- Associated Press - Friday, September 2, 2011

BALTIMORE (AP) - On roads that nobody has driven before, no racer has the advantage of being familiar with the course.

For that reason, Danica Patrick figures she’s got a decent chance to win the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix, a street race that winds through the streets of Charm City and includes a brisk scenic view of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Patrick has only one win in 112 career IndyCar races and has just four left before turning her full attention to NASCAR. She likes her odds on Sunday, for no other reason than no one in the field has driven through Baltimore at 180 mph.

“Street courses are one of those things where anything can happen,” she said Friday. “Lots go on. There’s crashes, there’s no room for error on street courses. So if you make a mistake and touch the wall, you’re out of the race. Sometimes these are survival of the fittest and smartest, and someone who takes care of the car. So there’s no reason why Baltimore this weekend can’t be a great race for me because finishing and being smart are things in my nature.”

Patrick got her first look at the course on Thursday as fans were exiting the baseball game between the Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays. Because construction was not yet complete, she ran into a few pedestrians at various crosswalks.

“One was on a bicycle. He struck up a conversation, wanting to probably know my cell phone number and home address,” Patrick said. “He didn’t get that.”

Friday’s practice was delayed for several hours because construction workers had to secure fences that were removed in anticipation of Hurricane Irene blowing through the city. The delay didn’t bother Patrick one bit.

“Well, I was sitting down for breakfast in my robe and then I stayed in my robe for another four hours,” she said. “It wasn’t too bad. I can’t lie.”

Unfamiliarity with the course is the great equalizer. For those in position to make a move in the IndyCar points standings, it is imperative to learn as much as possible about the sharp turns, the bumps in the road, the manhole covers and the covered railroad tracks.

“We do a lot of preparation before hitting the track, like simulations with the engineers. And we walked around the track,” said Ryan Briscoe, fifth in the points behind leader Dario Franchitti. “Before we hit the track we understand the corner speeds, the gears, you get a good idea where the bumps are. Street courses especially, there’s no room for error. You have to take full advantage of the practice sessions.”

Like it or not, precious points are up for grabs on a strange course with tight pits that leave little room for exit.

“Nobody knows the track, so it brings the older drivers and teams to the same level. That could be crucial,” said Helio Castroneves, who’s ninth in the standings. “It will certainly be more challenging for everyone, and with the battle for the championship it will be really interesting.”

Regarding the tight pit stops, Castroneves scratched his head and said, “I noticed that. I still didn’t quite understand it, to be honest, why we’re going to the right and to the left with a hairpin curve on each side. It is awkward, but I guess that’s the only way for them to put all the cars. That’s a good problem to have.”

Twenty-eight cars are entered in the race.

Team Penske is coming off its first 1-2-3 sweep in nearly 17 years after Will Power won on Sunday in California for his fifth victory of the year. Castroneves finished second and Briscoe took third.

A year from now, many of the drivers will know what to expect. This week, they’re all in the dark.

“Everyone knows the same so far, which is not much,” said Vitor Meira. “That’s a help because it equalizes the field more.”

If Patrick, 12th in points, pulls off an upset win, she won’t be back next year to defend the title. But the she can take heart in knowing she helped launch the first IndyCar race in Baltimore history.

“I think anytime we go to a new venue in a new city, I always feel like there’s a great crowd and a lot of excitement,” she said. “It’s our chance to capitalize on a new market, captivate them and entertain them and get them excited about coming back for the next time.”



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