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Auto Racing

De Silvestro must take advantage of powerful engine

| Saturday, May 23, 2015, 10:38 p.m.
In this May 12, 2015, driver Simona de Silvestro watches during practice for the Indianapolis 500 in Indianapolis. Ten years after Danicamania became a national catchphrase out of Indy, there seems to be a decided lack of talented women racers. De Silvestro and Pippa Mann are the only women in the 33-car field, and neither is considered a serious contender for the checkered flag for the race, Sunday, May 24, 2015.
In this May 12, 2015, driver Simona de Silvestro watches during practice for the Indianapolis 500 in Indianapolis. Ten years after Danicamania became a national catchphrase out of Indy, there seems to be a decided lack of talented women racers. De Silvestro and Pippa Mann are the only women in the 33-car field, and neither is considered a serious contender for the checkered flag for the race, Sunday, May 24, 2015.

INDIANAPOLIS — No one, it seems, will be surprised if Simona de Silvestro is in contention over the final laps of the 99th Indianapolis 500 on Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The Swiss driver will make her fifth start at the Brickyard, but it is the first time she'll pilot a car equal to her talent. In four starts with the HVM and KV racing teams, she finished on the lead lap in cars with underpowered engines.

This time, Andretti Autosport supplied a high-powered machine that reached 229.978 mph during Monday's post-qualifying practice session. De Silvestro, who will start on the inside of Row 7, dialed it back during Friday's practice with a speed of 224.405 mph.

Michael Andretti wasn't searching for speed during the final practice session. Instead, he wanted to see how his five drivers would respond in packs. And how they might push and pull during drafting over the 200-lap race.

“We didn't run the way wanted in qualifying because we had some issues on the engine side,” said de Silvestro, who finished 14th in her first Indy 500 start in 2010. “Being a part of a team like this gives you a lot of confidence.

“We have five drivers who are open to working together, and that makes a big difference.”

Andretti used a similar strategy last year with defending champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carlos Munoz and Marco Andretti. He added muscle with de Silvestro and Justin Wilson in hopes toppling favorites Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing.

“We want to win, and we have the drivers to do so,” de Silvestro said. “Ryan and I have similar driving styles, so we tend to lean on each other. Where I haven't had the best experience, I've been able to talk about it with Ryan and Marco.

“There's no strategy, but this year is the best situation I've been in at the speedway.”

De Silvestro starts the last of a three-race deal with Andretti. But her teammates hope a strong showing will garner sponsorship deals to earn a full-time ride.

“I think it's clear to everyone in the paddock that Simona is an excellent driver,” Hunter-Reay said. “She has made our team stronger, and I'm confident she'll be running strong at the end.”

De Silvestro hasn't proven to be among the series' best drivers. She had a second-place finish in Houston in 2013, but that didn't earn her full-time job in the IndyCar Series. Instead, she bounced from circuit to circuit, including Formula One.

Again, she proved capable when Andretti gave her ride earlier this year. She finished all 110 laps in the season opener at St. Petersburg, Fla., and was fourth in New Orleans.

Yet she was without a ride the past three races, mostly because Andretti Autosport couldn't secure a sponsor.

“It all depends on sponsorships,” she said. “My focus is to secure a full-time ride next year. It'll be cool to get more races, but it's also important in the long term to get more races to give you something to build on.

“Once you're in this situation of not driving fulltime, the perspective changes a little bit where you're enjoying it more. I'm just taking more in and enjoying myself instead of thinking about other things.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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