Strong end of 2013 season gives Simona momentum heading into 2014

Simona de Silvestro is coming off a career best season in 2013. She ended the season 13th in points and capped it off with some spirited runs including 5 straight top ten finishes including a long awaited first podium at Houston Race 1.

Her season started strong with 3 top ten finishes in the first 4 races including a potential podium at St. Petersburg dashed by worn tires, but hit a mid season slump from Detroit thru Toronto which dropped her as low as 19th in the standings.

After speaking with her engineer Gerald Tyler after the second Houston race, what came to light was a bit of a disagreement between the two engineering camps of KV Racing teammate Tony Kanaan’s team and her team throughout the season, which led to her struggles.

Simona discusses the situation:

The biggest thing is that Tony and I drive the cars differently on the road and street courses. In the middle of the season I think we were trying too much to make the two cars have a similar platform. It wasn’t exactly what he [Tony] wanted and it wasn’t exactly what I wanted and it was always a mix and match in the car.

At Mid-Ohio we took the decision on our car to focus on what I needed in the race car and it started working.

When I look at this year, I wish we would have done that a little bit earlier but, you’re a team right? You have to figure out how everything works and that’s something I learned, at the end of the day as a driver you need what you need.

Indeed it did, things quickly turned around for her. She finished 11th at Mid-Ohio after starting 8th and things got better from there.

Sonoma started rough with only posting the 22nd fastest time in qualifying, but during the race she charged to the front on two occasions. The first run was cut short after being spun by Sebastien Bourdais on lap 17, which set her back in the pack. The second run ended with her finishing in 9th place.

Baltimore was off to a similar start where she posted the 17th fastest time in qualifying. She drove through the field again and was caught up in one of the turn 1 accidents of the day, but she managed to get restarted, make it back to the pits to change the wing and continue on. During the final stint of the day, pushed forward and came across the line in 5th place.

Come the first race of the weekend at Houston, things started off great with qualifying in 6th place and come the race, she showed what she is made of. She was in the top 5 for much of the day and pulled off some daring passes against her competition and come the final stint of the day she found herself in second place behind Scott Dixon. Determined to get that podium, she held off a strong charge by Justin Wilson to take 2nd place and was catching Dixon a few tenths a lap until a yellow flag ended the race and she collected her first career podium.

Simona discusses the final laps of the race:

It was crazy being in that position, it’s funny because I was in that position at St. Pete when I was running 3rd and the tires went away so those things were in my mind.

I was like, okay I’m going to hold onto this one, whatever it takes. This is ours!

Justin was putting on the pressure behind me, but I wasn’t going to give that 2nd place away at all!

Qualifying for the second Houston race was rained out, which put her in the 17th starting position, which hurt her chances for backing up her awesome performance from the day before. She finished in 10th, and charged hard to overcome a penalty for avoidable contact earlier in the race.

The season finale at Fontana was a race for survival for everybody and she was caught up in the lap 111 crash but was able to continue on and after her crew made repairs to her car she managed to finish in 8th place which was her best finish on an oval.

So what is next for Simona? Attitude wise, she has one of the best in the paddock. She is always willing to learn, looking for ways to improve herself and take positives out of any situation. For her to take the next step, she feels that it is a matter of having everything come together in the right way:

In IndyCar the competitiveness is so high, so there is a lot of things that have to go right. The biggest thing is having the people around you having the same goal and I think that is the key–having the people around you to achieve that goal.

As one who is always learning something, de Silvestro feels that the biggest thing she learned is staying true to herself and going with her gut felling and going with what she expected.

“Even if it is a bad decision I think you’re going to be standing true to yourself,” she says.

This was also the first season in a while where de Silvestro did not have something catastrophic happen that dampened the entire season. In 2011 she got hurt at Indianapolis and Milwaukee and her team was forced to an older, heavier car. In 2012, there was Lotus, need I say more. So from that perspective, not having those setbacks allowed de Silvestro to shine a bit more and with her team’s change in direction before Mid Ohio allowed the best to come of her.

Her superspeedway performance was up this year, Texas specifically where she started in 22nd and was working towards a top ten finish until a penalty knocked her down to 16th in the final rundown. Even when she was a lap down she was hanging with the leaders. Pocono she ran inside the top ten until a yellow caught her a lap down. She took the waive around and soldiered on to finish 11th. At Fontana, it started rough and got rougher when she was caught in the big one, but at the end of the day she ended the night in 8th place.

Having Tony Kanaan to lean on was a plus, as she never had a teammate before and valuable insight from Kanaan helped her out.

On the short ovals at Milwaukee and Iowa, those were her worst moments of the season. She was quick in the first practice at Milwaukee, but she was never able to regain the speed in the qualifying or race sessions. At Iowa she struggled during the heat races and the race itself.

“When I look at things I need to focus on for next year it’s really going to be those two tracks,” she said. “At those kind of tracks you’re never going to have a perfect car and it’s just a matter of dealing with it.”

“Even though this year’s races there weren’t great I really learned from it. I feel more confident going back there this year.”

As of right now, she does not have a deal signed for 2014 and her management team is still shopping around for the best ride. After coming off a career best season, she is definitely worth considering if you are a team owner. Her tenacity, plucky and professional attitude is very admirable and makes her someone to cheer for.

Now for a bit of food for thought. With the #10 car coming available in the wake of Dario Franchitti’s retirement, it maybe an outside chance of her landing that ride, but think of it this way. James Hinchcliffe was a bit of a gamble when Michael Andretti hired him in 2012. He only had a decent rookie season season under his belt along with feeder series experience and had not won a race yet. Charlie Kimball was also a bit of a gamble when Chip picked him up and it took him a few years for him to thrive, but he is on his way now.

The same thing could potentially happen with Simona in a top flight ride like Ganassi. The talent and skill is there, she just needs everything to come together.

“If we could end up with Chip that would be pretty special,” she says. “We’re trying to talk to them and seeing what they want to do, but it’s their decision if they want us.”

But as with anything, time will tell where she will end up.

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