Feb 14, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
Tough as nails. Resilient beyond belief. Personable beyond comprehension. Respected by her peers.
Although Simona de Silvestro didn’t win a race in her four years in IndyCar, she ticked a lot of boxes to make her a fan and paddock favorite.
What sticks out to me most was her resiliency.
De Silvestro entered IndyCar in 2010 with Keith Wiggins’ HVM Racing operation, a team with slightly-more-than shoestring finances. She entered after a crushing blow in the Formula Atlantic season finale a year earlier at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, when she was taken out by another competitor on the first lap to cost her the title.
No matter. Her management team and support, from what was at the time Team Stargate Worlds, helped her take the next step in her open-wheel career. Meanwhile the others from Atlantic, Americans John Edwards and Jonathan Summerton, weren’t able to.
Her new car just looked ragged watching it either on the ground on TV. But de Silvestro hustled it like nobody’s business. She was Indianapolis 500 rookie-of-the-year, and some of her qualifying and race performances (Edmonton and Mid-Ohio in particular) were just sublime to watch.
The breakout should have happened in 2011, still with HVM but with new support from Nuclear Clean Air Energy and Entergy. Fourth place at St. Petersburg behind eventual KV Racing Technology teammate Tony Kanaan – in a race with its own subplot featuring de Silvestro’s old engineer working with Kanaan in his first race with KV – heralded her as a star in the making. Ninth at Barber and fastest lap in Brazil were further proof.
Then Indianapolis 2011 happened, and quite honestly, it was hard to imagine her being able to recover fully from it. Her practice crash was her second fiery one on an oval (Texas 2010) and also cost her the team’s new, improved chassis.
But the resilience emerged once again even in the unloved, heavier, older backup chassis that she qualified for the field before Bump Day. Working together with her PR rep Monica Hilton at HVM, the legend of Simona and “Pork Chop” was born.
Further results the rest of the year went begging… and the less said about 2012 with the Lotus engine the better. Except that when she had every opportunity to throw her engine manufacturer under the bus, she never did. That was the professional in her.
So, the breakout, part 2, was planned for 2013. And sixth place at St. Pete, with KV, battling Kanaan for what had been a podium position, was the first sign ’13 was the finally year we’d all been waiting for.
To follow the narrative though, even though she finished in the top 10 in three of the first four races and battled through a tough midseason, the resilience returned again. She was one of the series’ top-10 drivers on a consistent basis the last five races (finished top-10 in all five), and her first podium with second at Houston was no less than she or her supporters deserved.
In summation, then, 65 starts, three top-fives, and 14 top-10 finishes, a best start of third at St. Pete this year and a couple fastest race laps. Not great numbers on paper, but toss out the 15 starts from 2012 with the hapless Lotus sled in her car and you see she did overachieve at a rather good level given the equipment at her disposal.
Ultimately though, 13th in the final standings – as she was this year – was probably as good as it was going to get given her career struggles on ovals. She made strides, but with the field as deep as it is, it was the final mountain to hurdle. Even her best oval finish, eighth at the IndyCar season finale in Fontana, came after being caught up in an accident and merely surviving the high attrition rate. Her road and street course prowess, however, was very much evident.
For IndyCar, the loss is its second major driver gut-punch of the offseason, following Dario Franchitti’s medically enforced retirement.
De Silvestro was liked by some because she was the “anti-Danica Patrick,” who built her brand purely on her racing ability rather than her sex appeal. In interviews, de Silvestro often said she didn’t want to be the next Danica, but the first Simona.
But she was also liked because of her down-to-earth nature, effervescent smile, and ability to wring as much as possible out of less than the top machinery.
De Silvestro and her management team deserve credit for sticking it out this long, and for her, F1 has always been the goal. At 25, she’s far from “old,” but when you consider she’s older than almost half the field of 22, she’s got another test of resilience to come.
But I’ve had the chance and privilege to cover her consistently since her first Atlantic season in 2007. Knowing her, she’ll tackle it full on.
May 28, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Gossage and Walker are in contact about how to best move forward with super speedway aero kits ahead of June 6 IndyCar race.
May 28, 2015, 7:30 AM EDT
No. 63 driver tops $61,000 raised for Susan G. Komen this month.
May 27, 2015, 4:57 PM EDT
The last seven races held in Detroit have been won by a different driver.
May 27, 2015, 4:17 PM EDT
Penalties doled out after the Indy 500, most notably to the No. 19 and 98 teams for pit incidents.
May 27, 2015, 2:08 PM EDT
Gonzalez returns to No. 18 car after running it in the Grand Prix of Alabama.
May 27, 2015, 1:16 PM EDT
After three straight top-five finishes, Graham Rahal returns to the site of his only 2014 podium.
May 27, 2015, 12:45 PM EDT
Ahead of the Red Bull GRC season, Tanner Foust and Scott Speed look for better luck in the pair of Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross Beetles.
May 27, 2015, 12:28 PM EDT
Charlie Kimball says his team has hit its stride after two straight top-five finishes.
May 27, 2015, 11:28 AM EDT
Hinch heads home.
May 27, 2015, 10:41 AM EDT
Wilson and Andretti continue relationship at FE race in Moscow.
May 27, 2015, 9:23 AM EDT
Racing for Cancer to make trip to this year’s Le Mans, with Derek DeBoer in an Aston Martin Vantage GT4.
May 27, 2015, 8:16 AM EDT
The Red Bull GRC season kicks off in Fort Lauderdale this weekend.
May 27, 2015, 7:44 AM EDT
Fast facts heading into this weekend’s Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit, courtesy of IndyCar PR staff.
May 26, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
Chaves best of two first-year drivers in 99th Indianapolis 500.
May 26, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT
Look out for Nelson Piquet Jr. and SH Rallycross to have a big year in 2015.
May 26, 2015, 9:04 AM EDT
Daly gets confirmed for this weekend’s pair of races in Detroit.
Juan Pablo Montoya earns nearly $2.5 million for Indy 500 win (full box score with winnings attached)
May 26, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Team Penske nearly doubles his haul from first Indy 500 win 15 years ago.
May 25, 2015, 5:40 PM EDT
Runner-up Will Power said it’s as simple as making the cars slower.
May 25, 2015, 3:20 PM EDT
After his second triumph in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, he is ovewhelmed by congratulatory messages.
Montoya’s Indianapolis 500 win adds another storied chapter to the Roger Penske-Chip Ganassi rivalry
May 25, 2015, 2:12 PM EDT
They are the only car owners to win the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 in the same season.
- Gossage to Walker: “We needed a more competitive race this year than last year” 0
- Volkswagen Andretti pair of Foust, Speed seek better fortunes, consistency 0
- Hinchcliffe released from hospital, expected to make full recovery (VIDEO) 5
- Fast Facts: Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit 0
- Drivers ponder why cars didn’t go airborne during the Indianapolis 500 5
- Bell: “A wild Indy 500 without the finish we desired” 0
- Ryan: Juan Pablo Montoya comes full circle at Indianapolis 1