If the maiden victory of James Hinchcliffe was story #1 coming out of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, then the resurgence of fourth-year driver Simona de Silvestro was story #1b.
The popular Swiss driver ran strong all weekend long and narrowly missed a top-five finish when she was passed coming to the checkered flag while desperately trying to hold on to a car with badly worn tires.
Out of the gate, de Silvestro was ready to have a productive weekend going into her first official experience with the powerful Chevrolet engine behind her.
“We rolled off the truck pretty good,” she says. “On Friday, we were pretty fast. After the year I had last year with the Lotus situation, it felt like a new beginning.”
Being competitive in practice, however, wasn’t her goal. She looked to carry the momentum forward into qualifying — an experience, she says, that made her a bit more apprehensive.
“I was a bit nervous going into qualifying because I don’t think I have done a qualifying run in a long time,” she explains while alluding to the fact that she never had a realistic chance of advancing past the first round in her previous underpowered Lotus car.
Interestingly, being a threat to advance to the Firestone Fast 6 presents de Silvestro with a new challenge she did not previously face.
“When you end up in the Fast 6,” she says, “you have less tires than if you get kicked out in the first round. There are all these new things we never had dealt with before. When you have the speed, you have to think you might end up in the Fast 6.”
It’s a lesson de Silvestro is excited to learn.
While she was pleased to bring her #78 Entergy Nuclear Clean Air Chevrolet home in 6th position, she had hoped for even better results after running in the top five for most of the afternoon. Still, she understands what a learning experience it was.
“It was a good experience. There’s a lot of strategy going into a race. Maybe there are some things I could have done better. Those are really good things that I can look back on now and make them better when we go back to Barber. We ended up with a P6, which isn’t what we wanted, but at the end of the day I think it was a really good start. ”
De Silvestro admits she and her team weren’t quite sure where they were in terms of competitiveness before the weekend but now have the confidence of knowing they can compete with the top teams.
“We know we deserve to be there,” she declares. “We want to run up front. We want to get podiums. I think we’re capable of doing that.”
So, where is de Silvestro most looking forward to going now that she feels her equipment puts her on equal footing?
“I’ve always been pretty good in Brazil,” she says. “I’m looking forward to going there.”
De Silvestro recognizes that she has come a long way since she was a rookie in 2010.
“I feel like I’ve earned my stripes a bit,” she admits. “The first year was really good, and the last two years there were a lot of things happening that weren’t so great.”
Through her mistakes, though, she has learned and matured and now feels like it is possible that she can earn his first IZOD IndyCar Series victory.
If and when that happens, it will assuredly be one of the most popular victories on both sides of the fence.
Simona de Silvestro spoke recently with More Front Wing on many more topics, including working with new teammate Tony Kanaan, her goals going forward in 2013, her return to Indianapolis, and much more. To hear the interview in its entirety, tune in to the More Front Wing podcast, which will be posted tomorrow morning. Find us on iTunes or right here at morefrontwing.com.