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Simona Shows True Grit At Indianapolis

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 28 2011

Simona de Silvestro has the bandages on her burned hands tended before getting into her car at Indianapolis this week. (Photos courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Indianapolis – The gauze hand-wraps Simona de Silvestro has been wearing for the last 10 days likely will not resonate with the hipsters who shop boutiques for the recently released William Rast Racing lifestyle collection.

Simona’s “haute couture” is courtesy of Methodist Hospital downtown, where her burned hands have been the objects of an accelerated treatment regimen heading into Sunday’s 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500.

“Yeah, we have the ‘walking around dressing’ and the ‘driver’s dressing.’ So, pretty cool,” de Silvestro said at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “Now we have special names for them. The driver’s dressing is a little smaller and nicer to look at, too. They just tape the top of the hand so it makes it a little bit more comfortable to put a race glove over it. And it’s protecting it.”

De Silvestro suffered second-degree burns to her right hand and superficial burns to the left hand in a brutal crash in Turn 3 of the 2.5-mile IMS layout during practice on Thursday, May 19. Cleared to drive by INDYCAR’s medical team the following day, she earned the 24th and last available open spot on Pole Day with an average speed of 224.392 mph in backup car fielded by HVM Racing. She will start the race in 23rd,

Simona de Silvestro in her decidedly unfashionable hand wear.

following the corporate substitution of Ryan Hunter-Reay in place of Bruno Junqueira.

“I thought she showed the mindset of a race car driver,” said Helio Castroneves, a three-time Indy 500 champion for Team Penske.”Doesn’t matter if it’s a male or female. She just proved that doesn’t matter if you crash, if you have a strong mindset you can do anything. It was very impressive, no question. I always have respect for her and the other females as well. But she definitely stands out.”

De Silvestro was selected Chase Rookie of the Year after finishing 14th in last year’s Indy 500. But as Castroneves suggested, the four-lap/10-mile run Simona reeled off last weekend stands as the definitive moment for a driver many consider the IZOD IndyCar Series’ next crossover star. That was fairly evident during Saturday’s traditional Public Driver’s Meeting at IMS, where the cheers greeting Simona’s introduction easily topped those for superstar Danica Patrick of Andretti Autosport.

“That’s great,” said de Silvestro, a 22-year-old native of Thun, Switzerland. “Because for all my career, I’ve always wanted to show people that I could race a race car and that I could have good results. Now that people are seeing that in the IZOD IndyCar Series from me it’s something that’s really special. That people think about me like that it’s pretty cool, for sure.”

De Silvestro is 11th in points after the season’s first four events, all run on the street or road courses on which she cut her racing teeth in Europe. Her best INDYCAR finish to-date is a fourth-place effort in the 2011 season-opener on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. – the first top-five of her 21-race IndyCar Series career.

“I know I’m here to be a race car driver because that’s the only thing I know how to do,”

Simona de Silvestro and her HVM Racing team have had plenty to overcome to get into the field for the 100th Anniversary edition of the Indy 500.

said de Silvestro, who goaded father Pierluigi into buying her first go-kart at age 6. “It’s really the thing I enjoy. That (crash) was really the first time that’s happened and I think it was more because of the fire, you know? Crashes happen on an oval; you can’t do anything about it. Definitely being in a fire the second time, that was pretty tough for me. But then you know you think about it and…’We should just try it. We should at least try it, and if I go out there and I’m scared then this is it.’ But when I went out there I felt all right, I was able to just drive.”

A versatile athlete, Simona’s “walking around dressing” would have fans believe she is preparing to launch a boxing career. The multi-layered, multi-colored gauze wraps completely cover both hands and a few inches up each wrist. Only her fingers are exposed.

“They change it pretty much every day,” said de Silvestro, adding that showering has become a major undertaking. “Right now they’re doing a lot of treatment to try to accelerate the whole thing…some cream and all kind of stuff. We’ve changed it a little bit every day to make the process go a little bit faster. It takes about an hour to get them ready – take them off, clean them up and then wrap them again. Everybody at Methodist Hospital, they’re sending all kinds of new stuff (ointments) pretty much every day to try out.

“Thursday morning was the first time I woke up and wasn’t in pain, so it’s going in the right direction. But I’m going to be wearing these for a little bit, for sure.”

De Silvestro said skin grafts are not in her immediate future. “Not right now, because when they cleaned it it looked pretty good,” de Silvestro said. “I’m not really good with (describing) gross stuff. They say it looks good, but to me it doesn’t really look good.

Simona de Silvestro, the 'Swiss Missile'.

They removed the burned skin on Sunday pretty much; they had to because if you leave it on it can cause infection. They kind of peel it off and that was pretty painful. It looked like raw meat. It’s pretty icky to watch. But they know what they’re talking about and you can trust them. We’ll have to see how it develops. I think next week we’ll know a little bit more.”

She will race Sunday with the “driver’s dressing” while wearing oversized Nomex gloves – and plans to go the distance.

“There’s no doubt,” said de Silvestro, dubbed the “Swiss Missile” by Will Power of Team Penske during a recent media tour. “I know it’s going to be difficult and I’m just going to be out there as long as I can. And I hope it’s going to be for 200 laps. It will be a challenge. But when you’re in the car you can’t start thinking of other things. I’m pretty sure I’m going to start forgetting about it. It’s (the pain) going to be there. There’s pain-killers, but you can’t really drive with those. It’s going to be more like fighting through the thing.”

In retrospect, Simona’s crash tested not only her mettle but that of team-owner Keith Wiggins’ HVM Racing organization. De Silvestro’s primary No. 78 Nuclear Clean Air Energy Dallara/Honda was destroyed, setting into motion the building of a spare car from scratch. That process was overseen by HVM’s Brian Fellows, who has been a mechanic on Simona’s car since last year.

“There were about eight of us working every night to 8 o’clock and a couple of nights to 12,” said Fellows, a 38-year-old native of Vincennes, Ind. “We got it as close (to a competitive setup) as we could. Think about it. It was her second accident with fire (after an incident at Texas Motor Speedway last June). It was a horrendous crash. As soon as she got back in the car she was back to normal. That girl has guts. That girl has got a lot of talent.”

That thrash, incidentally, led to Fellows’ selection as recipient of the 25th annual Firestone Clint Brawner Foundation mechanical achievement award.

Meanwhile, de SIlvestro admittedly wrestled with momentary doubts about the

Simona de Silvestro admits she had her doubts about racing after her crash.

profession she began pursuing in 2004, despite the fact that auto racing is banned in Switzerland.

“After the crash, I was like, ‘I don’t need this. This is too crazy. It’s way too dangerous,’ ” de Silvestro said. “I’m not ashamed to say it. I think people understand it was a pretty horrific crash, and I’m lucky to be here.

“I think the biggest thing on Saturday was really for me to get back in the car and see how it felt. You know, I wasn’t sure on Friday if I wanted to do this and as soon as I got back in the car it felt all right. That was the biggest proof to myself that, OK, I’m supposed to be doing this. It was gutsy but it just felt normal to me. When I’m in my race car, that’s where I feel at home, where I feel the most comfortable. And that’s what allowed me to do such a good performance on Pole Day.”

Vitor Meira, who drives for four-time Indy 500 champion A.J. Foyt Jr., said Simona and her team displayed true grit last weekend.

“Honestly, with the crash she had and putting the T-car back and going to qualify after all that – I already respected her as I respect everybody here,” said Meira, a native of Brazil. “But she did a very cool thing. I think Simona did what a lot of us would do, but I think people now want to see the passion we have to drive the cars. The team, too. The team has a passion, otherwise they wouldn’t even put the car together.

“It shows how much passion you have to have to be here in the 500 and how bad you want it. Because that crash, it would be very easy to say, ‘No, I burned my hands…the car’s destroyed…we’re not doing it.’ But she said, ‘No, we got to do it. We got to qualify.’ And they did it.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 28 2011
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