Track Chic's Woman Behind The Wheels: Simona De Silvestro Nuclear Clean Air Energy/HVM Racing
St. Pete. March 27, 2011: Simona De Silvestro hails from a country where auto racing has been banned since the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans Disaster where a horrific crash caused large parts of racing car debris to fly into the crowd, killing many spectators. Nonetheless, this Swiss native knew at a very early age that racing was her passion. Today, at 22, she is making a name for herself as one of racing's brightest young stars.
Simona spent her early career honing her racing skills in European karting and junior formula series while racing under the Italian flag. In 2008, she crossed the Atlantic to pursue her open-wheel dreams. From success in the Formula BMW USA championship and the Atlantic Championship, Simona is competing in the IZOD IndyCar Series HVM Racing.
The first woman in Atlantic Series history to have earned the most wins, pole positions, and led the most laps in a single season, Simona quickly adapted to Indy cars, winning Rookie of the Year honors at the Indianapolis 500 and earning the IZOD IndyCar Series Rising Star Award. Track Chic talks with Simona in the team transporter prior to qualifying for the IZOD IndyCar 2011 season opener, the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. In your debut race last year you ran well in St. Pete, running in the top five for part of the race until a spin after contact with Graham Rahal relegated you to a 16th-place finish. Do you feel confident about your return to St. Pete this season? Definitely, the experience I gained last year makes it is easier coming back to St. Pete the second year. I know the track better now, I have the confidence from last year knowing that I can run up front and I know where I might have to correct to be able to do that. Friday's practice session… what adjustments were your crew making to your car during the morning session? They were grinding/sanding something in the steering console area … what were they correcting?
This is a brand new car and I kept hitting my knuckles. So they just had to make an adjustment to correct that, it wasn’t as major as it may have appeared.
You picked up another 3 mph in the afternoon session ; how do you feel about your afternoon speed of 99.523. What do you and your team need to do to gain another 2.5 mph? We definitely gained some speed in the second session. And my team worked on the car and made changes last night. We feel very good about the race tomorrow! This is a very physical course. Can you tell us a little about the physical and mental demands this competition demands of you? How to you manage to stay fit, rested, refreshed and focused with all the media responsibilities that surround race weekend?
For sure, I am tired; don’t be fooled! But I really work very hard at training to stay physically fit, so that helps with everything else. Trust me, when the day is done, I am exhausted and fall asleep as soon as I hit the bed! But this second year I am getting used to the schedule and all the demands. And at the end of the day, I get to drive the race car – so it’s well worth every minute … I can sleep later!
In your home country, Switzerland, motorsport competition remains illegal since the 1955 Le Mans disaster. What about your fan base there, are they passionate and engaged in your racing success here in America?
People are beginning to pay attention and are very supportive of my career. Swiss TV is here this weekend, so that is very positive. Switzerland is a very small country, so good news travels fast. We are very supportive of our country’s athletes competing in all sports around the world. One thing you for which you are very much admired, is your commitment to creating a new legacy for female athletes of all sporting disciplines who are in a constant battle with commercial forces to not compromise their class and dignity in order to satisfy a male dominated marketplace. Thank you for truly being a role model for young women across the globe. Do you think that progress is being made?
I think we are. It’s a choice we all have to make every day. As long as we continue to make the right choice, the road will be easier for the female athletes in the future. Your dad said that when you were a baby the only time you were quiet was quiet when you watched Formula 1 on TV. Then at age 4, when you first tried karting your feet could not reach the pedals, you cried the whole day. But you knew by the time you were 9 or 10 years old, that racing was how you wanted to spend your life. What triggered that? I was always involved in different sports growing up, including tennis, soccer and fencing. But we would go karting on the weekends, and I just loved it. So eventually I had to choose between tennis and karting, and for me it was an easy choice.
Is your family athletic; are they as active in sports as you are?
Overall, yes. But nowadays, maybe my dad is not as active as he used to be! He’s sort of taking it easy these days! They are here this weekend and enjoy this weather!
Did you ever dream that you would win Rookie of the Year honors at the Indianapolis 500 and be returning to St Pete as the 2010 recipient of the IZOD IndyCar Series Rising Star Award? Last year was a great season for me; it’s really an honor to be presented these awards. On the one hand, it gives me great confidence in myself to know that my peers and fellow competitors have such confidence in me. On the other hand, it also brings extra pressure to live up to those expectations. I am looking forward to this season. We have a great team, a great car and strong support from our sponsors and our fans. I can’t wait for the race tomorrow! Race update> Simona pushed her way forward, after a combined practice results :Time 01:04.3021/Speed: 100.781 mph to qualify 17th in the field. Qualifying Time 01.03.2724 and Speed 102.414 mph
RACE DAY! Simona was the story of the day and fought Tony Kanaan to a fourth place finish during the final laps. Simona shares her thoughts after the race:
Yeah, we kind of battled like the last 15 laps to get in. It was kind of a high risk to try to pass him because it was so dirty on the inside of Turn One.
But I had one shot that I think I could have made it, but you know, I kind of almost overshot it. So I think I am really happy with fourth, because we started 17th, and after how we started the weekend always at the end of the field, it wasn't how I would think I would end the race here!
I'm just really happy with my new engineer. We just started working together on Friday and this morning it seemed like everything started to click. Starting 17th in the race and finishing fourth today is something pretty special! In the words of Derek Ross, our favorite Race Sherpa ...
"Simona .... she's the "man!"