Simona de Silvestro – A Lesson In Perseverance

One of the more discussed stories of the 2012 season has been the non-performance of the Lotus engine. Their issues have been well-documented here and other places so much that it has become almost merciful to now leave it alone. After Bryan Herta Autosport, Dragon Racing and Dreyer & Reinbold abandoned the once proud brand in favor of other engines – only HVM Racing remained in their corner. To me, this is one of the most overlooked stories of this season.

One of the more talented drivers in the IZOD IndyCar Series remains off of almost everyone’s radar. Simona de Silvestro has now been toiling in anonymity for the past three seasons. Had it not been for her rookie season in 2010, I’m not sure even hard-core fans would be giving her a look. That’s a mistake.

The Swiss driver has the pedigree. Coming through the developmental ranks, she won a race in her only season in Formula BMW USA and finished fourth in the standings in 2006. She raced three seasons in the Atlantics series. Her first season was a forgettable nineteenth, but she progressed to an eighth place finish in her second year and winning at Long Beach. In 2009, her final year in Atlantics – de Silvestro won four times and led the championship for most of the season. A first lap retirement led to an eventual third place finish in the final standings. Obviously, she knows how to drive.

Since joining the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2010, Simona de Silvestro has been saddled with driving for one of the more underfunded teams on the grid, in HVM Racing. She finished a respectable fourteenth in her first Indianapolis 500 and earned Rookie of the Year honors. She also had a top-ten finish at Toronto en route to finishing nineteenth in the standings for her rookie season.

Though she didn’t set the world afire in her first season, the same cannot be said for her car in Texas that year. To be honest, I think that one single incident is what endeared Simona to IndyCar fans. She had a hard hit in a single-car incident near Turn One at Texas Motor Speedway. What appeared to be a routine oil fire suddenly turned scary as the normally adept Holmatro Safety Team did their best impersonation of the Keystone Cops.

The hose on the front of the truck was inoperable for whatever reason. The safety team seemed confused about what to do next as Simona sat helplessly in the burning car. She was finally able to escape with the help of one of the more alert safety team members. As she was interviewed on television, she would have been well within her rights to blast the safety team on television for their ineptitude. Instead, she laughed off the incident as no big deal – all the while holding a bandaged wrist. The way she handled herself with class after such a frightening incident told viewers everything they needed to know about Simona de Silvestro – she was not one to lay blame at anyone’s feet, even when it might be justified.

Almost one year later, de Silvestro found herself in an even more frightening situation. A couple of days before qualifying for the 2011 Indianapolis 500, Simona crashed hard, went airborne and landed upside-down just as her car caught fire. To have been through the crash and scary ride through the air would have been enough to shake most of us to the core. Add to that the frightening prospect of being trapped underneath a fifteen-hundred pound racecar as it burns out of control, and you have created one terrifying situation.

Although her car was completely destroyed, de Silvestro escaped the inferno, albeit with second-degree burns on both hands. To say she wasn’t shaken would be untrue. She was. That’s what makes what she did two days later even more gratifying. She put her fears and her pain aside and qualified the much heavier and slower backup car for the race. While some drivers had been known to blame their crew or other factors for their misfortune – Simona just put her visor down, dealt with the adversity and put the car in the field.

Fans applauded her gutsy performance and acknowledged what she had been through. For the rest of the season, her underfunded HVM team was saddled with the oldest and heaviest version of that Dallara that existed. It was sometimes an adventure to even hold on at the back of the field, but Simona never whined or complained. In her usual fashion, she gave her famous smile, kept her mouth shut and did her job without ever offering up any excuses on her way to a disappointing twentieth place finish in the points.

Heading into this season, HVM was the first team to commit to the Lotus engine. I can only assume there was some steep financial incentive from Lotus to steer the monetarily strapped team to the Lotus stable, but that is only speculation on my part. After all the other Lotus teams left the fold, HVM remains as the only Lotus powered car on the grid. Due to the lack of power and other miscues that normally befall a low-budget team, it has been a dismal year for HVM and Simona de Silvestro. Except for a couple of hard-earned fourteenth place finishes at Detroit and Iowa, Simona hasn’t finished a race higher than twentieth. She currently finds herself buried in twenty-fourth place in points – last among all full-time drivers.

Unfortunately, unlike previous years – it seems that her driving talents and grittiness have gone unnoticed by most fans. Due to the fact that she is so far off the pace and normally an early out, her Nuclear Clean Air Energy car gets few mentions and no air time. It is one of the most overlooked cars on the grid this year, and that’s a shame. The standard rule in racing is if you want publicity, you need to run at or near the front. Perennial back markers traditionally struggle for recognition.

Most casual fans would look at her performance and assume that Simona de Silvestro was an untalented driver. Those of us that are hard-core fans know better. Still, you know she has to be extremely frustrated. Simona is still young – she will turn twenty-four over Labor Day weekend – but she is entering what should be the prime of her IndyCar career. You have to wonder if she feels like her talents are continually wasted on a low-budget team with a grossly underpowered engine. Yet, she continues to carry herself in the same manner that she did that fiery night in Texas a couple of years ago. She laughs it off as if it is no big deal – publically, at least.

Simona de Silvestro has demonstrated her talent and she deserves a much better situation than she has found herself in. But this is a results-oriented sport. Will any team owner that might have a possible open slot for next season give her a fair look? I’m not so sure. She has an inferior engine on a cash-strapped team and everyone knows it – but with the lack of results, will she ever get a shot on a better team? Let’s hope so.

In the meantime, Simona keeps smiling, looking ahead and doing the best job possible with what she’s got. Let’s at least hope the fans don’t forget about her.

George Phillips

16 Responses to “Simona de Silvestro – A Lesson In Perseverance”

  1. Leigh O'Gorman Says:

    I think one of the main things that may stand in Simona’s way has actually been a lack of a full-time teammate in her three seasons with HVM.
    Whereas Simona is undoubtedly quite quick, her inexperience has hurt and her growth as as a driver has been stunted even further due to her lack of active teammate with whom to define set-ups, etc…
    All due respect to Keith Wiggins and co, but I firmly believe de Silvestro needs to get out of HVM quickly if she wants to rescue her career.

  2. Yannick Says:

    Thanks George for the article on Simona’s year so far with the underdeveloped Lotus/Judd engine.
    Who would have guessed after parting ways with her #78 “Pork Chop” chassis at the end of last year, she would have to deal with “Pork Chop, Jr.” this season?

    It’s about time Pork Chop, Jr. opens up its own Twitter account!
    The one of Pork Chop, Snr. was fun.

  3. Joey T. Says:

    Thanks reminding us just how good Simona really is. We also appreciate the way you never place the female drivers into a separate class. You treat them as regular drivers and hold them to the same standards. Some higher paid journalists should take note.

    • Higher paid? If they get paid twenty-five cents for their writing, they make more than I do. Thanks for the kind words, though. – GP

      • Ron Ford Says:

        You really can’t put a price tag on the love and affection you receive here regularly from your loyal readers George.

  4. Carburetor Says:

    Good post George. I have often wondered how Simona would fare given the same equipment and support like say, Marco Andretti or Takuma Sato, have had. I would bet that the results would be far better than either of those two drivers. Here is to hoping that she can obtain a quality ride in the very near future. She could be a really bright spot for the series and its potential growth.

  5. It has been a while since I have paid real attention to Simona and that is NOT to my credit. Simona has shown that she has earned her place and is as tough as they come. Good call George!

  6. Those who really understand Indycar know what Simona brings to the table. If a way isn’t found to get her in a competitive situation by next season, Indycar will be the big loser. While her results this year look terrible, she probably has gotten more out of what she has to work with than any other driver in the series. I still like to believe that loyalty and team work matter today. She is the best example I can think of to illustrate someone who has those traits. That should count for a lot. I hope it does.

  7. Ron Ford Says:

    Simona is the real deal. You can take that to the bank. If she can get a decent ride next season the addition of an experienced teammate would help her development. For Simona the road to Indy has had more potholes than Belle Isle. Maybe she can take those nuclear bucks over to SFHR.

    • there you go. simona and young joe at sarah and wink’s. that would seem to be a very marketable team for some sponsor.

  8. NYCSusan Says:

    Thank you for this article – I’ve been a fan of Simona’s ever since that Texas race and think she has really gotten the shaft this year with the Slotus engine. The fact that she is not whining about it is such a stark contrast to most of the more favored drivers that we have to endure.

  9. She is really good, and her junior record speaks for itself. She’s also very good from a marketing/fan relations standpoint.

    However, she needs to get out of that Lotus sooner rather than later. Otherwise I fear her career will stall before it ever has a chance.

  10. Steve K Says:

    Anyone else think of Milka when Harvick and Amber Cope had their Nationwide run-in?

    • billytheskink Says:

      Not a bad comparison but I didn’t have a lot of sympathy for Harvick once he said Cope should not have been on the track.

      You choose to race in a minor league race, then you choose to deal with minor league drivers. The series exists for them to learn more than it exists for guys like Harvick to collect extra seat time and prize money.

      • Ron Ford Says:

        Amen to that!!! Why NASCAR allows Cup drivers to race in the Nationwide series is beyond me. Drivers in the Nationwide series should have the opportunity to learn their craft without having to worry about getting out of the way of hotshot Cup drivers.

  11. billytheskink Says:

    Simona’s big car career is a perfect example of how life in major league auto racing too often just isn’t fair. Generally, I’m comfortable with that fact, because it isn’t going to change.

    But I really do hope Simona winds in a better situation, and soon. She deserves it. Unfortunately, deserves ain’t got nothin’ to do with it when it comes to securing a competitive ride. This actually seems to make it all the more refreshing when a deserving driver does land in a great situation and there are few drivers I would be happier for than Simona if such a thing happened to her.

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