Simona de Silvestro: Holy Smoke

The Texas Motor Speedway is a hellish track for INDYCAR. I’m calling it as I see it. The track has been the scene of many memorable (perhaps infamous) moments in INDYCAR races. This past year Matheis Leist’s car slowed down and turned into an inferno on Lap 8 during the DXC Technology 600 (read that race review HERE ). In 2001 the CART Firestone 600 got called off at the last minute due to concerns of driver safety. In 2010 Simona de Silvestro crashed her car into the wall of the track. The car then caught fire. If you’ve never seen the footage – even knowing she’s fine and alive, there is a good moment during that video where you experience panic. Being the collected driver, Simona did extract herself, suffering minor burns on her hand. She was in her rookie year in INDYCAR, and would drive in the series from 2010 through 2015. I think it’s time she comes on back to INDYCAR.
Like many open-wheel drivers, Simona spent her early years in the Formula series. She drove in Formula Renault 2.0 Italy in 2005, and then moved over to Formula BMW USA for 2006. Following that, Simona transferred to the feeder series for then CHAMP/CART. She drove in Champ Car Atlantic in the 2007 series and moved up to the Atlantic Championship in 2008. During her first year in the Atlantic Championship, she on the 2008 Grand Prix of Long Beach, making her the second woman to win in that series. Katherine Legge is the first and isn’t it a coincidence that they now drive together. The following season, 2009, Simona won four different races, led in points for nearly all of the season, and finished in third position overall. After the 2009 Atlantic Championship season ended, Simona tested in an INDYCAR car for HMV Racing.
We shouldn’t underestimate the impact that an event like today can have on future female driving talent. Or any motorsport talent for that matter. I really hope that we have inspired young people out there who are may be considering a career in this industry. We’re proof that if you work hard, great things are possible regardless of your gender.
Starting in 2010, Simona drove in the INDYCAR series, with the HVM Racing team for 2010, 2011, and 2012 seasons. In her rookie year she, of course, had the fiery crash in Texas mentioned earlier and also finished as the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year after qualifying in 22nd and finishing in 14th. She ended the season in 19th overall and was runner-up to the Rookie of the Year. The following year included pulling the fastest lap at the Sao Paulo Indy 300 and another fiery crash, this time during the Indianapolis 500. 2011 is also the year when some backwards US Customs Official did not let her enter the country because the agent didn’t believe a woman could be a professional racer (way to go America). 2012 was the year of the Lotus…enough said about that. (okay if you’re not aware, the Lotus engines suuuucked and they were actually black flagged during the Indianapolis 500 because they could not keep up to the pace of the field).
Simona’s last full-time season with INDYCAR was the 2013 season, she switched from HVM racing to KV Racing, joining fan-favorite Tony Kanaan. She achieved a podium finish at the Grand Prix of Houston, her second-place finish making her one of three women to record a podium finish in INDYCAR. The other two being Danica Patrick (First at the 2008 Indy Japan 300) and Sarah Fisher (Second at the 2001 Infiniti Grand Prix of Miami). At the start of 2014, Simona was to become an affiliated driver for the F1 team Sauber. She spent the year testing, but towards the end of the year, an opportunity to drive officially for the team fell apart. Simona drove a partial season in INDYCAR during the 2015 season driving for Andretti Autosport. The 2015 Indianapolis 500 was Simona’s last race in an INDYCAR.
Simona’s affiliation with Andretti didn’t end after the 2015 Indy 500. She ended the 2015 racing season by joining the team’s Formula E program. If you’re not familiar with Formula E, it’s pretty interesting. The series competes powered exclusive by electronic engines, I may have mentioned this before, but I am here for any type of green energy innovation – especially at high speeds! Simona continued to drive for Andretti’s Formula E team in the 2016 season. She became the first woman to score points in the series when she finished the Long Beach ePrix in 9th place. She became an ambassador for the sport in 2018 and had test-driving duties for Venturi Formula E. That team’s principal is Susie Wolff, the only female team principal in the sport. In her role as test-driver for Venturi, Simona took part in the all-female Formula E testing session at the end of 2019 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She posted the fastest time of the sessions.
In conjunction with her racing in Formula E, Simona started driving V8 Supercars, spending the first season (2015) racing in the Bathurst 1000. The Bathurst 1000 is the equivalent of the Indianapolis 500 in Australia. In 2015 Simona partnered with Renee Gracie and the two hold the distinction of the first all-female pairing since 1998 and the first women to compete in the race since 2009. Her V8 Supercar career began in earnest in 2017 when Simona started a three-year contract with Nissan Motorsport. By moving into driving the SuperCars full time, Simona is the first female to race in the series full-time. In her second season, 2018, she captured a top-ten finish. Unfortunately, at the end of the 2018 season, Nissan announced it was withdrawing its factory support from Supercars, which does effect that three-year contract she had. However, she is staying with Nissan for 2019.
I know in all my racing, I’ve always been the only girl in the field. And I’ve never looked at it like as a handicap or anything like that. But for sure, as a woman, you have to prove yourself. Especially now coming from Formula E and going to Supercars, I had to prove myself. I had to prove that I belong.
In 2019, Simona started a career in the WeatherTech SportsCar when she joined the all-female team of Heinricher Racing and drove at the Daytona 24 (the team and the race are discussed HERE).
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I believe it’s time for the Iron Maiden (I refuse to use the nickname Swiss Miss as it sounds a bit weak and Iron Maiden also is a cool band) to come back to INDYCAR. She has one hell of a racing resume and will give the field a good shakeup. Simona has the experience from years in the feeder series for CART and followed it up with solid years in INDYCAR. She broadened her open-wheel experience with some time in the Formula E cars, before adding to her resume by driving Touring and GTD cars. Her contract with Nissan is up at the end of 2019, I think someone can find a spot for her. We need a good female driver in the series who has the experience that rivals a lot of other drivers. Simona is one of two women who can fit that description (the other of course being Katherine Legge).
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Photo by Samuel Ferrara on Unsplash

*Holy Smoke as in the Iron Maiden song