When Simona de Silvestro climbed into her No. 16 Paretta Autosport Chevrolet at Road America this year, it was her first time back behind the wheel of an Indy car in seven years, her first time at Road America in 14. That alone would have been enough of an uphill battle, but according to team owner Beth Paretta, it was even more challenging: “We didn’t fully fit her to the car. She only just reached the pedals.”
Racing is a sport of margins. A tenth of a second here, a fraction of an inch there — those can be the determining factors between success and acerbic disappointment. As race fans, we all know that, but hearing about de Silvestro’s struggles firsthand helped me contextualize her return to the sport.
“To drop Simona back into that car, which now has an aeroscreen — the car handles completely differently to what she expected,” Paretta added during a conversation with Jalopnik at the Music City Grand Prix. “And a lot of her competition on the grid, they’ve been here the whole time she was gone. They’re used to the aeroscreen. Before Road America, she had no test day. Just one simulator day. And there was the problem with the pedals.
“To drop her back in like that, and she finishes on the lead lap, and she’s passing cars? That’s ridiculous.”
Paretta’s voice was fond when she spoke; the level of respect within the crew and between team owner and driver was obvious, even during our brief conversation. De Silvestro, though, took a more restrained view of her performance.
“The big thing is that we’ve improved every time we go out,” she said. “There are a few more things that have to click, and the results don’t always show it, but we’ve found our groove as a team. Before, we were only just getting to know each other, how we all work.”
As de Silvestro turned to speak to someone else, though, Paretta confided that her driver has been “frustrated.”
“She’s said, ‘I’ve driven this car before, I should know how to do it,’” Paretta said. “But it’s like, no she hasn’t raced this car before. It’s the same in principle since the last time she was on a road course seven years ago, but so much has changed. The aeroscreen added 70 pounds and totally changed the center of gravity, so now the car responds differently to fuel loads. It’s a new beast.”
After three races, de Silvestro’s highest finish was 18th in Mid-Ohio, but the team remains content with the performance.
“There’s only so much you can do with three races,” Paretta said, especially considering that de Silvestro’s first proper test on a road course only came after her Road America debut. So for now, each marginal improvement — each successful pit stop, each position gained on track, each once-challenging concept that has now become intuitive — sounds as a win.