ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Twenty-eight-year-old Tatiana Calderon wants to make history this season. The Colombian-born rookie will be the first full-time female driver in the IndyCar series since Simona de Silvestro in 2013. Tatiana's behind the wheel for the #11 car of AJ Foyt Racing.
"I truly believe it’s one of the only sports that we can compete in equal terms," Calderon said Friday. "It’s a sport that has given me so much, that I want to share it with other people. I hope that through my story more girls can join the grid in the near future."
Tatiana fell in love with racing when she was nine years old. Now, she gets the chance to compete against some of the drivers she grew up watching on TV.
"It’s surreal," she beamed. "And I think it shows that with passion, with determination, you can achieve anything. So you should not be afraid to dream big."
One of the drivers she grew up watching is seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. Johnson's starting his second season of IndyCar with Chip Ganassi Racing, but he said he still feels like a rookie.
"Sure, I’ve raced my entire life. But this world of single-seater driving, open-wheel driving, is just a different animal," Johnson said. "Coming here for a second time, I have much less to worry about. I knew where to park, for example. Last year, I had no idea where I even parked, or how to get here. So a lot of small victories already."
Johnson described his first season as "drinking out of a fire hose." He finished 22nd out of 24 cars in last year's St. Pete race. Now Johnson, 46, thinks he's doing the little things right to make major changes for the #48 car.
"I’ve already seen improvements since I was preparing for his weekend’s race," Johnson added. "My time in the simulator on Wednesday. A marked improvement in performance. I’m hopeful that all transfers to the track and I have much better finish."
The green flag flies Sunday at noon. Colton Herta is the reigning Grand Prix champion. Three-time winner Helio Castroneves returns to the St. Petersburg IndyCar race after three seasons on the IMSA circuit.