Driver Spotlight: Simona de Silvestro

SONOMA, CA - AUGUST 24:  Simona de Silvestro drives the #78 Nuclear Clean Air Energy Lotus HVM Racing Lotus during practice f
SONOMA, CA - AUGUST 24: Simona de Silvestro drives the #78 Nuclear Clean Air Energy Lotus HVM Racing Lotus during practice for the GoPro Indy Grand Prix at Sonoma on August 24, 2012 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

Simona de Silvestro is one of the up and coming drivers in the IZOD Indycar Series. She may not drive for Roger Penske or Chip Ganassi, but she is one heck of a racer and has always made the best of what she has at her disposal. Her team, HVM Racing, does not have the big bucks and resources that some other teams have and with the old Indycar formula (Dallara IR03) they ran the oldest model car in the field and she gave teams with better equipment a run for their money.

Simona de Silvestro was born in Thun, Switzerland and loved racing from an early age. Simona says, "I had the racing bug very early on, my father says that as a baby I was quiet when either Formula 1 or Indycar was on." When she was four years old, her father did a go-kart demonstration at his car dealership and that sparked her interest. "I annoyed my parents for a year before they bought me a go kart". Being that racing in general has been banned in Switzerland, she had to race in France and Italy to start out. She played a number of other sports as a child such as tennis and soccer as well as racing go karts, but she thought that racing was a better fit for her. During her teenage years, she continued to race in go carts and then moved up to Formula Renault for a year before coming to the United Stated in 2006 to run the Formula BMW series. She then moved to on the Atlantic series, driving for Newman Wachs Racing in 2008. Ironically, she won her first race at Long Beach the same weekend that Danica Patrick won her first Izod IndyCar Series race in Motegi, Japan. In 2009, Simona joined the Stargate Worlds Team and had a breakout season. She won four times and led the championship standings for most of the season. At the last race at Laguna Seca she crashed on the first lap and lost the championship. "It was heartbreaking, I think we deserved to win the championship, but that is what racing is, it's not always going to be rosy days, there will be difficult days," de Silvestro recalls. "It wasn't meant to happen, but I still got my shot in Indycar and it was a passage I had to go through, but it was difficult for sure." She then joined HVM Racing in 2010 in the IZOD Indycar Series.

In her first Indycar start, she led four laps and was a front runner until a flat tire took her out of contention. Her career to date includes 46 starts, five top tens, and five laps led. The numbers do not speak of how she has run, though. As I noted earlier, she has given other drivers with better equipment and more experience a run for their money. One example in particular was at St. Petersburg in 2011 where she fought tooth and nail with Tony Kannan at the end of the race and wound up 4th.

A unique character trait of Simona is her tenacity and optimistic attitude even when things are not so good. At Texas in 2010, Simona was involved in a single car accident and her car caught fire. The Holmatro Safety Team had issues with the fire hose and was not quick enough to get the fire out. In order for Simona to get out of her car, she had to put her hand literally in the fire in order to get out of the car. She suffered burns on her right hand as a result. When Versus (now NBC Sports) interviewed her after she was treated at the Infield Care Center, she had no ill feelings towards the safety crew and took it as one of those racing deals.

At Indianapolis in 2011, Simona was involved in an accident during practice for the Indianapolis 500. She suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns to her hands. "At Indianapolis it was the first time I really got hurt in a race car, but at the end of the day, you think about it, and I thought about everything that I have done and this is what I've always wanted to do since I was little and it would be stupid to not try and get back in the car" Simona recalls. "If I went back and was scared and didn't enjoy it then I would know that was it, but when I got back out there I had fun and that's all that counted." She continued on to qualify 23rd for the race, but finished 31st due to a handling issue.

During the 2012 season, Simona and the HVM Racing team struggled a lot, but it was not due to any fault of their own. The Lotus engine that they ran during the year proved to be problematic and had less horsepower than the Honda and Chevy engines. Her best finish of the season was a 13th at Detroit, and she never led a lap. Possibly the lowest part of the season was being parked after 10 laps at the Indianapolis 500. This could be a blow to a driver's confidence running so poorly, but not Simona. She uses the phrase 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger' to stay motivated. "I think a lot of people who would have been in my situation would have been demotivated, but I've tried to continue to work hard when I get in my race car. I think it proves a lot that I am committed to this." She does believe that some positive things came out of this season, though. "We've been patient with our situation; we haven't made any big mistakes being in our situation, when things don't go right, you sometimes do something stupid like make a big crash and we didn't do that" says Simona on her season. "I still think I learned a lot, especially on the short ovals where we had some really good race cars and we were able to keep up with the other engine manufacturers which was a huge showing for us being down on power." Her optimism speaks for itself.

For 2013, Simona and her team are looking forward despite the hardships of 2012. "I'm taking the positives from this season and looking forward." "I think that we are capable of finishing in the top ten and that is a reasonable goal." I certainly think that she is capable of doing this, and I wish her the best in the 2013 season.