Simona De Silvestro and Paretta Autosport made their unofficial debut at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Indy 500 Open Test April 8-9, and the team has hit the asphalt running.
De Silvestro’s rain-shortened day Thursday consisted of her completing her veteran refresher test. She turned 51 laps, with a best speed of 218.927 mph in her first day on the historic 2.5-mile oval since 2015. She completed the refresher six minutes into the session Friday morning.
The Swiss native said she immediately felt the speed in the car Thursday and Friday and was happy where the new team landed on the speed chart. De Silvestro said unloading off the truck that strongly makes her believe the team has the right preparation to be competive in the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Sunday, May 30.
“It definitely feels pretty fast out there when you haven’t driven here for so long,” she said. “We’re working on the race car and just myself, as well getting comfortable. It’s been really positive. The car feels really good. I felt comfortable right away, which I think is something super positive.
“I think it’s quite exciting when you come here and your car feels pretty fast and pretty comfortable. It gives you that confidence, and I think that’s what you need, especially here.”
This marks De Silvestro’s first run at the Racing Capital of the World since she finished 19th in the 2015 edition of the race. In five starts, she has a best finish of 14th and a best start of 18th. But those starts came with a much different version of an NTT INDYCAR SERIES race car, which didn’t feature the revolutionary Aeroscreen.
De Silvestro, 32, said that aside from relearning the tools available inside the car, the Aeroscreen has been the biggest adjustment on track.
“The Aeroscreen is just a bit different, especially when you’re behind cars,” she said. “Before, you always used to have a bit of helmet buffer when you get close, and now that’s gone. And the thing is, it’s so fast around here that you kind of need to take your time and get your brain to slow down a little bit. It’s already feeling a bit slower and getting comfortable with the car, knowing your lines and what to do.”
While De Silvestro reacclimates herself to the Speedway, her fellow Paretta Autosport teammates are acclimating themselves for the first time. The brand-new team, led by automotive industry mainstay Beth Paretta, is using the Indy 500 Open Test to develop its crew for the Month of May.
Two months ago, Paretta began searching for an all-female crew to service the car and complete pit stops for De Silvestro in this year’s Indy 500. Paretta’s goal is to create a NASCAR-style “fly-in” pit crew, meaning the women that go over the wall focus solely on that role, while other crew members focus on the mechanical, garage-type roles.
Thursday and Friday in Indianapolis, each woman training to be a part of Paretta Autosport’s No. 16 team has a Team Penske mentor that is showing them the ropes and training them for in-race scenarios. Paretta Autosport, part of IMS’ and INDYCAR’s Race for Equality & Change initiative, has a technical alliance with Team Penske.
The women are also gaining experience in a variety of roles, and once the test concludes, Paretta Autosport will see who excelled in what positions and assign them accordingly.
“These women were given an opportunity that they wouldn’t have otherwise considered,” Paretta said. “Not that they wouldn’t have had it, it’s that they wouldn’t have considered it. If they thought of it and they pushed, they probably could’ve done it. It’s letting women know what’s available to them. “
While it’s not the conventional approach, Paretta believes this is the best way for her and the team to find out who will best help them win the Indianapolis 500 next month.
Paretta is also incredibly impressed with her team of women so far. Every woman working on De Silvestro’s car this week has a full-time job. Paretta said they have been honing their skills for six weeks, waking up at 5 a.m. to train before going to their day jobs.
The crew began practicing pit stops on a static car before moving to an electric car that rolls into the pit box, and now practicing live pit stops, slicing time with every session.
“I’ve always said if you have the attitude, the aptitude and the interest, you can learn the skillset,” she said. “We can teach you how to do any of this. Don’t kid yourself. Every person in this garage at one point was a rookie. Ideally, you have the gift sometimes to teach someone who is a rookie, and hopefully these women will teach those behind them.”
Right now, the teachers are seasoned veterans who know their way around the paddock and are eager to see these women quickly pick up what they’re teaching.
“The other thing that really moves me is seeing these men, who are seasoned veterans, who are thoroughly enjoying this entire process,” Paretta said. “Some of these guys can’t say enough about these women’s commitment and work ethic, diligence and interest. (The women are) all sponges. They’re drinking from a firehose, but they’re enjoying it.”
The Paretta Autosport crew members aren’t the only ones learning from seasoned veterans. De Silvestro has been working with Team Penske’s driver lineup of Scott McLaughlin, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Josef Newgarden. She practiced with the drivers in a larger group Friday, and she has also taken part in team debriefs with the drivers.
Additionally, four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears has been in De Silvestro’s pit box, serving as a driving coach and helping her hone her craft and she tries to make history as the first female winner of the Indianapolis 500.
“He’s a legend,” De Silvestro said. “I think he knows his way around here. I think it’s really cool to bounce ideas back and listen to what he says and how he would approach things. I think those are just things when someone who has so much experience to learn quickly and get the process much quicker instead of figuring it out yourself. I’m definitely pinching myself in that sense, because we have all the right people.
“(Team Penske drivers) are trying a lot of things that you can also look into, and I think that’s quite special being in this position. We are in briefings together, and I’ve known Will, Simon and Josef for a long time, so we all get along and we’ve always gotten along, but it’s cool that if I have questions I know that I can go to them and they can help me out and speed up the process.”
The Indy 500 Open Test has been full of “pinch me” moments for De Silvestro, who feels she has her best chance ever for success in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” But Paretta has also had “pinch me” moments, all before the No. 16 Paretta Autosport Rocket Pro TPO Chevy hit the track Thursday.
“I think the moment started for me as I was walking down pit lane, because I’ve walked down pit lane a thousand times, we all have,” she said. “I did kind of think to myself, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is the first time I’m walking down pit lane as a team owner.’ That’s a thing.”
The other moment happened earlier this week, before everyone arrived at the 112-year-old facility, when Paretta and De Silvestro were at IMS alone, soaking up the magic of the facility.
“It was wonderful to be here a couple days before the Open Test because it was empty and you can have that peaceful moment, because this place, even when it’s empty, still has that vibration of energy,” she said. “To have those private moments, I’ll remember that for the rest of my life.”