|Danica Patrick speaks during a media availability on Friday. (Amber Bracken, Edmonton Sun)
EDMONTON - They had a well-publicized argument at Mid-Ohio two years ago.
Yet despite the run-in, Danica Patrick believes there is a place for Milka Duno on the IZOD IndyCar Series.
“I’ve had my issues with Milka, there’s the well-viewed YouTube video,” said Patrick. “She’s obviously not up to speed, she doesn’t always fall under the 107% mark. It’s a little love-hate. If you’re in a situation with her, it’s bad and she really holds you up, but on the other hand, I think it’s important — not just with Milka, but other drivers that are not up to speed and not as fast as the fastest — to be out there. Someone that makes for a passing opportunity or some kind of a pick situation, or somebody that creates a yellow flag.
“We’ve seen this year with so many road circuits, it’s follow the leader and there’s no yellows. When they park her before she has an opportunity to potentially create a yellow flag, then it’s just green, green, green because everybody is so good in this series.”
Last week in Toronto, Duno was pulled off the track during the race because she was not keeping up with the field and posting lap times within 107% of the leaders.
There’s talk of not allowing her to compete all together next season.
On Friday, the Venezuelan driver spun her car into a tire wall 20 minutes into the opening hour-long practice session.
“She’s not up to speed,” said Patrick, “But I’m not against having different speeds out there. It’s that she’s not as gracious about her position that maybe somebody else might be, which presents a problem.”
Such was the reason for the argument between the pair following a practice session at Mid-Ohio in 2008. Patrick went over to inquire as to why Duno wouldn’t get out of the way and had a towel thrown at her during the exchange.
Earlier this month, Ryan Hunter-Reay got stuck behind Duno in qualifying at Watkins Glen and also confronted her in the pits.
“I have a lot of respect for the bravery to do what she does, do a qualifying lap at the Indy 500 or whatever,” said Hunter-Reay. “But she hasn’t accomplished enough to be racing in the series and I think the speed shows that.
“At Watkins Glen I got sick and tired of running into her during qualifying. That’s when my fused burned out. It had been coming up for a year to that point.”
Duno, 38, brings big sponsorship dollars to her Dale Coyne Racing team, which is the primary reason she’s in the car.
This is her fourth year on the circuit, but the first time she’s taken part in the Edmonton event.
“It’s a very competitive championship. It’s really tough for people like me who have not been at all the tracks,” Duno said. “You have to learn a track in one weekend that everyone else knows because they go every year.
“There are seven tracks that I don’t know. This is the first time I’m in the championship full-time. I was doing a partial schedule every year, nine to 10 races every year, and it’s very tough, because we haven’t had a lot of time to practise. It’s been very tough to me.”
While Hunter-Reay concedes sponsorship is critical to the health IndyCar Series, he doesn’t agree with Patrick that Duno has a place in the series. Not when others have had to work their way up through lower circuits.
Two years ago, Canadian Marty Roth stirred up a similar debate when he got in Paul Tracy’s way during qualifying.
“You shouldn’t have someone that you have to park because of speed,” Hunter-Reay said. “If you look at the top 15 drivers in the series, they’ve all done fairly well in the lower circuits and they’ve all had their fare share of wins coming into it and they all deserve to be here. That’s the way it should be. We are all the best drivers in the world and have the fastest cars and you should have the credentials and the talent to be doing that.”