Welcome Back, Simona de Silvestro

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I will probably catch flack for this, but I don’t intend for it to be derogatory – yet I know as sure as I’m sitting here typing away, someone will find fault with my next sentence. When Roger Penske, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the NTT IndyCar Series announced their “Race for Equality and Change” initiative last summer – it never dawned on me that it was created for women too.

With all the civil unrest that last summer brought, I automatically assumed that it was created as a result of the unrest to bring more minorities into racing. After all, there have been only two black drivers and no primary black owners in our sport; and the last black driver, George Mack, drove way back in 2002 – having only one very unremarkable season.

There has not been near the dearth of female drivers. For the first time in twenty years, the 2020 Indianapolis 500 featured no female entries, but it wasn’t that long ago that there were as many as four female drivers in 2013. So forgive me for assuming this new pathway was created only for minorities. You know what happens when you assume…

So before I fan any more flames, let me get it out there that I am glad that women are included in this initiative. I was just pleasantly surprised that they were.

Now that I have stumbled clumsily through that minefield, I’ll get into what was announced yesterday at Indianapolis. Paretta Autosport will be an entry in the 2021 Indianapolis 500. The team is owned by team principal Beth Paretta, who led an effort that was announced in 2015 for an all-woman team – known as Grace Autosport, with Katherine Legge as the driver.

This time, when Paretta heard about the Race For Equality and Change initiative, she picked up the phone and called Roger Penske, whom she had known since working with him in 2012 while with Dodge and their NASCAR racing program. The two started talking, which led to Tuesday’s announcement.

What gives Paretta Autosport immediate credibility is that, unlike a start-up stand-alone team, they will be receiving technical assistance from Team Penske. They will even be set up in the same Mooresville, NC shop that prepares all of Team Penske’s cars.

What else gives this team a good chance of performing? Their driver choice. Fan favorite Simona de Silvestro has been picked to fill the cockpit of their No. 16 entry for this coming May. Simona is a five-time starter in the Indianapolis 500. Four of those starts came in sub-par equipment, including having to drag a Lotus around the track in 2012. Her last start came for Andretti Autosport in 2015, but she ran into the back of eventual race-winner Juan Montoya at the start and never fully recovered, finishing nineteenth. That was her last IndyCar start.

But de Silvestro has not been sitting idle. She drove two seasons for Michael Andretti in Formula E, as well as several seasons in Australian Supercars. In 2020, she began driving for the Porsche factory team in the GT Masters Championship in Europe. She continues to drive for Porsche, and she is doing the Month of May at Indianapolis with their blessing.

Unlike many, I am not that familiar with Beth Paretta. But after watching the replay of the press conference that took place yesterday, I came away very impressed. It seems like she has a very workable plan. Paretta Autosport has many sponsors that are interested, but not yet fully committed in January. Being aligned with Team Penske, you can be assured it will be a well prepared car.

They showed a picture of the car, but Paretta said that the car on the track most likely will not look like this, as sponsors come on board. That’s a good thing, because I am not totally in love with this computer generated livery.

Paretta

Paretta hinted that they may be looking for another race or two later in the IndyCar season. It’s the same story. It depends on sponsor’s wishes. But the plan for now is to go racing full-time in 2022.

I wish this team well. I have always thought this series was better off with Simona de Silvestro in it. I’m not big on checking off boxes, just to keep certain groups happy. I’ve never been one to classify drivers into subsets and refer to someone as a good female driver. Nor do I agree with at least one person that said on social media Simona should be protected in qualifying. Seriously? If she is one of the thirty-three fastest cars, she should make the field. Period. No exemptions, no protections. She should earn it like everyone else, and I think she would agree with that as well as Bet Paretta. I don’t say the series is better off because a woman will be in the Indianapolis 500, or that I like Simona as far as female drivers go. I like Simona because I think she is a good driver.

She showed me a lot in 2011, when she got upside down inside a burning car, during Indianapolis 500 practice, early in the week and received second-degree burns on both hands. That would be enough to rattle any driver for the remainder of their career. But in Qualifying that weekend, she climbed into her aging backup car with heavily bandaged hands and put her car into the eighth row. That was in a year that eight drivers failed to qualify, including Ryan Hunter-Reay and Mike Conway. That performance got my attention and several other fans. I didn’t consider gender for that performance. It was simply a gutsy performance and I compared her to all other racers then, and I will again in May.

I’ve always thought that de Silvestro fell into the category that so many drivers fall into – lots of talent, but few good opportunities. I think she will be raising quite a lot of eyebrows this May, each time she crawls into her Penske prepared car and takes the track. This will be a very interesting story line to follow.

George Phillips

8 Responses to “Welcome Back, Simona de Silvestro”

  1. I had Simona come to my high school class and talk to my students back a few years ago. She was awesome. I’m so glad she will be back to Indy!

  2. Glad to see Simona back at Indy. There are so few sports where men and women compete together at the top level. I would hope Indycar works to insure Simona has every opportunity to succeed. There’s a huge marketing segment that is largely untapped since the departure of Danica. Like her or not, Danica had a huge influence on bringing women into auto racing. Hoping Simona has success and continues to help grow the sport we all love.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    Maybe the paint scheme won’t change much and they are just finalizing sponsorship from Bomb Pops!

    Seriously, though, I am excited to see Simona back in an Indycar. Hopefully the team is able to raise sponsorship for a full season in the future. Getting sponsors on board with the entire REAC program would give it a big boost in bringing its drivers up to Indycar. I’m surprised that NASCAR has never been able to connect many sponsors to its longstanding “Dive For Diversity” program, which has largely kept that programs drivers in the regional East and West series rather than any of the 3 national series.

  4. It’s a shame that Mr. Penske continues to bow to extreme left wing politics.

    Rehire Brad Hockaday.

    • I feel this is just a brilliant marketing opportunity with a popular driver. It attracts potential fans who are not presently watching and gives the uninterested female partner to a fan something to cheer for. Not politics but sensible marketing. I saw her in Atlantic’s in Vegas in 07 and while the final result was disappointing she most definitely had speed and some good race moves. She is incredibly brave too just hope the speed is still there. I applaud RP for making this possible.

  5. I love that it is Simona, I know everyone loves Pippa Mann but I want a real driver out there. Pippa is nice and all but she isn’t a driver competing to win. Pippa’s career is actually the bad side of the inclusiveness situation, the longevity of it that is. Legge and Simona were also the best female drivers out there, I dare say better drivers than Danica but less opportunity. They were legit drivers, not legit female drivers, just drivers. I thought Simona was long gone so this is great to see!

    For the detractors of this, most will say there are good drivers on the sideline, I assume you also hypocritically root for Helio or Tony taking a good seat for yet another retirement season, so why shouldn’t Simona get a chance?

  6. It’s been good to see Simona DeSilvestro’s comeback announcement. Still, it’s been a surprise that it’s her with Beth Paretta’s team now, since I had always thought they were mainly looking at Katherine Legge as being their driver.

    This cooperation with Team Penske should be interesting. Has Penske ever done this before with another small team at Indianapolis?

    Simona should have remained in the sport at the time she left because then, she was still getting better and better. I have no idea what influence racing in other series in the past few years will have on her upcoming performance. Yet, I hope, it will be a good influence. I guess a finish on the lead lap should be the target for this new team. All the best!

  7. Nearly 6 years later everyone remembers Simona ran into Montoya under yellow and damaged his car, but no one ever mentions the circumstances that led to it. The way I remember it the field thought they were coming to green but it got called off at the last second for some reason. By then some cars in the middle of the pack, including Simona, were already accelerating. It got stacked up and JPM jumped out of line to keep from hitting the car in front of him. That’s when he got nailed by Simona. I’m sure she didn’t expect JPM to swerve over in front of her. We also don’t know what she was hearing from her spotter. I would call it a racing incident but of course it doesn’t look good to hit someone under yellow and JPM was said to be plenty hot. I remember later some jokes on social media about a woman driver fixing her makeup instead of watching where she was going. Simona took the blame and publicly apologized to Juan at the banquet the next night. She didn’t get into a Twitter war with the haters because that’s not her style. I am one of Simona’s biggest fans so I’ll admit I’m biased. It’s just always bugged me that she gets a bad rap for a situation that was never fully explored.

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