PHILADELPHIA (AP) — With a race car parked on a city sidewalk, Simona de Silvestro shared tales of her ride from European karting all the way to a date in Indianapolis.
“I started when I was 6,” she told a group of local Philadelphia students. “It’s funny, when I look at pictures now, my helmet was way too big.”
Her helmet fits fine these days — one she’ll wear driving for team owner Michael Andretti in the Indianapolis 500.
Andretti Autosport has found its fifth and likely final entry for the Indianapolis 500 with the addition of de Silvestro to the lineup. The Swiss-born de Silvestro ran last weekend’s season-opening race at St. Petersburg for Andretti and finished 18th. Andretti said he had hoped to add her for the Indy 500, and Thursday announced she’ll drive the No. 29 TE Connectivity Honda.
Andretti said outside The Franklin Institute, a science museum, he was working on deals that could add de Silvestro to even more races.
“We want to keep her in the car all year, if we can,” Andretti said. “We’re working on it. But the 500 is the big one.”
Andretti won the Indianapolis 500 last year with Ryan Hunter-Reay, and will field cars this season for Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Carlos Munoz, Justin Wilson and de Silvestro.
“Ryan won last year, so it’s the team you want to be with at the 500,” de Silvestro said. “Hopefully, that’ll put me in the mix right up there with them.”
Up first for Andretti is figuring out a way to knock off the Team Penske contenders and have his Hondas get up to speed with the early Chevrolet dominance.
The four Penske drivers led every on-track session through the streets of St. Petersburg and qualified 1-2-3-4 in the season opener. Led by race winner Juan Pablo Montoya, Penske finished in four of the top-five spots.
“I think they’re a little ahead of us, especially Penske because I think they understand the kit a little more than we do, the Honda teams,” Andretti said. “We were off a bit. We were mainly off to the Penskes. But if you look at the rest of the field, we were a lot closer.”
Chevrolet took the top six spots in the debut race for manufacturer-designed aerodynamic bodykits.
“I know that our drivers were not happy with the cars, so that means there’s a lot more time to come once we get the right setups,” Andretti said. “There’s no need to panic yet.”
Andretti said with a smile his team could sweep the top-five spots at the Indianapolis 500. The 26-year-old de Silvestro will attempt to make her fifth start in Indy. She’s the lone female entered in the race.
“It’s always a special feeling,” she said. “Hopefully, we can show what we can do in the race car.”
She has one podium finish in 66 career IndyCar races.
De Silvestro left IndyCar last season to become a test driver in Formula One, but her funding package fell apart and she’s trying to put together a return to full-time IndyCar racing.
She lives out of an Indianapolis hotel waiting for opportunities.
“It’s hard to plan stuff,” she said. “You know you might be racing, so you keep working hard.”
Her worth ethic was just one quality that impressed Andretti.
“She’s the fastest woman driver out there,” Andretti said. “What impressed us, really impressed us, was outside the car. When she was in the debriefs with her teammates, they all were really impressed with her feedback on what the car is doing.”
TE Connectivity CEO Tom Lynch didn’t rule out more sponsorship in IndyCar but said the company was interested in involvement with Formula E, a fully electric racing series.
Andretti fielded a car in last year’s Indy 500 for 2004 NASCAR champion Kurt Busch in his attempt to complete an IndyCar and NASCAR race on the same day. With Busch’s legal woes hampering a return effort this season, Andretti said he’d eventually like to make another run at The Double with Busch.
“We talked, but not about this year,” he said. “We left the door open to try and maybe do something next year.”
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