KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Simona De Silvestro can’t avoid the topic. At the track, away from it, from the media, the fans, all she seems to hear about is Danica Patrick.
As a rookie driver in the IndyCar Series and a woman, De Silvestro isn’t going to shake the shadow of open-wheel racing’s glamour girl anytime soon.
Thing is, other than being a woman, De Silvestro doesn’t have a whole lot in common with Patrick. Doesn’t need the attention. Has no interest in doing racy advertisements or bikini shoots. Doesn’t even have her ears pierced.
De Silvestro just wants to run ahead of the pack, beat not just Patrick, but the rest of IndyCar’s top drivers.
“Danica has done a lot for women in the sport, but we really have different personalities,” De Silvestro said. “For me, the most important thing is to go fast, do my talking on the track.”
The owners of De Silvestro’s Team Stargate Worlds/HVM Racing team acknowledge gender had a role in hiring her.
But there’s too much at stake to hire a driver just because she’s a woman. Fail on the track and the experiment becomes just a novelty and interest wanes and sponsors leave.
The only way the owners were going to hire De Silvestro was if she could drive.
It took them about 10 laps to figure it out.
De Silvestro drew the owners’ interest by nearly winning the 2009 Atlantic Championship. She then solidified her ride with an impressive performance at a testing session at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.
“We went into the test with an open mind: let’s put her in a car and see how it goes,” said Keith Wiggins, one of the team principals. “First 10 laps, I was like ‘OK, she’s good,’ so it seemed like a natural fit. She’s just a driver. She got in the car, she wasn’t afraid of it, she was already giving us feedback on the first day. She’s just fast.”