Simona de Silvestro talked earlier this week about how she expected the learning curve to be a bit steep when she strapped into the cockpit of her No. 16 Dallara-Chevrolet on Friday afternoon from the scenic Road America circuit in central Wisconsin.
“Yeah, I think the last time I was at Road America was 2009,” she said on Wednesday afternoon via an NTT INDYCAR Series zoom call. “Yeah, it’s been quite a while,” she said. “But I don’t know. For me, the expectation, I think at the end of the day you want to do the best job you can. I think we have to be realistic as well. We have not tested. It’s the middle of the season, all these guys and girls have been running half the season already. We need to see where we kind of stack up.
“I think for me in a sense, I’m really looking forward to getting back in an INDYCAR. So from that point of view I think I’ll push quite hard to get up to speed as quickly as I can.”
The last time she was in an Indy Car was last May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway competing in the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500. The last time she was in a car in general was last Fall — October to be exact. The last time she was in an Indy Car away from IMS?
De Silvestro completed 20 laps in the 75 minute long session around the 4-mile track on Friday and said that she felt the car felt much faster now than she remember 7 years ago.
“It was definitely much faster and braked much better than anything I’ve driven the last, yeah, five years,” she said. “I think the big thing is also when you driving these cars, you get used to it. Things slow down. It’s a bit like at Indy: the first few laps it just feels always really quick, then your brain just kind of calms down and everything feels more normal.
“At the moment, you know, this session for me everything was coming at me pretty quickly, trying to deal with it. Hopefully by tomorrow that will slow down.”
She notes that for her, this is all new again. It may time longer to get up to speed and the comfort that the other 26 drivers feel here because they’re entering the halfway mark of their season. This is here 1st start.
“I think the level right now is really, really strong,” she continued. “Yeah, they’re in the middle of their season. They’re already know what they need in the car. They can work on the car already. I’m, like, still trying to find the confidence and pushing the car actually to where it needs to be pushed to be right up there.”
She also said that she felt that it went “really good” too which is a big positive after Day 1.
“I’m really happy to be back in an INDYCAR, especially around here,” she continued. “It’s quite special. I think Road America is one of the coolest tracks we get to and one of the fastest ones. Definitely feels really fast, yeah, at the moment.”
With about 25 minutes to go, the team made several changes to help De Silvestro adjust to the feel of an INDYCAR on a road course.
“The goal for today was just to give Simona as much time on track as we could, and just getting her reacclimated to the car and Road America,” said team owner Beth Paretta. “We are happy with how it went, and can’t wait to be back on track tomorrow.”
She mentioned this week too that she felt like a win was definitely out of reach with how competitive this field is now but still had goals she wanted to accomplish. Before she can do so though, she has to get used to the car and the speeds that they’re traveling around here. She went 4 miles in less than 2 minutes.
The key is comfort as De Silvestro says that early on, she felt like the car was driving her and as the laps turned, the comfort level comes back.
“Just getting used to everything,” she said with a smile. “I feel for sure, I don’t want to be last, but I think we weren’t too far off in the sense. I think there’s a few things that I really need to clean up driving-wise, just getting used to it.
“I haven’t driven a car with a lot of downforce since a long time. That’s something to get used to again.
“The car takes it, but you just have to kind of trust it. I feel like that’s also where, looking at the data, is where I need to work more on. So, yeah, I think those are the things. The slow stuff seems pretty good, but it’s really just having the confidence in the car and just kind of sending it at the moment, yeah.
“I think going out today, to be honest, it was like everything was new. Even like pit limiter, how to do that. Just going and driving. When you turn, the car really turns. In the beginning it kind of surprises you because it’s so agile. Also the braking is really powerful. It took me a few laps just to get that sorted.
“I feel like now that’s kind of, okay, I figured that out, I’m feeling the car well. What could be better, what could be doing better. In the high-speed stuff, it’s a lot of commitment.
“For sure, just sleeping over it, usually the next day is always better.
“It was really the first day back I think after seven years in an INDYCAR. It feels pretty familiar, but definitely I think to really be where I want to be, I think I’m going to hopefully sleep over it and be better tomorrow, a bit more acclimated, I would say, yeah.”
Part of what makes Road America also different than the last time out at Indy was you had multiple days of all afternoon practice sessions. This weekend, you get 75 minutes on Friday, a 45 minute long session on Saturday morning, a 30 minute session Saturday afternoon and qualifying sandwiched between them. Other than that, you line up and race.
Indy had more track time in 1 day than you have all weekend in Road America. That’s the most glaring thing and one that she feels she needs more laps/time to full grasp this beast of a race car.