Simona de Silvestro finished second at the Houston Grand Prix, the penultimate race of the 2013 IndyCar season, and burst into the KV Racing truck to take on the owners.
“Me! You have to hire me!” the Swiss rider told her bosses. They were looking for a replacement for Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan, who had officially announced a day earlier that he was leaving the team. De Silvestro was not on the shortlist for his seat.
She finished the next two races with KV Racing – her one and only season with the team – and then her four-year IndyCar run was over. She made three starts in 2015 driving for Michael Andretti and was the only woman to race in the Indianapolis 500 last year, driving for the all-female Paretta Autosport team.
The return to regular racing has been long and winding, and de Silvestro will make his first IndyCar start of the season on Sunday at Road America in Wisconsin. It’s the first of three races Paretta Autosport plans to enter this season, and de Silvestro will join Tatiana Calderon in the field to give IndyCar two women to compete in multiple events for the first time since 2013.
“It’s a shame there’s been a long stretch in the last two years without us having someone at the top level of single-seaters,” said Calderon, who will be making his fifth start of the season for AJ Foyt Racing. . The Colombian’s best finish was 15th on the Indianapolis road course; it only competes on road and street courses.
“There are women who can compete with men in a very competitive championship,” she continued. “I hope together we can keep this momentum going and see more women.”
De Silvestro can’t help but reflect on what might have been if the funding and politics of the race had been a little different in 2013. Her lowest result in the last nine races of that season was 14th and she closed with five consecutive top-10s. . In the final standings she was 13th – wedged between Sebastien Bourdais, the driver who replaced Kanaan at KV Racing, and Josef Newgarden, who was in his second IndyCar season and on his way to stardom.
“In racing money definitely makes a big difference,” said Silvestro, who is 33. “In 13 I finished ahead of Josef in the championship. He ended up going to Penske and then winning the championship twice. You have to get the shot right. You have to have people behind you who really want to support you.
“I think as a female driver we have opportunities, but I also think sometimes it’s very quick when we have a bad season. The support then is not really immediate. I think with some guys, they have a better chance.
Road America will be Silvestro’s 70th career start in IndyCar and the team, which is owned by motorsport executive Beth Paretta, also plans to race at Mid-Ohio next month and Nashville in August. She last raced at Road America in 2008 in the Atlantic Championship.
Last year, the Indianapolis team was backed by Roger Penske, who wanted a woman on the court, and Paretta aimed to staff his team exclusively with women. This year’s version is 60% female but also relies on an alliance with Ed Carpenter Racing.
“We are so happy to be back in the IndyCar series and working on road and street courses,” Paretta said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to learn and grow as a team with new venues, new fans, new challenges. We have to keep moving forward if we want to be successful.”
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