The start of Simona De Silvestro’s second shot in the NTT IndyCar Series went as well as she and the brand-new Paretta Autosport team could have hoped for during last week’s two-day Indy Open Test.
Six years removed from her last outing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Porsche factory driver settled into an easy rhythm in the No. 16 Chevy, posting 51 laps on Thursday as she recorded the seventh-fastest lap, directly behind Juan Pablo Montoya in the No. 86 Chevy, during the rookies and refreshers session.
On Friday, she completed 92 laps and closed a measured outing in 21st with a best of 223.458mph set in the middle of good company that included Alexander Rossi and Santino Ferrucci in 19th and 20th, and James Hinchcliffe and Tony Kanaan in 22nd and 23rd.
With plenty of rust to knock off and a new team to lead, the former HVM, KV Racing, and Andretti Autosport driver says she left IMS filled with encouragement about all that’s possible in May at the Indy 500.
“It felt great, to be honest,” she told RACER. “I was a really antsy to get back to Indy, and definitely the first few laps felt pretty fast; this is the fastest I’ve gone since my last time at Indy, but it was really cool to be back. And I felt really comfortable right away with the Paretta Autosport team, even though everyone was new. We had a really positive test day in the Rocket Pro TPO Chevy. I felt comfortable out there right away, which is something that didn’t happen in the past. So yeah, maybe the little break after 2015 was a good thing.”
Paretta’s alliance with Team Penske has gifted De Silvestro with her strongest chance to fight for a meaningful result at the 500. In five starts from 2010 through 2015, De Silvestro’s best finish came on her debut with a 14th for the tiny HVM outfit, and when she returns for the start of practice next month, a higher level of intensity will be applied to finding front-running speed.
“To be honest, we took it pretty easy and had our little program, especially in the morning, just getting comfortable by ourselves,” she said. “And also with my engineer Raul Prados, and the crew and (everyone) coming from Penske. So it’s definitely pretty special. I’m pretty humbled and pretty excited to be working with them. So much was new for everybody, so we really took it pretty cautiously, just getting ourselves running and working together, and him understanding how I feel the car and things like that. And I think we really achieved that. I’m really excited to come back in May.
“And the car was pretty speedy by itself, and then we did run also a little bit of running in traffic – not as much as the other guys – but we did some traffic running just to get my head around it a little bit, get a feeling for it. So, now going back to Switzerland, I can really kind of have a think about it.”
The Indy Open Test also held special meaning for team owner Beth Paretta, who saw her dreams realized when De Silvestro pulled away from pit lane for the first time on Thursday.
“I walked down Gasoline Alley with her and said, ‘I bet you feel like you have superpowers right now!’” De Silvestro said. “And she said, ‘Yes!’ So that’s how we feel. She’s been trying so hard the last few years to get something like this done. And to be honest, how she’s done it, I think is incredible. We also have to thank Roger Penske for believing in us. Believing in Beth, believing in me as well, and giving us this opportunity to associate with his team. I think that’s a huge milestone.”
Including Paretta and De Silvestro, nine women were on pit lane supporting the No. 16 Chevy at the test. From mechanics and tire changers to all the other critical roles associated with running the car, Paretta’s vision of having women in charge of all facets of fielding an IndyCar program is taking shape.
“And I think we have the tools to do something really good with the women on the pit crew,” De Silvestro said. “They have such an amazing chance to learn from the best people out there. The men from Penske have been great. They’ve been teaching the women their knowledge, and the car was really quick as well. So it was all pretty new with everyone, but everyone knew right away kind of what to do. And they’ve been practicing pit stops and everything else with the people at Penske.
“I think for all of us in that sense, it gives us a little bit of a jump in our step when we walk down the Gasoline Alley. We know we have the tools. We have Chevy behind us, we have the sponsors like Rocket Pro TPO and MoneyLion behind us, and we have the people around us that really believe in this as well. It just makes us feel all pretty proud, and we know what we can do during the race.”
De Silvestro had two women in her ears from high atop the spotter’s stands at IMS, and Paretta hopes to have more women involved with Paretta Autosport’s Indy 500 debut behind the scenes as well. For the 32-year-old driver who’s spent most of her career as a leading light for women in the sport, Paretta’s dedication to using the No. 16 Chevy program as a springboard for women racers fits everything De Silvestro wants to represent.
“It totally is, and it’s being done right,” she said. “And some of these women have come in, and maybe they weren’t even thinking at first to go over the wall and change the tires. And I think they’re all relishing the opportunity now, and they know that they can be part of this, if they do their job right.
“And that’s always something I’ve been all about. I’m glad to see that these opportunities for women are happening, and I’m glad it’s happening in my lifetime.”