Simona De Silvestro, a 22-year-old from Thune, Switzerland, could follow in the footsteps of Danica Patrick and become the second woman to win a race in the Izod IndyCar Series.
She was Chase Rookie of the Year at the 2010 Indianapolis 500, where she finished 14th, and the IndyCar Rookie of the Year in 2010, driving for small and under-budgeted HVM Racing. De Silvestro's performance was rewarded with a three-year agreement from sponsor Entergy and she returns to HVM with experience and additional funding.
De Silvestro's strength in 2010 was on road courses. She finished eighth at Mid-Ohio and ninth at Toronto and qualified seventh at Edmonton. She began racing in North America in 2006 in Formula BMW and spent three years in Formula Atlantic, winning four races, before moving into IndyCar. She's interested -- someday -- in getting a shot at Formula 1, but she's happy to be in IndyCar for now. De Silvestro discusses her career with SI.com's Tim Tuttle.
SI.com: Does your three-year new deal with Entergy give you a sense of relief and excitement?
De Silvestro: It does. It's the first time in my career where actually I know I'm going to have continuity in the sport. Having Entergy with me, a nuclear energy clean energy company, is really special to me because I can relate to it. In Switzerland, 40 percent of energy is nuclear and that's a great message. I think we need that kind of power generation here in the U.S. It's great to have them on board.
SI.com: You had a history with Entergy, didn't you?
De Silvestro: The first time I was a brand ambassador for Entergy was in 2008 when I was driving for Newman/Wachs [in Formula Atlantic] and I won my first race with them in Atlantics. It was a good start.
SI.com: What made you decide to come to the United States to race?
De Silvestro: The decision came at the end of 2005. I was actually supposed to go to England and race Formula Renault there [in 2006] and that deal kind of fell apart. I had the opportunity to come with an American sponsor that would sponsor me here in Formula BMW. We were kind of 'Why not take the chance and see how it goes?' and I think it was the right choice to do.
SI.com: You see European drivers, a lot of them, come over here, but it's at the IndyCar level rather than the development level. The way you did it was a little bit different.
De Silvestro: Exactly. Usually, European drivers are trying to get to F1 and then it doesn't work, they come to IndyCars. I did it the other way. I came to the U.S. when I was pretty young and we'll see what happens in the future. I think the U.S. has been great for me. They've been really welcoming and I've proven that I can win races in the small categories. Being in IndyCar is just a dream come true.
"There are two categories in open wheel where you want to be and that's F1 and IndyCar, and to have achieved this level is something really cool and I really like it. It's really special to get to this level because you always dream about it and then when you finally get here, it's almost like, 'Wow,' you've made it, but then you realize the hard work only begins because everybody is really fast and you really have to prove yourself every race you go out there.
SI.com: How were your one Formula BMW and three Atlantic seasons?
De Silvestro: We had a pretty good year [in BMW], won one race in Lime Rock, and had a couple of podiums. I almost won the championship. I think it was good experience. We went into the Atlantics in 2007 with Walker Racing. It was a pretty tough year because I didn't know any of the tracks and the team also was pretty new. It was hard. Then, we changed to Newman/Wachs in '08 and won my first race there. I was still a little inexperienced and still making a lot of mistakes. We took the decision to stay one more year and I think it was the right one. It gave me the opportunity to run up front all the time and really start believing in myself.
SI.com: After Atlantics, were you thinking of IndyCar or going back to Europe?
De Silvestro: In North America really, it was IndyCars, it was the normal step. For sure, Europe, F1 is always my dream, but being in IndyCar is something really special, too. I made a really good test in December  with HVM and we signed a deal. I think it was the right choice. Right now, I'm focused here in North America. We'll see what happens with Europe in the future, but right now I'm pretty good here. I want to win some races and try to be up front as much as possible.
SI.com: How would you evaluate your first season in IndyCar?
De Silvestro: I think it was pretty positive. Entering the year, you don't really know, you're racing against people you've been watching on TV and you've admired. I got into the lead in my first ever IndyCar race [for four laps at Sao Paulo, Brazil] and not many rookies get to do that. It was really special [season], a lot of ups and downs, but in general, it was positive. I entered the year to learn as much as I could and I really did that.
"The team gave me a great opportunity to do that. Everybody was really believing in me and I believed in them and we got a couple of really good results. Pretty much, that second part of the road courses we found that next gear and we were running with the big teams. I think it was great, especially with the budget we were running on. I don't think entering the season we would have thought we could run so far up front.
SI.com: How true were the rumors at midseason that HVM was close to stopping?
De Silvestro: We had a problem with our primary sponsor. It didn't go so well, but then pretty much everybody in Switzerland and a lot of people in the U.S. helped us and the team really sacrificed a lot to keep going. I'm really thankful to them, because without them, I don't think I'd be staying.
SI.com: Did the fire you had at Texas, losing a car, in June jeopardize the team continuing?
De Silvestro: Pretty much Texas was the big setback we had. We had to get another chassis [a new Dallara costs $700,000], we didn't quite have the money. It was pretty hard at the end of the season. But with a heavier chassis, we were running well, so I'm really looking forward to this season. We have a brand-new car that is getting ready.
SI.com: Did you have any oval experience before last season?
De Silvestro: My first experience was at Kansas, right in the race. It was pretty weird. You watch it on TV and you think it's easy and it's not. It's completely a different animal. It really opened my eyes. I started learning it. On the ovals, you really have to have confidence in your car. I've done a full year and I hope this season will be even better.
SI.com: Tell me about your experience at the Indianapolis 500.
De Silvestro: It's really special. Everybody talks about it and you know the history behind it and to actually do your first laps on it, wow, it really opens your eyes. Here you are, driving at the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The month went pretty well for us. I think the team gave me the chance to go step by step and really learn the track and how it is in traffic.
Qualifying the car was so nerve wracking. I've never had that where maybe you couldn't make the race. We were all really jittery. It went OK. The race, I don't know how to explain it, but to be part of those 33 drivers that have qualified for the Indy 500, it's just amazing you're part of it. The race was unbelievable. All the people there and everybody is so into it, it's so much fun.
SI.com: What did you think of the big speed jump at Indianapolis from other tracks?
De Silvestro: It is pretty crazy. The first time I went flat out around the track, it took me a couple of laps to do it again. It's pretty amazing. You have to take a big breath and go for it.
SI.com: What are your goals for this year?
De Silvestro: I think we can run really strongly on the road courses. I hope we're going to get on the podium or something like that. At Indy, we had a really great first year and now we just have to find the next step. We're building a brand new car and it's going to be a 2011 chassis and that's going to help us. For me, just the confidence. Having done a year knowing that we ran pretty well at a couple of tracks and going to do some testing, we just need to find that next step. Like every racing season, you try to get better. I'm working hard at it, the team is working hard at it. If we do our job and be focused, I think we can have some good results.
SI.com: How did you get started in a country that banned motor racing in 1955?
De Silvestro: It's pretty funny, we actually have a lot of race car drivers in Switzerland right now. The good thing about Switzerland is it's pretty small and you're easily in Italy or in France, where go karting is very big.
I was lucky to have my dad and my mom support me when I was young. I raced a lot in France and in Italy. We have one go-kart track in Switzerland; we had a couple of races there.
SI.com: What attracted you to racing?
De Silvestro: My dad always worked around cars. He was the director of a dealership in Switzerland and also an instructor for kind of sports licensing and car driving. I think I got the bug a little bit from him. I was lucky my parents supported me. I wouldn't be here, for sure.