Danica still most popular, but competition fast approaching

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Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?

Danica Patrick of course. And Pippa Mann too.

The two women open-wheel drivers reign supreme—at least in the eyes of fans who voted for the 2010 Most Popular Driver awards.

Patrick was voted the Most Popular Driver in the top-tier IndyCar Series and Mann won the honor among drivers in the Firestone Indy Lights, the IndyCar Series’ primary feeder series. There are no shortage of folks who think the affable Mann could challenge the GoDaddy Girl for IndyCar's most popular pole position if she makes the leap from Lights.

The awards were determined by the vote of fans at all IndyCar Series events throughout the season and on indycar.com. Indy DownForce, the open-wheel series’ official fan club, facilitates the balloting.

Patrick continued her unprecedented stronghold on the award, winning her sixth-straight Most Popular Driver Award. She has won the award every year since joining the series in 2005.

“I’m very flattered that I’ve received this award once, let alone six times,” Patrick said. “Every person has the ability to pick their favorite driver, and it can change, so it’s a real honor to receive an award from the fans.”

In a disappointing season on the track, Patrick, an Illinois native now living in Arizona, had just three top five, eight top 10 finishes and no victories in 17 IRL starts. She didn’t qualify for any pole positions and only led one lap.

Still, her popularity doesn’t seem to be fading much. Her merchandise still easily outsells any other IndyCar driver, and her most popular status has kept her in good standing with corporate sponsors, an enviable scenario for many open-wheel racers these days.

Previous IRL most popular award winners include Sam Hornish Jr. (2004), Sarah Fisher (2001-2003), Al Unser Jr. (2000), Scott Goodyear (1999) and Arie Luyendyk (1997-1998).

Mann was honored by the fans for the first time. Mann has been noted for her fan interaction at races and use of various social media platforms to gain a growing fan following.

“It’s such an honor and such a flattering and fantastic feeling,” she said. “Indy DownForce does so much to support the series, to get this award is just incredible.”

The 27-year-old Brit won one race, had four top five and seven top 10 finishes in 12 starts. She also won three pole qualifying positions and is one of the top Lights candidates to move up to the IndyCar Series next season, though that jump may wait until 2012. If she makes it, there could be as many as six women drivers in the IndyCar Series next year.

Mann, who now calls Indianapolis home, races for Sam Schmidt Motorsports.

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