Today, Simona de Silvestro finished 2nd at the Grand Prix of Houston Race 1 and becomes the 3rd woman to finish on the podium in IndyCar history.
This podium is well deserved for the 25 year old from Thun, Switzerland and follows a string of good finishes of 9th at Sonoma and 5th at Baltimore. She was close to a podium at St. Petersburg earlier this year, but her Firestone Reds didn’t last as long as she needed as she became easy prey for the drivers behind her. Her strong start to the season was then followed by a string of finishes no better than 10th at Toronto Race 1.
She turned one quick lap in qualifying that gave her the 6th place starting position, but she was elevated to 5th when Sebastian Bourdais suffered a 10 place grid penalty. During the race, she remained in the top 5 most of the day and along the way made some very aggressive moves and made it stick each time. Come the final caution when Will Power and Luca Filippi had to pit, she found herself in 2nd place behind the dominant Scott Dixon. Dixon jumped away on the restart, but towards the end of the run, de Silvestro cut Dixon’s lead down to 1.5 seconds at the rate of a few tenths a lap. A yellow on lap 88 ended her charge where she would have been on Dixon’s tail in a matter of a a couple of laps.
As noted in “Don’t Count Out Simona” in many races this season she ran better than she had finished or had a better shot at qualifying higher but was caught out by a yellow flag at Long Beach or at Sao Paulo she got stuck behind EJ Viso after he hit the wall.
St. Pete she had an easy podium going, and in the early part of the season she had pace and finished in the top 10 at Long Beach and Sao Paulo. Texas she was driving better than she had ever previously ran on an oval but got a bizarre penalty which took her out of a good run. Pocono she had a top ten car but was caught a lap down under green flag pit stops but managed an 11th place finish.
This isn’t limited to this year, however. Driving for HVM in 2010 and 2011, she punched above her and her teams own weight driving the oldest model chassis that was still in competition and turned some impressive runs including leading 4 laps in her first race and had a top ten run going until a bad tire took her out of contention. At Mid-Ohio she fought hard for an 8th place finish with Ryan Briscoe.
Come the 2011 season opener, she made some very bold moves on restarts that took her from 17th to second place and at the end of the day she fought toe to toe with future teammate Tony Kanaan for 3rd place. It looked as if she was going to collect her first podium soon after, and set the fastest lap of the race at Sao Paulo albeit several laps down due to an accident earlier in the race and she unlapped herself under green. May of 2011 hampered her momentum.
She was involved in a practice crash at Indianapolis which resulted in 2nd degree burns on her hands. Also, the teams new primary car was destroyed and the team had to go to their old backup car. She also suffered burns to her hands at Texas in 2010 when the safety hose malfunctioned and the crew was unable to get the fire out in time. However, rather than rip the safety crew on for screwing up, she brushed it off like nothing more than a hangnail.
Through and through however, she jumped in the car on bump day and qualified securely in the field earning the respect of her peers and the fans. She finished 31st in the race after struggling to find the handle on her car throughout the day. At Milwaukee she suffered a concussion during practice and still tried to race but parked it after 11 laps after experiencing post-concussion symptoms. De Silvestro and her team pushed through and turned decent results against the odds of running on older, heavier car affectionately nicknamed Porkchop.
Come 2012, IndyCar got a new engine formula and HVM Racing selected Lotus which turned out to be underpowered and underdeveloped and due to a political issue with IndyCar and Lotus (IndyCar couldn’t kick Lotus out even though 4 out of the 5 teams left for either Chevy or Honda because that would have been a breach of contract and Lotus could have sued IndyCar), she was never competitive. The best finish of the season for her was 13th at Detroit and it was her only finish on the lead lap, which may have been aided by the race being shortened due to a delay caused by track damage.
Despite the whole Lotus situation, she handled it professionally and never complained publicly about it and tried to take what positives she could out of the year and moved up to KV Racing Technology this season with her sponsors and managers by her side.
Throughout her IndyCar career, she has remained confident and hasn’t let anything keep her down forever.
“I think the last three years we’ve been fast, but it seemed like we never really could get it together or we had a bad pit stop or something didn’t go our way,” she said. “I think I’ve learned a lot how to manage a race now, and I think that’s really important. I feel like everything is kind of really starting to come together.”