The history of women at the Indianapolis 500 dates back to 1977 when Janet Guthrie became the first woman to qualify for the race. Women have become more commonplace at Indy in recent years, and one of the women attempting to make the 2011 Indy 500 is second-year driver Simona de Silvestro. Here’s a look at the driver from Thun, Switzerland—a land where auto racing was banned for 52 years.
Simona de Silvestro
Simona in 2008
Silvestro was born September 1st, 1988 in Switzerland, but when she realized she wanted to be a race car driver, she moved throughout Europe to focus on karting. As a teen in 2004, she competed in the French Formula A Championship, moving to the Formula Renault 2000 Championship in Italy one year later.
In 2006 de Silvestro came to the United States to compete in the Formula BMW USA Championship. She finished fourth in points on the strength of one win and 11 top-10 finishes. One year later, she moved to the Atlantic Championship. As a rookie she earned two top-10 finishes. In Atlantic competition in 2008 she earned eight top-10 finishes and her first win at Long Beach. She followed it up in 2009 with four wins and four poles on her way to third in points.
De Silvestro graduated to the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2010, driving for HVM Racing. In her Indy 500 debut, she qualified 22nd, one of four women to make the race. She went on to finish 14th at Indy, earning Rookie of the Year honors. In her first full-time season on the circuit, she finished 19th in points.
de Silvestro (far left) races at St. Petersburg
De Silvestro began the 2011 season on a high note, finishing fourth on the streets of St. Petersburg after a fierce battle with IndyCar veteran Tony Kanaan. She also finished in the top-10 at the Grand Prix of Alabama.
Why should we care about Simona de Silvestro? With Sarah Fisher switching to team owner duties (and on maternity leave) and Danica Patrick’s future in IndyCar in doubt, de Silvestro is the “next big thing” when it comes to women behind the wheel. She is a proven winner in other series', and her battle with Kanaan at St. Petersburg proved her as a racer. She can win races, and she’ll likely be the next woman to do so in IndyCar.