INDIANAPOLIS — Simona de Silvestro has only been on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course once. That came back in her Formula BMW days. This 2.439-mile layout? Well it’s new to her because those days were on the other layout.
“It was really strange going down pit lane on the wrong side,” she told me on a hot Thursday afternoon in a break in the action for the NTT INDYCAR Series test session here. “I watched it a lot on the TV so on that side it was actually nice to get some laps around here.”
However, there’s a lot that’s new to her again these days. De Silvestro is back in the series for the second straight year but unlike 2021, this one doesn’t involve the Indy 500.
Last season, Paretta Autosport was formed and showed up with a female race team, with a female owner, female crewmembers and a female driver for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. They made the show. They had hoped to turn that into a larger scale effort for this season. Unfortunately, it never materialized.
They had help from Roger Penske last year and the car that they used was leased from Juncos Racing. They needed it back because they too were making a comeback of their own. So without a car or much help, they were left searching.
The search was led to Ed Carpenter Racing and Chevrolet. The teamed up and will run 3 races during this current season. The difference though was they’d do so on 2 road courses and a street circuit.
De Silvestro hasn’t been in an INDYCAR on a road course since 2015. That still was a part time role. Her last full season came in 2013.
So you can excuse her for being wide eyed at Road America the last time out.
“I didn’t expect it to be such a big difference but 7 years is such a long time without driving an open wheel car,” she said on Thursday. “I didn’t drive any prototypes either so really I was driving a lot of things without much downforce.”
She says that the GT cars that she drove had less downforce and you can slide it around. You can’t do that in an INDYCAR. So she had to break new habits formed and try to bring back old habits and only had a pair of 45 minute practices, a 30 minute session, qualifying and then race in Road America.
That’s why Thursday was so big for here at Indy. July’s Gallagher Grand Prix (12 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) isn’t on her list of races to run this year. However, Thursday was more about next weekend than Indy itself.
“I think it’s in a sense good to be here because right now we can test a few things like brake pedal settings where you wouldn’t be able to do in Mid-Ohio because you’re in race mode,” she told me. “That’s good that we can do that. At the end of the day, we’re not trying to be the fastest. I’m still trying to iron out some things to get comfortable in the car heading to Mid-Ohio and go from there. It’s good. I’m really happy. The team is also willing to let me try some different things to help me get up to speed.
“I feel like we tried a few things on setup that I kind of liked and somethings that I didn’t. So that was good.”
These drivers are also halfway through their season. She’s making her debut. But, by the end of the Road America weekend, she was feeling more and more comfort though. This test was just to get her comfort even further ahead too.
“I felt in the race I was more comfortable and especially now,” she continued. “We’re in the ballpark now and we can really start working on things where I like in the car and where we should be. I think that’s definitely a positive step here.“In the race I felt like everything became really normal. Friday and Saturday felt really fast. When you’re not used to it, you feel the car drives you a little bit. Today I feel very normal and I can give a little more input in it now.
“I think the car as a baseline is really solid here. It’s about pushing myself to get out of the comfort zone. “Now when you get within a second, that’s always the hard second to find.”
It’s even harder when you have a 2nd engineer in as many races. Her engineer from Road America isn’t the same one at Mid-Ohio so she’s getting acclimated with another new voice on Thursday too.
“My engineer as well, I didn’t work with him in Road America so I’m once again with a new one,” she said. “We were actually just talking lets try and find a few tools in a sense that I like.”
I expect her to rise still as just in Road America she placed ahead of a four-time Indy 500 champion, a 7-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, the defending series champion and a star in Pato O’Ward.