History was made - Simona De Silvestro and Paretta at the 105th Indy500
History was made on Sunday when Swiss driver Simona de Silvestro and the female-forward team Paretta Autosport started the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500. And, even if the race ended earlier than expected, Paretta Autosport proved to belong to the top of American motorsport.
135.000 spectators were cheering from the grandstands when the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500 had its green flag waved on Sunday. In itself, that would have been a reason to make this edition of the Biggest Spectacle in Racing one to remember.
History was made again. Just like the winner - no unknown name to the Borg-Warner Trophy and to the milk tradition - the 2021 edition of the most famous 500 mile race had this sense of lost normalcy that brought the attention back to its pure form of racing.
Among the biggest stories, it was certainly the debut of Paretta Autosport - a female led team, lining up one of the most influential female racing drivers worldwide and over 70% of women in the crew.
The team - which is mentored by Penske, one of the biggest names in the sport - had a rather eventful build-up and qualification: in a thrilling Bump Day - something almost out of a screenplay - De Silvestro qualified the Paretta #16 entry, bumping out Charlie Kimball and RC Enerson and gaining the final spot on the grid at the very last minute.
It was the first time for a female-owned team with a female driver at Indy.
Scott Dixon started the famous race from pole, but just after the first turns, the Indycar reigning champion wasn't able to hold off youngsters Colton Herta and Rinus VeeKay.
Herta took the lead; one lap later it was VeeKay's turn to move into first place.
VeeKay was the first driver to pit, just before the first caution was brought out: Stefan Wilson had crashed at the pit entry, as he lost his car under braking. He would not be the only driver that day with braking issues into pit road. With the pits closed, there was drama when several cars still had to refuel: Scott Dixon, who had tried to stretch out his stint, had his tank ran dry. The New Zealander had an emergency pitstop, but his car would not restart, losing a lap in the process, before the Ganassi crew could send him back out. The same fate awaited 2016 Indy500 Champion Alexander Rossi: both the front-runners found themselves already one lap down just one fourth into the race.
The restart order was set with Herta in front, leading Veekay, Conor Daly and Helio Castroneves. VeeKay passed Herta soon after, but his leadership didn't last long before Daly brought his Carpenter-Chevrolet to the front. Simona De Silvestro had a good first part of the race and gained some positions to steadily run in the top30.
After the second round of pit stops, the order was Daly, VeeKay, Pato O´Ward, Herta and Alex Palou.
The first big accident saw an unfortunate Graham Rahal exiting pit road and crashing heavily into the wall; his left rear tire had not been fixed properly and, as he accelerated out of the pit lane, he soon became a passenger of his vehicle. Home hero Conor Daly was seriously lucky when he collected Rahal's loose tire and, despite a big hit on his car's nosecone and aeroscreen, he continued the race without significant damage.
The field was then led by Palou, ahead of Castroneves, O´Ward, VeeKay and Ryan Hunter-Reay at the second restart. Paretta Autosport's De Silvestro continued to make her way up the order and, thanks to some very solid pit stops by her crew, she moved into P26.
From then on, the race went on to become the 'fastest 500' in history, with no further yellow flags.
After the last scheduled pit stop, it was Helio Castroneves to lead Palou and O´Ward. The veteran versus the two young guns - the battle for the victory had begun.
Castroneves had his eyes on his fourth 500 victory - 20 years from his first one. On the other hand, Palou and O´Ward - the two youngsters in their second season that arguably represent the future of the series - targeted their first 500 having both just conquered their first IndyCar race victory. In the final stages, a fourth driver joined the leading trio and was also looking menacing: it was Frenchman and former 500 Champion Simon Pagenaud, who had the fastest car on track in the final laps, followed by Indy specialist Ed Carpenter.
Castroneves went for the winning move with two laps to go: the Brazilian passed Palou around the outside of Turn 1, then defended from the comeback of the Spaniard and took his fourth victory at the famous Indy500, 12 years after his last victory at the Speedway. He joins a very exclusive club to have ever achieved that in the history of the event, together with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.
Castroneves crossed the line in first, ahead of Palou and Pagenaud - who snatched third from O´Ward almost on the finish line.
There was bad luck for Will Power and Simona de Silvestro: both spun in the pitlane. Power was able to continue the race, but Simona unfortunately was out after contact with the wall. She was classified P31, one of only three DNFs in the race.
The Swiss driver, at her sixth entry at the Indy500, had a remarkably solid run until lap 172, having settled in 21st position.
But it was a historic day nonetheless for De Silvestro, Beth Paretta and the entire Paretta Autosport crew: Madison Conrad, Caitlyn Brown, Amanda Frayer, and Mallorie Muller, aero engineer Lauren Sullivan, junior data acquisition engineer Chelsea Pechenino, Sara Durant as the team’s tire specialist and W Series racer Ayla Agren as the Turn 3 spotter - these are just some of the names of the talented women that proved their point with a competitive run at the most important north American race.
Having taken the start from 33rd, De Silvestro was eyeing a top-20 finish having climbed to P21 before the final stop. The unfortunate issue at pit entry surely meant that the result is not representative of the team's achievements during the month of May, but Paretta Autosport is here to stay and belongs to the championship.
"It was really cool to see everyone at the track, so many fans. It was super special." - said De Silvestro after the race. "We went out there and I think we were quite speedy, particularly at the end. Kudos to everyone who put so much work into it."
"Unfortunately, I ran out of brakes a little bit and I couldn’t really save it there at entry. Maybe I could have done something a little different, but it’s pretty disappointing to end the day like this. The whole month everyone did such a great job, and we’re proud of the effort. It was really good to be back in an IndyCar and I hope for more", Simona added, having made her last start in the series in 2015 prior to the Paretta project.
"The No.16 Paretta Autosport Rocket Pro TPO Chevy was fast today, well balanced." - commented Beth Paretta, who launched the program just months ago with the help of Team Penske. "Simona had a great start to the day and just locked up there at the end. Some other drivers were caught out with the same issue, but this is racing."
"We had a terrific first outing. The women on the crew did a great job. The pit stops were pretty smooth. We need a little improvement in some places and there’s some work to do on our consistency, but great job overall. I want to thank everyone at Team Penske for the technical alliance. I can’t wait to be back on the track and with this team.”
It is in fact possible that we will get to see the team back on track as early as this year, as the team official release states: "Additional races are under consideration by Paretta Autosport, but no announcements have been made at this time."
With De Silvestro also competing in the German-based ADAC GT Masters for Porsche, there might be some calendar clashes, but she will surely be ecstatic over a potential IndyCar return. Hopefully, we will indeed see the team back in action soon, as their presence has been a real driving force for women in the industry. As the Paretta Autosport's strategist Michael Nelson stated, "the sky is the limit with more experience.”