Simona de Silvestro's IndyCar career has been one of trials and tribulations and this season is no exception.
This season started off great for de Silvestro. She came right out of the box in her first race for KV Racing at St. Petersburg qualifying 3rd and ran inside the top 5 the whole day until her Firestone Reds wore out at the end of the race and she slipped to 6th place. This was a huge turnaround for her as her 2012 campaign was marred by an uncompetitive Lotus engine. She had good, methodical runs of 9th at Long Beach and 8th at Sao Paulo and at the start of the season she looked very consistent and promising.
From there, she finished in 17th at Indianapolis at 16th at race 1 at Detroit, but she still had completed every lap of the season, one of only three drivers to do so (the other two being Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon). Over the next 4 races, she hit a bit of a slump finishing no better than 16th at Texas. At Pocono she bounced back and finished 11th, and at the Toronto Doubleheaders she finished in 10th and 14th and at Mid Ohio she was on pace for a top ten run and was catching James Hinchcliffe for 10th place and finished in 11th. "At Mid-Ohio we got our mojo back a little bit, but we still have some work to be where we want to be," she said.
Simona explains her season in her own words:
"We tried some compromises that didn't work like we wanted to and before Mid Ohio I talked to all my engineers on what we should do and how to become better and find the form that we had at the beginning of the season. I feel that's what we did at Mid Ohio and it shows with the result, we were in the top 10 most of the race and that was really encouraging. It's better, but it's still not where I want to be and there are some things that we have to do better but the good thing is now everyone is on the same page and we can move forward from here."
De Silvestro has tended to struggle on the ovals in the past but this season her oval performance as been up this year. At the short ovals at Milwaukee and Iowa, she struggled quite a bit but on the superspeedways she has shown huge promise. At Texas she started in 22nd place but quickly sifted her was through traffic until a yellow during green flag pit stops caught her a lap down. Even when she was a lap down she was hanging with the leaders and was is position to get her lap back until a penalty set her back and she ended up in 16th. At Pocono she qualified in 9th place and ran in the top 10 for most of the day until catching a yellow at the wrong time set her back a bit but she still finished 11th.
Simona explains her experience on the ovals:
On the really fast ovals we made a very big gain, she said. I leaned a bit on Tony [Kanaan] and that was a good thing. It was really encouraging, we could have finished top ten easily at Texas if we didn't have that penalty because we were really fast and at Pocono, which is one of the hardest ovals we go to, we were really quick. That was really encouraging for me and everyone because we had the pace and we were passing people and it was really fun. At Iowa and Milwaukee was a bit of a struggle, not sure why and when I look at things I need to focus on for next year it's really going to be those two tracks
One thing that De Silvestro has this year that she hasn't had in years past is having a teammate, and Tony Kanaan is as good as the come. Kanaan at Andretti Autosport was always great with getting the most out of the chassis setup and he has helped grow KV Racing since he signed with the team in 2011. "We talk a lot, when I have a question I always go to him and ask him what he thinks," she said. It's a lot of fun working with him and we get along pretty well. On the ovals he has been a huge help and I'm really grateful for that."
De Silvestro also has a good relationship with her race engineer Gerald Tyler. "We get along very well and he really knows what I want in the car," she said. "I think we can be really successful together."
De Silvestro should be counted out because a lot of times this year de Silvestro has ran better than she has finished. At St. Petersburg she ran inside the top 3 most of the day and fell back to 6th very late after her Firestone Reds wore out. At Texas she didn't have a winning car but she had a top ten car at least and had a blend line penalty knock her down to 16th. At Pocono she was running inside the top 10 until a yellow during green flag pit stops caught her a lap down, but she was able to take the waive around and soldiered on to finish in 11th. "We've been fast but I don't feel that we've had the perfect race, I think we are still looking for that," she said. "The Andretti's, the Penske's, the Ganassi's, that is were they are really strong- they don't make any mistakes and work really hard on pit stops and things like that to be really consistent. On our side we have to work on that a little bit more to beat those guys."
Plus add to the mix that the talent pool in IndyCar right now is very deep and most of the field is competitive on any given weekend and finishing mid pack does not necessarily mean that you are a bad driver.
De Silvestro has always had a plucky but professional attitude since joining the IndyCar circuit in 2010, both on and off the track which was one of the things that stood out to me when I first interviewed her in September of last year. She handled the Lotus situation very well and never complained publicly about it and tried to take the positives out of the situation. She also was very encouraging to her team during an interview during qualifications for the Indianapolis 500. Despite the ups and downs this year, she is still looking forward and is supportive of her team.
Off the track she supports her sponsors Areva, Entergy and the Nuclear Clean Air Energy campaign in more ways than just appearing in a commercial saying hey buy this product or buy that product. De Silvestro goes out to various colleges to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) to discuss career opportunities in the nuclear field and in the motorsports field too.
The cool thing about having a sponsor like the Nuclear Clean Air Energy campaign is that it is something that matters and we bring awareness to people because a lot of people don't know where their electricity comes from and to make people aware of it and the opportunities in that field like becoming a nuclear engineer, she said. It feels like we are apart of something to change the world and change the way people think and show them the all the possibilities. It is more than just a sticker on a race car. Hopefully we can continue this campaign and be together for a long time because I think we are really doing a lot.