Friday, May 5, 2017

Simona de Silvestro: A Serious Racer

Swiss driver Simona de Silvestro was chronologically the sixth (or seventh, it's kind of a tie) woman to take the Indy 500's green flag, in 2010. That same year, she won Indy 500 Rookie of the Year honors for her 14th place finish. That 14th would remain her best finish in the five years she competed in the 500.

She'd made herself known in the U.S. racing world between 2006 and 2009, securing five podium finishes in Formula BMW USA, winning the Long Beach race in the Toyota Atlantic series, and finishing the 2009 season third overall, with four race wins. After moving to IndyCar in 2010, she posted the fastest lap at the São Paulo race (2011) and scored her first podium in 2013.

But it was some of her struggles that endeared her to many race fans (and perhaps teams). In 2010, she suffered burns to her right hand in a fiery crash at Texas Motor Speedway. In 2011, she suffered more burns in a practice crash for the Indy 500. Despite those injuries, she didn't miss a race until she suffered a concussion in a crash later in 2011. To (literally) add insult to injury that season, she missed a Sonoma race in August because a customs official was suspicious about her frequent trips to different countries—and didn't believe she was really a professional racing driver.

After all of those trials, de Silvestro spent 2012 struggling with a woefully underpowered Lotus engine, before joining KV Racing in 2013 and finishing second at the Grand Prix of Houston. That made her only the third woman, after Sarah Fisher and Danica Patrick, to record a podium finish in IndyCar history.

Throughout all of the ups and downs, de Silvestro was a pro. She was focused and as fast as she could possibly be, and she generated near universal respect in the paddock. She didn't bring the controversy or the drama of some of the other women who've raced the 500. She put her head down and built a career driving.

"Gender doesn’t matter when you’re going 225 km/h into a turn."
(simonadesilvestro.com)

Unfortunately for IndyCar fans, de Silvestro hasn't returned to the Series or the 500 since 2015. But fortunately for her, she's found other racing opportunities. In 2014, she was a test driver with the Sauber Formula 1 team, though sadly, contract disputes cut short her chance to inch closer to F1—and by some accounts, she was the most talented woman in position to do so.

In 2016, she raced Formula E cars, and in 2017, she's starting the first of three contracted years racing in Australian Supercars. Once again, money/sponsorship is the issue that keeps promising drivers (of both genders) out of the cockpit. But at only 29 now, Simona has years of racing ahead, so perhaps we'll see her back in an open-wheel car someday!

(Photo from simonadesilvestro.com.)

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