Bump Day Thriller for De Silvestro and Paretta in Indy500 Quali
There is no easy-way into the legendary Indy500 and the female-forward team Paretta Autosport – at its first ever participation – had the eyes of the world pointed at them after failing to secure a slot on the grid on Saturday. Bump Day on Sunday provided a real thriller.
At the Indy 500
Simona de Silvestro will come back to the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, six years from her last entry in the American racing series IndyCar. She has in fact secured a slot on the grid for the 105th run of the Indianapolis 500. The fast Swiss driver needed to adapt to some changes since her latest participation in 2015 – like the aeroscreen and the universal same aerokit. When she last competed in the series, both Chevrolet and Honda were allowed to develop their own aerokits, but now all the teams have to employ the spec kit. Simona – one of the very top female racing drivers in the world – has since then experienced many different race cars and will surely capitalize on this baggage for her journey into this years’ Indy500. "I think the biggest thing is that I've driven so many different cars in the last six years, and what I think I've learned the most is just adapting myself a bit.” – she explained. “When you're in open wheel for so long, you kind of start to understand and know what you need in the race car to be quick - and jumping from Formula E to a Supercar and now to a GT car, I think the big thing is just in my driving, being adaptable.”, said the 32-year old racing driver. Paretta Autosport, on the other hand, is an all-new reality to the IndyCar field. Beth Paretta founded the team with the help and support of series and team owner Penske, with the aim of increasing diversity and women’s opportunities in the sport. The team is in fact not just about bringing a female driver to Indy: the majority of the crew is made up of just as talented women. To prepare for this challenge, the pit crew has been practicing as often as possible for the last months. "Since February, we have all been getting up at 3:30, 4 o'clock in the morning, four days a week, to be at the Penske shop by 5:00 a.m. to practice our stops," Andra Buzatu said. She landed her role at Paretta Autosport through the NASCAR Technical Institute, following a stint in the military, where she worked as a mechanic. The support of Team Penske has been all-round for the Paretta team members. The pit crew trains with their Penske colleagues; Simona is part of the debriefing meetings with the Penske drivers. It’s a real co-driven project between Penske and Beth Paretta, a woman heavily invested in the automotive industry.
“Although this is female-forward, I want to make sure that everybody understands that this is with the support and help and guidance and mentorship from some very amazing and experienced men who have worked in racing for many years, who have been part of this process from the beginning and teaching some of our women that are new to IndyCar some of the ways of working around this car and working around this racetrack", stated Team Principal Beth Paretta.
The first qualifying day on Saturday May 22nd, which locked the first 30 entrants, proved to be extra challenging for Simona and the team. The drivers order that set the starting schedule on the 2.5 mile oval was a draw and saw Scott Dixon go out on track first for his four lap attempt. Dixon was the fastest and for the whole day his first attempt would remain on top of the timing sheets – granting the 2020 Indycar reigning champion an easy way into the Top9-Shootout session on Sunday.
There was more drama when Alex Palou went out for his second attempt and crashed heavily into the wall. Caught out by some oversteer, the Spaniard made contact with the barrier and damaged the right side of his Dallara IR18. Palou climbed out of the car on his own and was cleared by the medical centre. Despite the crash, he also made it into the Top9-Shootout.
Saturday’s classify set the starting grid positions from 10th to 30th and the biggest – negative – surprise was Will Power, who couldn’t lock in a slot. Power, Simona De Silvestro, Sage Karam, Charlie Kimball and RC Enerson would need to go through the Last-Row-Shootout on Sunday: just three of them would start the Indy500, the other two will go home.
The Last-Row-Shootout was a thriller and a real test to the nerves of the five drivers and their fans. When Karam, Power, De Silvestro, Kimball and Enerson went out one after the other, it looked like the track was slower after each attempt. After their first outing, every driver was sitting in their starting position, with Simona De Silvestro on the bubble in P33.
Power was up to second place despite scratching the wall on his first attempt – but the Australian was still able to finish his run and made it back to the pits.
The waiting game had begun.
All drivers remained in their cars to wait for each other’s move before, finally, RC Enerson went out again. The driver of the Top Gun Racing Chevrolet was slower than his first attempt – and the same fate awaited Charlie Kimball, as he had another go in the #11 AJ Foyt car. With just a couple of minutes left, that meant that Sage Karam, Will Power and Simona De Silvestro had made it onto the grid for the 105th running of the Indy 500 on 30th May 2021.
Having made history as the first woman entered by a female-led team, Simona is now ready to switch her focus on the race itself: “What a day! It was definitely nerve-wracking being in this position.” – she said.
“I’m super happy that we made it in the field because of everyone involved and because of all the hard work that got put in. It would have been crazy to not have made it. From that point of view, we’re super relieved. Now we just focus on racing and I think we could be pretty good because our car was pretty competitive."
Indy 500 facts
It will be the 105th edition of the world-renowned Indianapolis 500 race: the event was started for the first time on 30th May 1911 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway – the first specifically built track for motorsport in the US.
Danica Patrick, former IndyCar driver, Indy500 Rookie of the Year 2005 and the first woman to ever lead laps in an IndyCar race will be the official pace car driver for the weekend: “I am very honored to drive the Corvette Stingray Pace Car this year at the Indy 500.” – Danica commented. “It is even more special because of the past year we have all endured, and it will be so nice to see fans back in the stands."
You might have asked yourself why Norwegian racer Ayla Agren hopped so fast on a plane after the W Series test last weekend in Wales. That reason is because the 27-year old driver will be a fundamental part of the Paretta Autosport’s adventure at Indy: she will be spotting for Simona. She is no stranger to such a role, as she has worked as spotter before and will help Simona through the 2021 race. And, maybe, we will get to see Ayla herself one day at the Indy 500, as she gets back behind the wheel of a race car this year in the all-female F3 championship W Series.
What’s the matter with the winner drinking milk? The tradition started in 1963 with Louis Meyer, who regularly drank buttermilk to refresh himself. That’s exactly what he did when he won the big race that year. The Milk Foundation saw that moment captured in a photograph the following day, and advocated to build on that momentum. A myth was born.
The first ever woman to enter the Indianapolis 500 race was Janet Guthrie in 1977.
Danica Patrick was the first – and to this day the only – female driver to finish on the podium with a 3rd place finish in 2009.
The female drivers have won the Rookie of the Year award: Lyn St.James (1992), Danica Patrick (2005) and Simona De Silvestro (2010).
Sarah Fisher has the most Indy 500 starts with 9 overall - 2000-04, 2007-10.