Featured Open Wheel — 09 April 2011

Simona De Silvestro, Danica Patrick share spotlight for a change ahead of Alabama IndyCar race


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Simona de Silvestro is enjoying the extra attention these days because she earned it on the track.

The 22-year-old Swiss IndyCar driver finished a career-best fourth two weeks ago at St. Petersburg, after all.

“It’s pretty cool,” de Silvestro said Friday morning while winding down a series of media interviews. “It’s definitely the busiest I’ve ever been in my racing career. It’s fun because people appreciate what I did at St. Pete and all that.”

Extra attention is something Danica Patrick hardly needs or covets. She laughingly told the story at her pre-race news conference Friday of a recent baby shower when a friend tried to shield her from racing talk from the woman’s own mother.

The two female IndyCar racers hardly are equal in name recognition going into Sunday’s Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park, and that’s OK with de Silvestro. She’s only in her second year on the IndyCar series while Patrick is a six-year veteran going into her 100th start.

“I want to be able to compete on the race track,” de Silvestro said, sitting at a picnic table outside her trailer while the occasional fan peered into the cordoned-off area. “That’s my biggest goal. I’m a race car driver. That’s what I’m here for.”

She figures the attention will come if she’s successful on the track. De Silvestro has gotten off to a nice start. She finished eighth on the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course last year and ninth at Toronto, evidence that her fast start to this season — despite having no teammates to help — wasn’t a fluke.

“She did well last year, too,” Patrick said. “She’s been a good road course driver from the start. Sometimes things just need to fall your way to have a good result and get noticed, and things fell her way and she did a good job.

“This isn’t like one of those things she all of a sudden did.”

De Silvestro said now she wants “to keep it going.” But the main thing for Year 2 is finishing races.

“Last year, we missed a couple of races because I had crashes and it really hurt us in the points standings at the end,” said de Silvestro, who finished 19th in the series standings. “Our main goal is to try to finish every race this year.”

She has caught the eye of not only Patrick, but fellow driver Will Power. De Silvestro said she sought out advice from star drivers like Power, Franchitti and Helio Castroneves last year.

“She’s a good driver and she’s very willing to learn and that’s the key to becoming a great driver,” Power said. “A great driver is continually wanting the details to be quicker than the next guy, because everybody in the race is trying to find something. I think that’s a very good approach. I think once she settles down — she’s probably a little bit too aggressive right now — she’ll be a pretty solid driver.”

Plus, he pointed out she’s at a disadvantage because she doesn’t have a teammate to feed off of and share information with.

Patrick, who was 12th at St. Pete, has Marco Andretti, Mike Conway and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Off the track, she has some friends who are equally supportive, even if she says most aren’t really racing fans.

They got protective at that baby shower.

“Someone’s mother was there and she was very excited about me being there and meeting me,” Patrick said. “We were laughing about how she had to keep her mother under control and keep her cool so she didn’t just ask me a million questions about racing.

“She was trying to protect me. She was like, ‘Mom, when she’s at home she doesn’t talk about racing. If you want to talk about racing we’ll go to the race and we’ll talk about racing then,’” she said, adding that no interference was necessary.

Another friend wondered aloud, “Who is that lady that won’t leave Danica alone?”

The response: “That’s my mom.”

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