With Chevy power, Swiss IndyCar driver looks nothing like she used to

Posted Wednesday, May. 01, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
More information Series updates Sprint Cup Cleared to race: Denny Hamlin has been cleared to return to competition on Sunday at Talladega, but only until the first caution. He’ll start the race for the benefit of points, then hop out, and Brian Vickers will take over. Tire test: Six drivers were scheduled to test Goodyears at Indianapolis this week. Trevor Bayne, Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski, Mark Martin and Tony Stewart were expected. DOY: Brad Keselowski is set to receive the 2012 Driver of the Year award in a ceremony at the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, next to the track at Talledega. Nationwide Probation: Nelson Piquet Jr. and Brian Scott, and their crew chiefs, were placed on probation until June 26 for their fight after last week’s race at Richmond. Camping World Truck Not off: Their series is off, but Joey Coulter, Ty Dillon, John Wes Townley and Scott Riggs will drive in the Nationwide race at Talladega. IndyCar Indy 500 ride: Pippa Mann has signed on with Dale Coyne Racing to try for the Indianapolis 500. She qualified 31st and finished 20th in 2011, the first British woman to race in the event. NHRA Two hats: Shawn Langdon continues to serve as general manager of the Al-Anabi Racing team, following the departure of Chad Head in December. So far, so good. Langdon is third in points in Top Fuel. 4 Laps led this year in Sprint Cup by Kevin Harvick, including a green-white-checkered finish last week at Richmond. Quotable “A lot of quick corners, and there is not a lot of escape areas or a lot of forgiveness. It reminds me a lot of racing back in England in my old F3 days.” — Nelson Piquet Jr., after testing this week at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, where the Camping World Truck Series debuts Sept. 1.

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You couldn’t blame Simona de Silvestro for losing confidence last year.

She was trying to run in the IndyCar Series with an engine from Lotus, a troubled engine maker that eventually quit the series. Some races, she couldn’t even maintain minimum speed.

But others didn’t lose confidence in her. KV Racing Technology signed her, put her in its Chevy-powered cars, and she has taken off. She has been sixth, 18th and ninth in three starts and sits eighth in points as the series heads to Sao Paolo, Brazil, this weekend.

The 24-year-old Swiss, who remembers an average start of 23.7 and an average finish of 21.9 last year, said, “Most of the drivers had more confidence in me than I did at the end of the year. That was really cool. I felt I always had the respect from everybody else.”

In three previous starts in Brazil, de Silvestro has been 16th, 20th and 24th.

But even if she doesn’t improve those numbers, she already has plenty of evidence of her new-found speed.

A test at Texas Motor Speedway last November, in her new KVT car, was the beginning.

“It was a lot of fun — my out-lap was quicker than any laps I did there last year,” she said. (An out-lap is the lap out of pit road back to the start/finish line).

TMS fans might remember de Silvestro for a 2010 crash that left her car burning with her inside. She wound up with a burn on her right hand. But it didn’t keep her out of the car. She wrapped the hand and didn’t miss a race, continuing to drive despite pain, a feat that her competitors filed away.

She was not competitive that year, her rookie year, finishing in the top 10 only twice in 17 events.

But with 46 starts by the the end of her third year, she had built enough of a résumé to interest KV Racing, which paired her with veteran Tony Kanaan.

“We started talking a little bit last year,” she said. “They had a relationship with Chevy. It fit really well together. Chevy won the championship last year, so that was the engine to go with.”

Getting a teammate was another first. In her first three years, she was the driver for a one-car organization.

“We have the tools to run up front,” she said of herself and Kanaan.

No one has to tell series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay.

“Simona’s the real deal,” he said at the season opener in St. Petersburg, Fla. “We’ve seen that from Day 1. She’s quick. Very quick. Scary quick a lot of times. Now she’s with a good team and a great manufacturer. She’s got the horsepower to do it this year. Hopefully she takes it easy on TK, too.”

Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407 Twitter: @calexmendez

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