has a lifelong dream of being an Indy 500 champion.”

Recently, Patrick came out with her autobiography, Danica: Crossing the Line. Cross the line she certainly did, by becoming the first woman since Janet Guthrie in 1977, to run in the Indianapolis 500. She now has to go beyond. A win will silence all those who think she is the Anna Kournikova of the racing world.

Danica’s deeds

  • She once said, “Sometimes I get a little nervous. But I’m never intimidated”

  • She was 10 when she started racing karts competitively, and won her first World Karting Association championship at 12

  • In 2005, she was named the 2005 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year

  • On June 6, 2005, she became the first IndyCar driver to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 20 years

  • Was named 2006 Female Athlete of the Year by the United States Sports Academy

  • Was nominated for Best Breakthrough Athlete for the 2005 ESPY Awards. Was named the second most influential driver in motorsports by Racer in November 2005

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