May 23, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
For Pippa Mann, her third start in the Indianapolis 500 is all about maximizing her opportunity and making the most out of her familiar resources.
She’s in a better place now this time than either 2011 or 2013. In 2011, she made the field in a one-off second car for Conquest Racing and hadn’t ever raced an IndyCar.
Last year, 2013, marked her first race in the new Dallara DW12 chassis, and her first IndyCar start since the end of the 2011 season.
But armed with the same engineer as her inaugural run – the talented Brandon Fry – the crew that most recently worked with Muscle Milk Pickett Racing to service her car, and Dale Coyne’s continued commitment to her development, the 2014 run is clearly a night and day difference compared to the other two for Mann.
“I’m so much more comfortable, but it’s not just having the DW12 experience,” she said Thursday during IMS media day. “It’s my second ‘500 in this chassis. It’s returning to the same team. I know the guys. And with a longer engine program, I’ve done full tank and traffic runs, so it all makes me feel so comfortable.
“I feel as comfortable as I have ever been; it’s almost to where I was in the white Indy Lights car,” she added. “I’m confident you’ll see the Susan G. Komen car heading to the front.”
The white Indy Lights car Mann refers to was her No. 11 entry for Sam Schmidt Motorsports in 2010, a year she made history as the first woman ever to win the pole position at Indianapolis, won her first race at Kentucky, and finished fifth in the championship.
The Susan G. Komen car she drives now, the pink No. 63 for Dale Coyne Racing, is of course, one of the bigger storylines for the world outside the niche racing community.
Mann’s the only female driver in this year’s field – there have been at least three or four every year from 2010 to 2013 previously – and is working tirelessly to raise awareness for Susan G. Komen and for breast cancer awareness. She’s also fundraising for the effort. More information on that, and donations, can be found on RaceWithPippa.com.
Her time in the spotlight has also increased this year as full-time radio analyst for the IMS Radio Network, alongside Paul Page. The pair have been a refreshing change of pace compared to past years, and for Mann, translating the analyst role to the cockpit gives her a very different view on how to handle her 32 competitors on Sunday.
“It’s a really interesting question,” she explained. “When you’re always planning to be getting back in the car, thinking that way, it definitely affects me. You can’t throw people under the bus, and you have to be as fair as possible. But it helps give me an overview into driving styles, which guys you’d want to be around and not, before you get back out there.”
Get back out there she will this Sunday, starting 22nd. Her Dale Coyne Racing teammates Justin Wilson and rookie Carlos Huertas start 14th and 21st, respectively. Despite a brief balance issue on Monday across the board, Mann’s confident that the DCR engineering staff will correct course and return to the front on Sunday. Realistically, a top-15 finish would be a good goal for Mann to hit.
“We’ve had a very good car in traffic and dirty air thus far,” she said. “Because I’m on a longer engine program, the Susan G. Komen car and I get to play more … it’s been a great learning experience and a lot of fun! We fell just outside of the window on Monday, but between Brandon, Mike Cannon (Wilson’s engineer) and the crew we’ll get it back.”