Feb 14, 2014, 10:15 AM EST
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.
Dec 19, 2014, 12:30 PM EST
Felipe Nasr’s No. 12 rounds out the F1 grid number choices for 2015.
Dec 19, 2014, 12:00 PM EST
Jean-Eric Vergne signs with Ferrari as a test and development driver, which means a bunch of simulator work.
Dec 19, 2014, 11:17 AM EST
RC Enerson moves up from USF2000 to Indy Lights.
Dec 19, 2014, 11:00 AM EST
Multiplatinum artist to rock out before 2015 running of the Great American Race.
Dec 19, 2014, 10:37 AM EST
Party like it’s 1996 in 2015 – Panis and Herta sons signed to deals.
Dec 18, 2014, 9:51 PM EST
It lasts only four months, but there’ll be lots of action on the schedule for the 2015 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series.
Dec 18, 2014, 9:26 PM EST
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will be slinging some pre-Christmas dirt this Saturday in an all-star sprint car race in DuQuoin, Ill.
Dec 18, 2014, 8:50 PM EST
One of Kurt Busch’s sponsors has joined team owner Gene Haas in backing the driver in his ongoing dispute with ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll.
Dec 18, 2014, 6:31 PM EST
Want to have a good laugh or two? Check out all of the bloopers and behind-the-scenes fun from NASCAR America over this past year.
Dec 18, 2014, 6:18 PM EST
NASCAR announced that a Camping World Truck Series crew member has been suspended for violating the sanctioning body’s substance abuse policy.
Dec 18, 2014, 6:00 PM EST
RoC, Mecum, and two F1 “Road To:” specials make for motors block on NBCSN tonight starting at 7 p.m. ET.
Dec 18, 2014, 4:15 PM EST
Will Power is a closet breakdancer? Who knew? Find out in the latest edition of The Penske Files.
Dec 18, 2014, 4:00 PM EST
Sauber’s 2015 car is the second to pass crash test.
Dec 18, 2014, 3:28 PM EST
No Franchitti in 2015 as CGR announces Rolex 24 lineup.
Dec 18, 2014, 2:30 PM EST
Penske’s newest star to head to NFL’s biggest game.
Dec 18, 2014, 2:21 PM EST
Darrell Wallace Jr. joins Roush Fenway Racing.
Top NASCAR stories of 2014: No. 13 – Chase Elliott wins final Nationwide Series championship at record age
Dec 18, 2014, 2:00 PM EST
In less than one year, Chase Elliott went from the driver of a start-up team to the youngest champion in NASCAR history.
Dec 18, 2014, 1:00 PM EST
Almirola broke into the Chase for the Sprint Cup with a rain-shortened win at Daytona in the summer.
Dec 18, 2014, 12:45 PM EST
The engineer market is busy in F1, as well.
Dec 18, 2014, 12:00 PM EST
Kasey Kahne struggled at times in 2014, but there’s great promise for 2015 with a new contract, new crew chief and an extension from his primary sponsor.
Video from NASCAR America
- Vergne joins Ferrari as a test driver 0
- WATCH: Race of Champions at 7 p.m. ET kicks off motors evening on NBCSN 0
- IndyCar champ Will Power’s hidden talent — breakdancing 0
- NASCAR: Bubba Wallace confirmed for Roush Fenway XFINITY program 1
- Top NASCAR stories of 2014: No. 13 – Chase Elliott wins final Nationwide Series championship at record age 0
- CVC adds di Montezemolo, Walsh to Board of Directors for F1; Bernie stays on 0
- Kurt Busch calls ex-girlfriend’s allegations a ‘fabrication’ 16