Simona De Silvestro: The Real Deal; Finally!

SPEEDWAY IN: First, of course, there was Janet Guthrie, followed by Desire Wilson, Lynn St. James, Sarah Fisher, Danica Patrick, Milka Duno and Ana Beatriz. And, with all due respect to those brave ladies, the Real Deal, Simona De Silvestro, has arrived at Indy!

We’ve had the pleasure of seeing all of the above female race drivers challenge the Indianapolis Motor Speedway over the years, and they’ve all been impressive in their own way. But, damn it, there’s something different about De Silvestro. When she’s in the car, strapped in, ready to go, you can see it. You can see it in her eyes.

It’s almost frightening.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see that look before. Parnelli Jones, Bobby Marshman, Al Unser Jr. and Mario Andretti come to mind. It’s a look that says, “I can beat these guys, and I can’t wait to do it”.

Twenty-three year old Simona, whose pro racing career began seven years ago racing Formula Renault in Italy, participated in the old CART (ChampCar) series briefly in 2007; she then moved to the Formula Atlantic Championship in 2008 and 2009, scoring an impressive five victories and a third place in the final standings for 2009. The next step, naturally, was IndyCar.

Last year, De Silvestro won Indy Rookie of the Year, driving for the somewhat underfunded, single car HVM Racing team. Following her Speedway success, good luck was hard to come by. The team’s first brand new Dallara, purchased with their Indy winnings, was destroyed in a fiery crash at Texas, in which Simona suffered painful burns. Forced back into her old, 2003 model Dallara known as “Porkchop” for the rest of the season, the HVM team persevered. At Mid-Ohio, Simona found herself able to run easily in the top ten all day; her lap times equaling those of IndyCar’s premier teams. It was a truly awesome performance.

De Silvestro started 2011 with a bang, racing to a storming fourth place finish in the season opener at St. Pete. It was obvious to the boys and girls of IndyCar that Simona and her little one car team were suddenly a force to be reckoned with. And, with Indy just around the corner, the future, as they say, looked bright.

And then, on the day before Time Trials for the 100th Anniversary Indy 500 began, things went horribly wrong for the little team with the hot lady driver. While on a quick practice run only two days before time trials were to begin, something broke in the right-rear corner of her 2011 Dallara, and Simona was “along for the ride”. When the crashing stopped, De Silvestro was upside down AND on fire!

No race driver, male or female, ever showed more courage than Simona De Silvestro demonstrated on Pole Day morning when, with heavily bandaged hands, she climbed aboard her hastily-prepared faithful 2003 Dallara, “Porkchop”, and began to attempt to work up to qualification speed. It was a slow, but steady process. Simona’s “eye of the tiger” was much in evidence.

Finally, with rain clouds gathering to the west, the great female racer stood on the gas and bumped her way into the top 24 qualifiers. And then, it began to rain, virtually locking her into her second Indy 500 line-up.

Perhaps her luck has finally turned.

“I really don’t like having to do that”, a beaming Simona said after her banzai run. “It’s just too scary”

Baloney. Nothing scares the Champ!

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