Her day in the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg included two broken front wings, a punctured tire, a crash that got her penalized and an 18th-place finish.
That might sound like the exact opposite of what Simona de Silvestro needed in her bid to run more races for Andretti Autosport in the IndyCar Series. In reality, it wasn’t nearly that bad.
The body of work over the weekend for the 26-year-old Swiss driver was solid. Her boss, Michael Andretti, was pleased, and de Silvestro — while quick to say “it was definitely not the day we wanted” — seemed to know she showed she belongs.
“I think it’s a positive weekend,” she said after the debriefing with her engineers during which she used animated gestures and her contagious laugh to help relate her misadventures. “We showed we had the pace, which is a good thing.”
De Silvestro did indeed show pace in practice and qualifying. On Saturday, she qualified only two-tenths of a second behind teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay and out-qualified her other two teammates, Marco Andretti and Carlos Munoz.
Sunday morning, she was fifth fastest in the IndyCar warm-up.
“Not racing for a year and a half, you can feel that,” she said after the race. “Especially when you’re passing people and stuff like that. All of a sudden, you catch yourself and you’re like, ‘OK, I haven’t done that in a while.’ That took a little getting used to.”
In retrospect, there was little chance the weekend was going to go perfectly. De Silvestro and Michael Andretti didn’t put their one-race deal together until a couple of weeks ago, and de Silvestro got to test only for about a day. She spent last season with Sauber F1 trying to get in position to become the first woman to start a Formula One race since 1976, so she hadn’t driven in IndyCar since 2013.
De Silvestro had fourth- and sixth-place finishes to her credit at St. Petersburg driving for other teams. She had a second-place finish on a street course in Houston in late 2013. But she would have to quickly adapt to the car and the new “aero kits” the IndyCar series has introduced this year.
And for the most part, she did. None of her misfortunes Sunday happened because she wasn’t quick enough.
“She did good,” Michael Andretti said. “Everybody is really happy with her. They said she was just as impressive outside of the car as she was in it. I hope we can get more done.”
Sunday was pretty crazy. De Silvestro had her first problem when she came out of the pits on lap 20 and found herself in the same spot on the course as Hunter-Reay and Munoz. Hunter-Reay passed her, but Munoz made contact with the side of her car, causing a punctured tire and some bodywork damage.
“I’m not quite sure what [Munoz] was thinking there,” de Silvestro said. “But that started the whole downhill thing from there. We lost a lot of pace right there, and then we were always behind the eight ball a little bit.”
De Silvestro broke a front wing a short while later on a restart and then, before the halfway point, she ran hard into the back of James Jakes’ machine in the hairpin turn before the main straightaway. The contact knocked Jakes off the course and doomed him to a 22nd-place finish, 10 laps behind the leaders.
IndyCar race control reviewed the incident and assessed de Silvestro a drive-through penalty.
“His tires were pretty much done. He broke really early into the last turn, and I couldn’t really avoid him,” de Silvestro said. “I was kind of like full throttle where he was, but at the end of the day, it kind of seems like I took him out.”
Michael Andretti saw the same thing.
“I think she got caught out because he [Jakes] was so slow because [Jakes’] tires were worn out,” he said. “I think she just miscalculated it. I don’t think she expected that.”
With the damage, extra time in the pits and penalty, de Silvestro finished behind her three teammates. Hunter-Reay, the 2012 IndyCar champion and defending Indy 500 champion, finished seventh. Marco Andretti was 10th, and Munoz was 14th.
IndyCar heads to the New Orleans area in two weeks for the inaugural Grand Prix of New Orleans, but it remains to be seen whether de Silvestro will be there in the No. 25 Andretti car.
“We’re close,” Michael Andretti said. “We getting close, so I’m hopeful.”