From A Firestorm Grows A Fan Base

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What started out as a scary and frightening situation, may turn out to be a career defining moment for Simona de Silvestro. The way that the twenty-one year old driver from Switzerland handled herself at the moment she found herself trapped in a burning racecar and in the minutes and then days afterwards; would make the most skeptic viewer become an instant fan.

While knowledgeable racing fans knew what an up-and-coming talent Simona was, those that were less-informed wrote her off as just another female trying to cash in on the fame of Danica Patrick. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I’ve said more than once, that if Danica is still in the IZOD IndyCar Series next year – she will be regularly out-performed by Simona de Silvestro. There are only two things that Danica has over Simona – experience and equipment. A year from now, de Silvestro will have the experience – hopefully she’ll have better equipment.

But comparing Simona to only the other female drivers makes me feel a little like Brent Musburger – except that I can actually pronounce her name. Simona’s talent crosses gender lines. A much more fair comparison to draw is to look at what EJ Viso did with the same HVM Racing team that Simona is currently driving for. Last year, as a second year driver, EJ Viso’s average  finishing position through the first seven races was 18.1, which is identical to what Simona de Silvestro has done as a rookie through the first seven races of this year – and on a smaller budget.

Simona de Silvestro brought impressive credentials to her first season in the IZOD IndyCar Series. She drove in the Atlantic series in 2008 and 2009; winning one race in 2008, while earning four victories in 2009. Although she led the points battle for most of 2009, de Silvestro ultimately finished third in the standings. She also won the 2010 Indianapolis 500 Chase Rookie of the year award.

But all of those impressive entries to her resume won’t carry her as far as the way she handled herself during and after her fiery crash at Texas Motor Speedway on the night of June 5th. As the Holmatro Safety Crew stood around looking hopelessly confused, Simona did the best she could to extricate herself from the encroaching inferno. With the aid of the safety crew, she was finally able to escape a very scary scene.

In the days that have passed, it has become popular to kick the Holmatro Safety Team. I’ve done it as well. Now that we know the outcome, it is almost comical to watch the crew members stare at each other wondering why their hose doesn’t work, while Simona sat in such a precarious spot. But it was no laughing matter.

Over the years, no matter what their sponsored name – the safety crew for BOTH open-wheel series has been superb and far superior to NASCAR’s practice of utilizing local safety workers at each track. I’ve heard it said that this was their “mulligan” or their “one off night”. Well I’m sorry; but I don’t think anyone who deals with the high stakes that they do, can afford an off night. The good thing I’m hearing is that apparently, neither do they. I’ve heard and read that the members of the Holmatro Safety Team were embarrassed and really took this to heart. Surely they will review exactly what happened, develop an immediate back-up plan and then learn to execute said plan. Based on what we’ve all seen over the years from this bunch, I feel confident that we won’t ever see a repeat of the bungling we saw at Texas.

Getting back to Simona de Silvestro…the calmness she displayed for the television interview, just moments after the fire, speaks volumes for her demeanor. It is very easy to become a fan of a young, rookie driver that takes such an event in stride without seeking someone to blame. No one would have blamed her for bashing the safety crew that had seemingly left her in peril moments earlier. She could even be forgiven for slamming her own crew for giving her such an ill-handling car, given the heat of the moment (pun intended). It would have been easy to lay blame anywhere after experiencing such a frightening moment.

Instead, she took it all in stride, assured everyone that her bandaged hand was fine and vowed to be back in the car by Iowa. Even given a couple of days to dwell on what she had been through, she still refused to sound bitter about the whole incident. She just wanted to get to the next race.

This is a racer. This is a racer from the old-school mindset. This is a racer that would make AJ Foyt proud. She has little sponsorship and is saddled with a small team that doesn’t match her talents. But she wants to race and is going about it the only way she knows how – the old fashioned way of starting with a small team, proving yourself and hoping some better funded team owners will take notice

In the meantime, by displaying pure class on and off the track. Simona de Silvestro is quickly growing her fan base. But in one final comparison to Ms. Patrick, Simona’s fan base is comprised mostly of knowledgeable racing fans who appreciate the way she is furthering her career – by driving the wheels off the racecar, not blaming anyone when the car won’t go and making the best of her situation. Here’s hoping some team owners with deeper pockets are taking note.

George Phillips

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13 Responses to “From A Firestorm Grows A Fan Base”

  1. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    Bravo George, and brava to the very racey Ms. de Silvestro….

  2. I can’t resist this George. (Well, I could, but this is too easy to pass up.) Are you trying to say Simona is the hottest new star in Indycar?

    BTW, this is another well thought and written article. Keep them coming.

  3. Your point about the knowledgable fans becoming Simona’s fans is a very good one. Male or female it, it usually takes a serious fan to recognize the talent driving for the backmarker team. Unfortunately for Simona, that fan base isn’t nearly as deep as those “reading” the SI swimsuit issue or watching GoDaddy commercials.

    I have really enjoyed watching Simona drive this year. She has an EXCELLENT personality, which unfortunately we rarely get to see since she is usually running at the finish. She has certainly outperformed her equipment in a way that the usual stats cannot quantify. I should leave this out, but, I call her The Anti-Danica since in so many ways she is what Danica isn’t. Bravo to anyone who helped get her in a car and those providing the funding to keep her in it.

  4. I met her in Saint Petersburg and Alabama. Simona seemed to be a level-headed, relaxed, humorous, knowledgeable person ( as are many IndyCar racers and Indy Lights racers). And she speaks English better than I speak any of her other languages.

  5. “Silvester DiSimona” was my favorite new driver before Texas, now she’s just my favorite driver.

    I think the safety crews–despite their historical excellent–should have a l required safety demonstration before each race to show how their hoses work. Just in case they don’t work.

    • Bent Wickerbill Says:

      Or…. How about not ever stepping off of the rescue vehicle to “rescue” someone on fire without a freaking “fire extinguisher”, regardless of whether water ever comes out of the hose, it still takes much longer to unfurl a hose and charge it with water than it does for two people to immediately step off of a vehicle with fire extinguishers and begine hosing the person o fire down….

  6. Excellent post as always, George. I have been a fan of Simona’s since she arrived in the U.S. about 2006-though I may be wrong-to drive in the now-defunct Formula BMW series. I thought when she gets to the high-level series she would be a star, and I still believe that. Hopefully next year she will be in IndyCar in a car that will allow her to display the talent that I and many others believe she possesses.

  7. Simona’s been really impressive all year. I’ve been impressed since her strong run at Sao Paolo, and she’s done well. Indy was especailly impressive becaue many people worried she’d fail to qualify, yet she out qualified Danica. She ran well all race, avoided wrecking, and considering her teams budget and lack of oval experince, ran very well. She’s torn up less equipment than Viso, who I like, but he was pretty rough on equipment.

  8. I was so highly impressed with Simona’s interviews after the Texas incident that I drafted a letter to Keith Wiggins, Chairman and CEO of HVM Racing, to tell him how impressed I was with the class of their driver. I also told him that all those at HVM and their sponsors should be proud to have such a driver in their stable because she not only exudes class but also shows a great driving talent.
    I think over the next couple years she is going to become a much more prevalent face in Izod IndyCar marketing campaigns. Potential sponsors are in a great position to get attached to her name/image now while it is cheaper and then reap the benefits later when her image is plastered all over commercials. Simona seems very personable and likable (with fairly decent English skills) which is great for any potential long term sponsors. However, more importantly she has the potential to finish quite highly given the proper equipment and budget. A likable, female, race winner would seem to be marketing gold and a sponsor’s dream.

    • Good for your Chris – team owners need to hear this kind of positive feedback about their drivers!

    • Chris – Thanks for your words. We as a team are very proud of Simona. She is an amazing driver and person.
      Your are right, now is the time to become a potential sponsor. We are always looking for companies interested in sponsoring Simona. If you want to see your company name on her car in a city coming your way or are looking into sponsorship for next year, contact us. If you or anyone you know is interested in finding out more about sponsorship contact :
      Exec. VP, Operations
      Kevin Lee
      E-mail: klee@hvminc.net

      or

      Events Manager
      Susan Wohlt
      Email: swohlt@hvminc.net

  9. Good post George. I started following Simona’s career the middle of last year, and then more closely since December when she was aiming to get into IndyCar. Every interview and press release gives the impression that she just wants to drive and win! Even a close call doesn’t change her focus and positive attitude. I look forward to seeing her determination reap significant rewards.

  10. Mike Silver Says:

    Another rgeat post, george. I have been impressed with Simona all year and Texas put an exclamation point on what an asset to the series she is. Some vets in the series should be following her example.

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