Skip to content

Resilience defined Simona de Silvestro’s four years in IndyCar

Feb 14, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT

Simona De Silvestro AP

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.

Latest Posts
  1. WATCH LIVE: FP2 for the Italian Grand Prix on NBCSN and Live Extra from 8am ET

    Sep 4, 2015, 7:45 AM EDT

    Britain driver Lewis Hamilton steers his Mercedes during the first practice session at the Monza racetrack, Italy, Friday, Sept. 4, 2015. The Formula One race will be held on Sunday. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni) AP

    Lewis Hamilton will be hoping to double up in FP2 after topping first practice on Friday morning.

  2. Hamilton leads Mercedes one-two in Italian GP FP1

    Sep 4, 2015, 5:31 AM EDT

    Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain steers his car during the first free practice at the Monza racetrack, Italy, Friday, Sept. 4 , 2015. The Formula one race will be held on Sunday. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno) AP

    Hamilton finishes half a second clear of Rosberg to top FP1 on Friday.

  3. WATCH LIVE: FP1 for the Italian Grand Prix on Live Extra from 4am ET

    Sep 4, 2015, 3:45 AM EDT

    Technicians test a pit stop on a Ferrari car at the Monza racetrack, in Monza, Italy , Thursday, Sept. 3 , 2015. The Formula one race will be held on Sunday. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno) AP

    The Italian GP weekend kicks off with FP1 at 4am ET on Friday.

  4. NHRA: All you need to know about the 61st U.S. Nationals

    Sep 3, 2015, 6:55 PM EDT

    u.s. nationals logo

    Here’s all the information you need to know about this weekend’s 61st annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in suburban Indianapolis:

  5. NHRA: Year’s biggest race, the U.S. Nationals, ready to roll

    Sep 3, 2015, 6:54 PM EDT

    nhra logo

    The biggest and most important drag race of the season takes place this weekend with the 61st Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in suburban Indianapolis.

  6. GP3 unveils new car for 2016 season at Monza

    Sep 3, 2015, 3:27 PM EDT

    © GP3 Series © GP3 Series

    The GP3/16 breaks cover at Monza ahead of its introduction next year.

  7. Mercedes uses remaining development tokens to upgrade power units

    Sep 3, 2015, 2:39 PM EDT

    A track marshal waves the checkered flag as Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team's British driver Lewis Hamilton crosses the finish line to win the Belgian Formula One Grand Prix at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Sunday Aug. 23, 2015. (Andrej Isakovic/Pool photo via AP) AP

    Mercedes goes all-in ahead of this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix, fully upgrading the power units on both of its cars.

  8. FOM satisfied Pirelli not to blame for Spa tire failures

    Sep 3, 2015, 1:23 PM EDT

    A Ferrari technician works on tires outside the Ferrari pits at the Monza racetrack, in Monza, Italy , Thursday, Sept. 3 , 2015. ormula One tire supplier Pirelli blamed debris on the track and prolonged usage for a "highly unusual number of cuts" at the Belgian Grand Prix, which was marred by frightening tire deterioration on the cars of Sebastian Vettel and Nico Rosberg. The Formula one race will be held on Sunday. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno) AP

    FOM comes out in support of “first class partner” Pirelli.

  9. F1 2015’s silly season is proving to be a let down, but who could yet spice it up?

    Sep 3, 2015, 12:45 PM EDT

    xxxx during the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 23, 2015 in Spa, Belgium. Getty Images

    Silly season has been a let down in 2015. Perhaps it is therefore fitting that McLaren is now the team to watch in the driver market.

  10. Lewis Hamilton’s blonde hair brings back memories of when Villeneuve, Vettel also did so

    Sep 3, 2015, 12:13 PM EDT

    LewisBlonde AP

    Hamilton goes blonde for Monza. He’s not alone in F1 annals.

  11. Perez keen to remain at Force India for 2016 season

    Sep 3, 2015, 11:15 AM EDT

    BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 26:  Sergio Perez of Mexico and Force India walks in the paddock before the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 26, 2015 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Perez expects to confirm his plans for 2016 in the next two weeks.

  12. Pirelli: Debris to blame for Belgian GP tire failures

    Sep 3, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT

    A Williams technician walks over Pirelli tires at the Monza racetrack, in Monza, Italy , Thursday, Sept. 3 , 2015.  Formula One tire supplier Pirelli blamed debris on the track and prolonged usage for a "highly unusual number of cuts" at the Belgian Grand Prix, which was marred by frightening tire deterioration on the cars of Sebastian Vettel and Nico Rosberg. The Formula one race will be held on Sunday. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni) AP

    Debris, not structural problems, to blame for tire failures at Spa.

  13. MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: Italian Grand Prix

    Sep 3, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT

    MONZA, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 07:  Felipe Massa of Brazil and Williams celebrates his thrd place during the F1 Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 7, 2014 in Monza, Italy.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Luke Smith and Tony DiZinno make their picks ahead of this weekend’s race at Monza.

  14. 2015 Italian Grand Prix Preview

    Sep 3, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

    Fans wave with a giant Ferrari flag after the Italian Formula One Grand Prix motor race at the Autodromo Nazionale circuit in Monza on September 7, 2014.  AFP PHOTO / OLIVIER MORIN        (Photo credit should read OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images) Getty Images

    The European season comes to a close at Monza this weekend. Can Lewis Hamilton enter the final run of flyaways with an even bigger lead?

  15. James Hinchcliffe on the comeback trail for IndyCar driving return

    Sep 3, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT

    HinchComeback AP

    James Hinchcliffe a few weeks away from his driving return.

  16. Bottas and Massa to remain with Williams for 2016

    Sep 3, 2015, 5:38 AM EDT

    NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 05:  Felipe Massa of Brazil and Williams drives ahead of Valtteri Bottas of Finland and Williams during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone Circuit on July 5, 2015 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Williams confirms an unchanged line-up for 2016, keeping Bottas and Massa together for a third season.

  17. Mardenborough set for GP2 debut at Monza with Carlin this weekend

    Sep 2, 2015, 2:36 PM EDT

    Photo: NISMO Photo: NISMO

    Jann Mardenborough steps up from GP3 into GP2 this weekend.

  18. James Hinchcliffe describes how inspired he was by Justin Wilson

    Sep 2, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT

    Hinchjw AP

    Hinchcliffe recalls racing, commentating on Justin Wilson.