Will An IndyCar Favorite Return For 2015?

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Last season, the Verizon IndyCar Series was without one of its promising stars. Simona de Silvestro decided to take a chance and take the steps necessary to fulfill her ultimate dream of being a Formula One driver. Due to a chain of unfortunate circumstances, let’s just say that it didn’t work out.

Some IndyCar fans can’t comprehend the allure that Formula One has on its drivers. I’ll admit to being a very casual fan of Formula One these days, but I certainly understand why some drivers always have it in the back of their minds. To many, including the Swiss born and raised de Silvestro – it’s what they grew up with. But it’s not just a European thing. I’m probably not too far off target by saying that every Brazilian driver that has come through the American open-wheel ranks, has always dreamed of racing in Formula One. The feats of their childhood idols Emerson Fittipaldi and Ayrton Senna were embedded into them at an early age.

But the transition from Indy cars to Formula One has traditionally been difficult for most drivers. Juan Montoya and Jacques Villeneuve are some fairly recent examples of drivers that had success on both sides of the pond. Montoya won six races in his Formula One career, while Villeneuve won the 1997 Formula One World Championship, just two years after winning the 1995 Indianapolis 500 and the CART championship that same season.

But those two examples are pretty much the exception and not the norm over the last two decades. History tells us it’s much easier to make the transition from F1 to Indy cars. Most drivers that leave the US for the grandeur of Formula One, come back with bruised egos. Simona de Silvestro is only the latest in a long line of drivers to humbly return stateside looking to resurrect their careers.

Last week, Marshall Pruett wrote an article on Racer.com, describing the difficulties that Simona endured with Sauber and how she is definitely looking for an IndyCar ride for 2015. There aren’t many seats left for 2015 and even fewer that will be competitive. I don’t see her headed to Michael Andretti’s team, and I’m not sure Dale Coyne Racing or Bryan Herta Autosport is where she needs to be. That leaves her last team, KVSH Racing as her best choice.

But is Simona their best choice? After winning the 2013 Indianapolis 500 with Tony Kanaan, they made great strides last year with Sébastien Bourdais in the cockpit that Kanaan vacated in order to move on to Target Chip Ganassi Racing. I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect Bourdais to do a whole lot after the results he had gotten at Dragon Racing. Bourdais produced a win, a podium and three more Top-Fives on his way to a tenth-place finish in the points. They look to build from there heading into next year.

It seems fairly obvious that Sebastian Saavedra will not be back with KVSH. Quite honestly, I think anyone in the second team-car to Bourdais will be a better teammate than Saavedra was. If we have seen the last of Saavedra in the series, it will suit me just fine.

The question is, do they want another proven race-winning veteran to run alongside Bourdais or is someone with potential like de Silvestro fit the bill? Curiously enough, they haven’t asked me for my opinion, but if they did – I would recommend the talented and popular Swiss driver.

Of course, there is also the question of money. The article didn’t mention anything about Simona bringing cash by way of a sponsor. I’m not quite sure what became of her previous sponsor, Nuclear Clean Air Energy. That could be the deciding factor whether Simona goes to KVSH or anywhere for that matter.

One thing is certain; if a company chose Simona de Silvestro to represent them at the track, they would get a ton of exposure. She is immensely popular among fans.

Simona won fans over with her lack of whining over the years. Being saddled for three seasons on a low-budget team like HVM Racing would be demoralizing for the heartiest of drivers. But she kept her mouth shut and always praised her crew. Then, we all witnessed on television as she sat in a burning car at Texas Motor Speedway and the fire hose malfunctioned. After she was eventually rescued, she was interviewed with her burned hands bandaged. She could have thrown blame around many directions. Instead, she chose to laugh it off and focused on the next race.

At Indianapolis the next season, she suffered severe burns in a practice crash. Her car flipped over and the fuel cell ruptured. She was trapped as the ethanol ignited, again burning her hands severely before she was able to get out. This time, she didn’t just laugh it off. She was understandably shaken, but was still able to suck up the pain and fear and climb into a much slower backup and get enough speed out of the car to qualify, when the likes of Ryan Hunter-Reay and Mike Conway could not. That gusty performance won the hearts of the Speedway faithful that day.

For 2012, she was the only driver on the grid that had to drive a car with the agonizingly slow Lotus engine. Many drivers would have whined and pouted and used the Lotus as a convenient excuse for poor performance. Again, de Silvestro kept her mouth shut, put her visor down and just drove.

She finally got the break we had all been hoping for in 2013. She joined what appeared to be a better funded KV Racing Technology (now KVSH), had the much-desired Chevy engine in the back of her car and had a former champion as a teammate in Tony Kanaan. But in those days, there were some strange things happening at KV. Aside from winning the “500”, it was an abysmal season. With three races to go, Kanaan knew he was moving to Ganassi and the whole team seemed disjointed.

Who can blame Simona for wanting to leave a dysfunctional team setting when what looked to be an avenue to her dream job opened up at Sauber. She was never promised a ride at Sauber; but as an “affiliated driver”, she saw this as a possible route to an F1 seat for 2015. Like so many Formula One dreams, it went unfulfilled. She now joins the impressive list of CART/Champ Car/IndyCar drivers including Michael Andretti, Alex Zanardi and Bourdais that have left the States only to return shaking their heads. That’s another reason why I think Bourdais and de Silvestro will make good teammates – they can commiserate about their failed time in Formula One.

My fear is that it may be too late for Simona de Silvestro to land a competitive ride for 2015 – with emphasis on the word competitive. If she can’t, should she take what she can get and make the best of it, or should she be patient and focus on 2016. She did not race at all in 2014. If she waits for the 2016 season, that may be too long. She will be twenty-seven by the time the 2016 season starts and out of a car for two and a half years since Fontana of 2013. The very best would get rusty in that time frame. Although it’s not ideal, she may best be served to take a one-year deal anywhere for 2015.

But this much I do know – the Verizon IndyCar Series will be better off in 2015 if Simona de Silvestro is back on the grid in a full-time ride. Let’s hope it happens.

George Phillips

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20 Responses to “Will An IndyCar Favorite Return For 2015?”

  1. Who can forget Simona qualifying for the 500 with her burnt hand all wrapped up?! I hope she gets a good ride and I wish her well wherever she races in 2015. While I don’t have direct knowledge of this, I believe she will do better without her former management team.

  2. The series definitely needs more drivers like Simona…

    • It would be nice if there were more like her. Keeping the pie hole shut is a challenge for many drivers. Its seems as difficult as it is to even land an IndyCar ride, if one is fortunate enough to get one, the best plan is to be grateful for your situation. Simona exemplifies an appreciative driver with skills and there is a competitive streak in her that allures her to fans. I’m afraid it is too late for her to land a competitive ride for ’15 but who knows. As we all know it would be good for IndyCar if she came back. I will also bring attention to the elephant in the room, that she has more talent, and lets face it, strength, than Danica Patrick.

      What IndyCar could use is DP and Simona in the Indy 500 both in competitive rides.

  3. Thank you! Thank you for not once referring to Simona as a “female” driver. You referred to her driving skills and not that she’s a novelty act. So few get that. You get it.

    • DZ-groundedeffects Says:

      Spot on, IndyCarla. I forget who coined the phrase originally, “the car doesn’t know if you’re male or female”, but that is perfectly stated.

  4. The Nuclear people love Simona and consider her a great spokeswoman. They have been with her a long time so hopefully they will stay. But they can’t be very happy about the money they wasted on the Formula 1 experiment where they got basically nothing in return. I wish someone would find out if they will continue to sponsor Simona or if they left when she split with her manager. That is probably the key to her future.

  5. I’d really like to see her back in Indycar with a competitive team.

  6. Realistically, if you know her heart is in F1, why would you as an owner want to take a chance on her? Of course, if she brings sponsorship, we all know that trumps everything in modern day Indy car. Still, would be a pretty big investment to then have a driver potentially leave in two or three years. That might work against her more than anything.

  7. When you say “competitive ride” you narrow the field by half (true of most every racing series, not just IndyCar). While there are more equal opportunities in IndyCar than other series, let’s not kid ourselves that it’s a completely gender-neutral series. Unfortunately, given the landscape of who’s got a spot open, I think it will be up to Simona to bring a big check to get into a more competitive ride. The bigger the check, the more competitive the team.

  8. While I understand the importance of “keeping one’s pie hole shut”…should I as a driver be eternally grateful that some half-committed (I’d prefer to use the other “half-” phrase, but I won’t) owners took that $4 million check I brought to them and gave me a far-less-than-competitive ride in return? Regrettably, that’s the situation that drivers like Simona find themselves in now, and that’s essentially what did in Dreyer & Reinbold…pulling that kind of crap on their second driver, year after year. That doesn’t make it any easier for your champion inside your sponsor’s organization to justify continued involvement. If it were Simona, I’d be knocking on the doors of sportscar teams with whatever I could offer.

  9. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    I have to wonder about her (recently parted) management and what effect it had on relationships with team owners. Likewise, I wonder if she’s better off now. Hopefully her new beginning leads to better opportunities than before. I liked her immensely in Indycar and ideally for me, she’ll be there in upper-half equipment and crew.

    I’d hate to see her saddled with any sub-par equipment again so until the balance of aerokit performance shakes out, maybe this would be a good season for her to be the road course specialist at CFH…

    • I like the idea of S. at CFH as road course specialist. Put her in a decent ride, with Sarah, and I don’t think she’d miss ovals.

  10. This was a waste of time. I thought it would be about Tom Sneva or Gordon Johncock.

  11. I remember a couple of comments that Simona made that I thought were unintentially funny:

    Once she pointed out to an American reporter with great indignation that Louis Chevrolet was Swiss born. “WHAT?! YOU DID NOT KNOW THAT??!!

    Another time a reporter asked her what she liked best about racing at Iowa, expecting some answer about the track I suppose. Her answer: “I like the pork chop on a stick!”

    A charming person and a damn good driver IMHO.

    Can you imagine the collective sigh of relief or the sounds of fans jumping for joy if both she and Justin Wilson got good rides?

  12. Race fans – I just received an email that the new IndyCar calendar for 2015 is available. I am planning to buy a couple to put under the tree. http://www.umponline.com/calendar/

  13. There are potentially a number of places for Simona, though most will require money. Sam Schmit likely has an open 2nd car. Andretti has a 4th car for the highest bidder. It’s a little late, but if she’s got more money than Abt or whoever else is going for that ride then she’ll get it. Rahal Letterman could always throw a second car together; would it be a good ride? Well… no one knows. KV would be a good ride though I am not sure where their relationships stand. Remember Mike Conway may leave ECR for Toyota WEC, so if that opens up and Hildebrand for whatever reason does not get the ride, there’s a clearly winning car. Only flaw there is if Simona does not win she will look Danica-esque. Herta would be a replay of HVM; talented driver and team but horribly low funding.

    I think the change in management is a big deal. I’ve never heard anything positive about her old group. They had money but many teams outright refused to work with them. When money hungry Indycar teams won’t take your cash, you know there’s a problem. So does she have any cash? Or a sponsor at the ready? Because if she does then options are open, and if she doesn’t then better hope Ed and Hildebrand get in a fight over Christmas. A middle ground option of course would be a few part time rides, perhaps at AA or KV or ECR or Sam Schmit. or Rahal Letterman. IF she could do well (RE: Conway winning with Coyne) she could get back on the right track

  14. Simona qualifying at Indy after having suffered those burns in the qualifying crash sure enough got her the respect of the whole audience. And the mid-field position she qualified in that day was impressive, too, given the fact that she drove “#78 Pork Chop” to this position, the several years old chassis which she named after the dish “pork chop on a stick”. And she got the whole paddock’s sympathy when the new chassis arrived and she was stuck with the underdeveloped and underfunded Lotus engine, and effectively having to drive “#78 Pork Chop, Jr.” because of it. That probably would have been more fun if it had had a twitter account, too. Her runner-up finish at Houston was the sign she had settled in at the team and more good results were to come on the next street courses. Instead, she chose to have a go at F1. I guess Areva was contractually bound to her former manager but she is very well capable of finding a new sponsor herself.
    Once she has a package, she os likely going to shop it around to multi-car teams. That rules out Bryan Herta Autosport as her next employer. I don’t think KVSH will have her back due to what went down last time around. CFH might have an opening for streets and road courses if both Conway doesn’t renew his contract and JR Hildebrand would have enough sponsorship for a full season ride in the #21. Andretti doesn’t seem to have an opening at this point as there already are different drivers lined up for their 4th car, if it materializes. Dale Coyne has always been a man to make official announcements at the last minute. But with a pay driver in the 2nd car, and maybe Pippa Mann in the other for the ovals at least, there may not be an opening at that team either. That leaves Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan who should find a different crew chief than his dad for Graham Rahal. If Simona can find sufficient sponsorship for a full season ride, the 2nd car at RLL might be the only opening she could go for.

  15. There was a question in Curt Cavin’s mailbag if Simona stii has the Nuclear sponsorship and he gave a very vague answer. Apparently Marshall Pruett and Robin Miller don’t know either. I don’t understand why these reporters can’t find out, unless sponsor decisions are not final yet.

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