Turning Up the Heat: How the Swiss Miss Simona De Silvestro Went From Go-Karts to the Grand Prix by Jes Zurell

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Making History: The first woman on the podium at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “If you have a dream or want to drive a race car, you have to just commit to it and realize it’s going to be difficult – and do it anyway.”

Drivers are a unique breed, never satisfied, yet never dissuaded. Simona De Silvestro is no exception. 

In the wake of a rocky Honda Grand Prix weekend in St. Petersburg, Fla., De Silvestro processes failures as a guide toward successes.

“We had a problem with the fuel pump in the car and we didn’t get to finish the race,” she said, picking apart the nitty-gritty. “I don’t think it was the start we were expecting to do, especially with how we started off, but I think we learned a lot from the weekend and I think we can come back armored.”

There’s still a lot of work to do on the car, she noted. As she sees it, there are always alternative routes to explore, and every track session is devoted to working out the kinks. Mere days after St. Petersburg, she already gives herself a personal incentive: the anticipation of racing on the fast track at Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds, AL.

De Silvestro has made remarkable progress as a driver in a relatively short amount of time. Her experiences as a young woman in racing began at an early age, in her native Switzerland. The “Swiss Miss,” as she is fondly called by fans and colleagues alike, has built a reputation for being a formidable competitor.

“My parents tell me that when I was a child I’d get very quiet when racing was on television,” she said. “I started going around in a go-kart when I was six and that’s how it started.”

The small vehicles were the perfect size for De Silvestro and the launch of her career. Getting a feel for competition and speed, she continued to race go-karts throughout Europe until coming to the states in 2006. The move sparked a monumental shift in gears for the Swiss Miss.

On the far side of the Atlantic, she fell in love with open wheel racing, and competed in the Formula BMW USA championship. Beginning in 2007, as a newbie in the Atlantic Championships, De Silvestro garnered a slew of top-10 finishes. She raced the circuit for three years, earning her first victory at Long Beach for Newman-Wachs Racing. This was her time to shine and she rose to the occasion, learning about racing dynamics, about who goes where, the whens and the whys.

“That year I completed my first season in the Formula BMW USA championship,” she said. “I won at Lime Rock and had two third-places at the Grand Prix.”

She went on to make history as the first woman on the podium at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Not too shabby.

“In the beginning it was just for fun,” she said, “but after the first couple of times I drove and did some races, I knew that was what I wanted to do. I was lucky enough to have my parents supporting me and a lot of family and friends who made it possible for me to race and climb the ladder. It’s a dream come true and it’s been pretty good.”

Never once has she looked at racing as being a men’s sport.

Aside from missing “nice European bread and chocolate in the morning,” De Silvestro enjoys the American racing circuits as much as those from back home. Never once has she looked at racing as being a men’s sport.

“If I could race anyone out there, I’d have to say it’d be cool to race against Michael Schumacher,” she said. “He’s the German Mercedes competitor who races in Formula One. He’s always kind of been my hero and it’d be cool to race against him. If you have a dream or want to drive a race car, you have to just commit to it and realize it’s going to be difficult – and do it anyway.”

Be sure to tune in this Sunday and cheer on Simona at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this Sunday, May 27, 2012. The 2012 Indy 500 will air on ABC beginning at 11:00 a.m. ET.

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