MONTEREY, CALIF. Danica Patrick has signed with Team Rahal with the goal of getting behind the wheel of a CART entry in the next few years.
The 20-year-old racing sensation from Roscoe, Ill., will drive in three races this year in the Barber Pro Dodge series, the entry level in the CART ladder system for drivers.
Next year, she will race a full season for Rahal in the Toyota Atlantic Series, the level just below CART. She will be the first woman driver in the Atlantic series since 1974.
"I believe in taking things slowly and making sure that I'm ready for the next step at all times," Patrick said at a news conference before Sunday's CART Bridgestone Grand Prix of Monterey. "I'm not sure how long it will take to get to CART. Right now that is the goal. Whether it takes a year or two years of Atlantic, only time will tell."
Team owner Bobby Rahal said he hopes the deal will mean a long-term relationship that will result in her success as a driver at the top level.
"My goals for her are for her to be successful for the long run," he said. "The danger for a person like Danica who shows so much promise is to be rushed, to get into a series when they're not quite ready yet."
Patrick's combination of charisma and skill could bring new fans and attention to CART, which has struggled in its rivalry with the IRL. She welcomes those expectations.
"There is no doubt that I can bring something different and something new to CART," the 5-foot-1, 100-pound Patrick said. "I'd love to be a part of that. I'd love to see it grow because of a different crowd coming in, and different sponsors, just bringing something new and fresh to the championship. With time, I think I can do that."
Patrick began racing go-karts at age 10 and won her first national championship at 12. At 15, she won two World Karting Association grand national titles and set her sights on auto racing.
She completed the Formula Ford racing school in 1998, and competed in the Formula Vauxhall tour in England that winter and again in 1999. She moved up to the Formula Ford European Series in 2000. That year, she finished second in the Formula Ford Festival championship in England, the highest finish ever for a woman and equaling the highest finish by an American. Danny Sullivan was second in the race in 1974.
On April 13, she won the pro division at the Toyota Pro-Celebrity Race at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Rahal said he got to know Patrick in Europe last year and was impressed.
"I think she truly represents a great opportunity in racing," he said. "She clearly has shown that she is not intimidated by anyone. If you drive the Formula Ford Festival, believe me, that's like a street fight. To do as well as she did, I thought, spoke volumes.
"More than anything I was impressed with her dedication, her commitment and desire to succeed in this sport."
Patrick will test the Barber Dodge car later this month in Sebring, Fla. She is scheduled to race at Mid-Ohio Aug. 11, Road America on Aug. 18 and Montreal on Aug. 25.