The 2013 Indianapolis 500 will feature four women in the 33-car lineup for the IndyCar Series' marquee annual showcase on Sunday.
Danica Patrick set the bar with a third-place finish in 2009, and of all the female drivers that qualified, none is starting better than in 24th position. All have their work cut out for them, but which competitors have the best chance to make a legitimate run at the checkered flag?
Let's take a closer look at each driver and gauge their chances of success at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Note: Statistics and information, unless otherwise indicated, were obtained from the race's official website.
Simona de Silvestro
Now that Patrick has left the circuit for NASCAR full-time, the premier woman in IndyCar is De Silvestro, who qualified in 24th position at 225.226 miles per hour.
De Silvestro is nicknamed "The Iron Maiden" and is proving that she is worth the hype that surrounds her. Currently ranked ninth in the IndyCar point standings (h/t NBC Sports), the 24-year-old Swiss has plenty of time to develop even further at this infancy stage in her career.
Though she's starting in 24th in the Indy 500, it doesn't appear De Silvestro is short on confidence with regard to how her car is running. She elaborated on what went wrong during qualifying to push her near the back of the pack:
Simona De Silvestro @simdesilvestro
Way 2 make it a bit more exciting had the speed 2 be higher up!But wrong gearing put us where we are!Car is fast & looking 4ward 2 race!5/18/2013, 10:21:19 PM
In nine of 15 starts a season ago, she failed to finish every lap, but a slightly more conservative approach and experience has inevitably made her better.
Being more consistent on the track was clearly a focus for her, because De Silvestro has yet to wreck in four starts this season, which include three top-10 finishes. If she can remain patient, it would not be a surprise to see her in the top 10 on Sunday yet again.
As a member of the IndyCar-sanctioned Indy Firestone Lights Series back in 2008, Beatriz became the first woman to win when she found victory lane at Nashville Superspeedway in the Sunbelt Rentals 100.
Unfortunately, her transition to IndyCar hasn't been easy; it's been a slow, gradual process that has continued with more frustration in 2013. In three of four races this season, the talented Brazilian didn't finish all the laps.
Her cause isn't necessarily helped by her qualifying position of No. 29. It will be important for her not to press too much and careen into a possible wreck.
That doesn't exactly bode well for Beatriz's prospects at The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, but she does have a landmark winning achievement on her resume at the very least.
In 2010, Mann grabbed the pole position at the Indy Lights race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway—the first woman to do so. This will be Mann's first time behind the wheel of an Indy car since 2011, when she finished in 20th place in the Indy 500.
As Cliff Brunt of the AP points out though, that season ended in October when she badly burned her pinky finger in an accident. That was also the tragic collision that took the life of Dan Wheldon—a two-time Indy 500 winner.
Mann is excited to be back in action at a track where she has had past success, though, per Brunt:
It feels fantastic. I'm so thrilled to be behind the wheel of an IndyCar. It's an amazing experience to be back. So far, everything's been going fairly smoothly, and the nice thing about it is I feel like I've jumped right back in where I left off in 2011.
She will need that upbeat attitude after being saddled with a lackluster starting spot of 30th, along with overcoming the aforementioned injury.
If there is any woman that can make a run from the back of the pack other than De Silvestro, Mann has to be the favorite to do so. Perhaps most important is Mann's advocacy for females to get involved with the sport.
Regardless of how she fares, the fact that she's competing—and the possibility to improve her position significantly given her familiarity with the track—gives her the platform to spread her message. The fact that she's coming off a severe injury only makes her storyline more intriguing.
In the 33rd and final starting slot is Katherine Legge, who will have her work cut out for her just to register a respectable finish.
However, as a rookie in 2012, Legge began at No. 30 and wound up in 22nd when all was said and done, proving she could not only complete the race but also move up substantially in the field.
There has been turmoil off the track for Legge and her ex-employer, Dragon Racing. Owner Jay Penske hasn't provided Legge with any specific reasoning behind her termination, which has her threatening to take legal action.
Now that she has a fresh opportunity, it wouldn't be surprising to see her take full advantage of it.
With the prior positive experience under her belt at this venue, there is at least a reasonable chance she could replicate some of her 2012 success this time around.
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