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.”
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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.”