Simona de Silvestro Shines at St Petersburg INDYCAR Race

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de Silvestro finished fourth behind Dario Franchitti, Will Power and Tony Kanaan. Sing it out: 'My Simona!' Photo: Anne Proffit

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Remember the name: Simona de Silvestro.  The 22-year-old IZOD IndyCar Series racer from Thun, Switzerland has been impressing her competitors and anyone that watched her race since she joined Formula BMW USA and then moved to the Atlantic Championship.  

The runner-up for Rookie of the Year honors in INDYCAR last year, de Silvestro quickly let the world know that she's the real deal on the west coast of Florida last weekend during the Honda Grand Prix of St Petersburg.  

Simona de Silvestro on pit road before the Honda Grand Prix of St Petersburg Photo: Anne Proffit

Simona de Silvestro on pit road before the Honda Grand Prix of St Petersburg Photo: Anne Proffit

Consider this: her engineer quit the week before the season opened and she had to go to the first race of the year with an unfamiliar voice talking to her and deciding the setup of her Dallara/Honda/Firestone open wheel machine.  

Consider this: de Silvestro drives for one of the smaller teams in INDYCAR, HVM Racing and has no teammate - she didn't have a teammate in 2010 as well.

Consider this: Simona de Silvestro had a pit stall at the rear of the 25-car field by virtue of her finish in the previous road/street course race.  If you were Simona, you might have been demoralized.  And likely she was.  

But the HVM team never gave up on their driver and she persevered through the first race weekend, getting to know Brent Harvey, who took the place of Michael Cannon, the voice she'd known for the first year of her IndyCar Series career.  He left to work with Tony Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar Series champion.  It was an opportunity Cannon could not pass up.

Simona de Silvestro started the 100-lap race last Sunday in 17th place.  She was up to ninth by the time the first lap was completed, rose to seventh as caution piled on caution and even ran in second place once the race went green for the first long stretch on the 16th lap.  

Even with pit stops, de Silvestro never fell below fifth and, for the final 15+ laps of the race, hounded Kanaan to the checkers, trying to grab the final podium slot.

Not bad for a girl from a country that has had no motorsports within its borders since 1955.  Not bad for a girl who started karting at six - when she could barely reach the pedals of her kart.  Not bad at all.

Even Kanaan bowed to her as he arrived for the post-race press conference.  Perhaps if she had used to push-to-pass button, she might have gotten by.  "I got close a couple of times to TK because he was making a couple of mistakes," she revealed.  

"But it was really high risk to try to make the move.  I was running fourth and I never really quite got the shot that I was next to him; I didn't take any crazy chances to, you know, ruin our race pretty much, because the championship is really long," de Silvestro said.

It wasn't until race morning that Harvey and de Silvestro "clicked.  Before, he was trying to understand me, I was trying to understand him.  For me, it always has been a big part with my engineer to have really great communication.  This morning, I think, okay, that's what we are going to do and it just kind of went the right direction."

This was only the first race in a 17-event voyage and situations do change quickly in the racing game.  One thing won't be different though, and that is Simona de Silvestro's commitment to her craft and her capabilities as a racer, not simply a racecar driver.  Put her up there with the best.

© 2011 Anne Proffit

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