Here's how bad it got fro Simona de Silvestro in 2012:
“My dad didn’t actually want to show up to races anymore (last year),” said de Silvestro with a laugh. “I was like ‘thanks for the support, Dad.’ ”
Fathers everywhere can relate to Pierre de Silvestro’s pain. De Silvestro’s 2012 team, HVM, was stuck with an underpowered Lotus engine that de Silvestro says felt up to 100 horsepower below the Chevrolet and Honda power plants. That meant she had no chance to even compete, let alone win.
A few races into the year, de Silvestro herself accepted reality.
“As a racer when you get in the car you always want to win. That’s what you’re aiming for,” she said. “After a few weekends you know you are that much down on power and don’t have the speed you have to change mindset, and I think I did that. I took the positives out that I could take out and just tried to do the things that I could do well.”
Those things included working with engineer Gerald Tyler to tweak the chassis as much as possible and find small victories, like being quick through road course sectors that featured a lot of turns and put a premium on handling and driver skill rather than horsepower.
“I was getting to be the fastest through those twisty bits and that was kind of our reward for the end of the season,” she said.
In 2013 she's fast through the twisty bits and the parabolicas, thanks to being free from what de Silvestro politely calls “the Lotus situation.” Simona has a new team, KV Racing Technologies, and a Chevrolet engine. She qualified third for the opening race in St. Petersburg and finished sixth and in the process made headlines across the country.
pressdog: The first time you got in the KV car with the Chevy engine and the first few laps I have his image in my mind of you just giggling behind the wheel. Is that accurate?
Simona: That’s pretty accurate. It actually almost scared me because I knew we were down on power but when I got in the Chevy car I was like, wow I couldn’t believe it was that much of a difference. It was like driving an Indy Car again and that was unbelievable. I had a huge smile the face the whole day and that was really cool.
The huge smile has been on her face ever since. The media is lining up to talk to Cinderella de Silvestro. Teammate Tony Kanaan credits Simona with bringing "a lot of spark and light into the team.”
Even last year, under circumstances that would have sent most drivers into a season-long rage, Simona kept smiling. She admited that her manager and PR reps “heard a little bit of the bad side of me" last year, but with the fans and media she was the poster girl for positivity. How?
“I think the biggest thing is I’m really lucky to be doing what I love to do,” de Silvestro said. “I love to drive a race car and you know there are so many people out there that don’t get the chance to do that. So when you look at it that way, I’m taking it with both hands and really enjoying my time when I’m out there. I think it’s really important. You have to have fun what you’re doing and also in the team. I feel like if everybody is having a good time the results should come. I have always been the same way. On the race track and off I’m always the same Simona. I’m pretty bubbly I guess; I don’t know (laughter).”
Bubbly alone doesn’t make you a front-runner in an IndyCar race. Skill does that, and most agree that de Silvestro had plenty of that in St. Petersburg where she stayed in the top three until fading rear tires likely cost her a place on the podium. Besides the fun of being up front, de Silvestro called St. Petersburg “a relief.”
“I think I had a little bit of doubt during the off season and at the end of last season. Ive always been the type of person who wants to have the results in my hands and know where I stand, and that proves to me that I’m doing the right thing,” de Silvestro said. “We went to St. Pete and qualified third and that was a relief because you kind of felt this weight lifting off shoulders. I proved to myself that yes I belong here and I know I have the speed and I am doing the preparation right for the race, so those were the really key things.”
pressdog: “You said yourself that you weren’t so aggressive at St. Pete because you hadn’t been up front for a while and you didn’t get too crazy. Now that you have St. Pete behind you are we going to see Simona go into Beast Mode at Barber?”
Simona: (Laughter) "I don’t know if it will be Beast Mode but I think I certainly proved I belong up there and now we can kind of clean up a few things. I think I’ll be a little more attentive to everything that is going on and be more ready to take more chances on restarts and things like that. The biggest thing in St. Pete was I learned so many things in that race hopefully I can clean a few things that I didn’t do so well to be even better.”
Along with more aggression on restarts, de Silvestro will now have to remember a few skills that she didn't need last year, like managing fuel and tires for the entire stint.
She’s also looking forward to the IndyCar ovals where her power shortage last year was most evident.
“The biggest thing that is fun about ovals is that pretty much everything you know about road and street courses you can forget about on ovals,” she said. “I think the fun thing is you have to learn new things. You realize having a good car under you is a big thing on an oval. You can’t muscle the car that isn’t great (as you can on road courses). It really opened my eyes that you really have to work during the whole race work to have good car under you to be racing well.”
Given her “bubbly” personality, her success at St. Pete, and fondness for the race this weekend at Barber Motor Sports Park, Simona finds herself with much more attention and expectation from fans and media. Like everything else, it seems she’s taking it in stride.
“I think it’s cool when people appreciate what you are doing on the race track. It just feels nice. It feels cool I guess. It makes you want to that much better for them.”
Of course friends and family are almost as excited to have Simona back in a competitive car. It's likely no one is more excited and relieved to have the “Lotus situation” over than Simona’s father, Pierre.
“He was at St. Pete and now he’s here at Barber,” said Simona. “Now that it is going so well he wants to come to every race, but I told him he had to work. (Laughter.) I’m sure he’ll come to Indy.”
Simona's next race is at Barber on April 7, 3 p.m. Eastern on NBC Sports Network.