Patrick ready to rev up

Danica Patrick is staying positive despite a disappointing start to her IndyCar season.

Danica Patrick steers her car during the IndyCar race in Sao Paulo

Danica Patrick steers her car during the IndyCar race in Sao Paulo

SAO PAULO, Brazil — Danica Patrick is staying positive despite a disappointing start to her IndyCar season.

Patrick struggled to a 15th-place finish at the inaugural Sao Paulo Indy 300 on Sunday, but remained confident that things would start going her way again soon.

“At the end of the day, I think the car is going to be strong this year and the team overall is a lot stronger than we’ve been,” Patrick said.

It was Patrick’s first race since a stint with NASCAR at the beginning of the year, and the start of an IndyCar season in which she is setting high goals for herself.

But her weekend on the streets of Sao Paulo began with a poor qualifying run that put her 13th on the grid.

She nearly got lucky when officials initially wiped out a lap time from Brazilian driver Raphael Matos because he caused a yellow flag.

The decision would have allowed Patrick to move into the second round of qualifying, but it was eventually reversed because officials deemed Matos was not at fault after all, keeping Patrick from advancing.

“I think the weekend started really tough for the No. 7 car and then we made a lot of progress and that was really good,” she said. “I’m proud of everyone for staying together and forging ahead instead of getting down.”

The Andretti Autosport team improved the car setup from qualifying and Patrick was able to move up the field in the beginning of the race, eventually reaching eighth place. But then a gamble to stay on the track when it started raining ended up costing Patrick.

“We were making passes happen,” she said. “Then when the rain started, not everyone came in right away and we gambled on staying out. You’ve got to try and win the race.”

With the track conditions deteriorating quickly, Patrick made a mistake entering the first chicane, going off the track. Her car stalled, and she was a lap down by the time she was able to get back on the 2.6-mile (4.2-kilometre), 11-turn Anhembi temporary circuit in South America’s biggest city.

“The front half of the track was wet and I locked up going into Turns 1 and 2,” the 27-year-old American said.

Patrick entered the season with high hopes of improving on her fifth placing last year in the championship, her best career finish. She also had her best Indy 500 performance in 2009, finishing third.

Patrick will stick with the IndyCar Series for the next few months before returning to NASCAR in the last weekend in June.

She will then spend the rest of the year going back and forth between the final nine IndyCar races and at least 10 more Nationwide events for JR Motorsports.

Patrick helped set a milestone in Sao Paulo — it was the first time four women had started an IndyCar Series race. She was on the grid along with Milka Duno of Venezuela and newcomers Simona de Silvestro of Switzerland and Ana Beatriz of Brazil.

The rain-shortened race in Sao Paulo was won by Australian’s Will Power, who got past Ryan Hunter-Reay of the United States with three laps to go to clinch his second series victory.

The inaugural race was marked by several track problems, including a slick concrete straightway that forced officials to postpone qualifying from Saturday to Sunday because of safety reasons. Officials had to add grooves overnight to get the track in condition for the race.

Patrick had problems of her own in the season-opener, but wasn’t complaining.

“It was a good first out for us,” she said.