Simona de Silvestro and Tatiana Calderon aiming to inspire the next generation
It is a year of many changes for female participation in IndyCar. Tatiana Calderon became the first full time female driver – except ovals – since 2013, and is joined this weekend by Simona de Silvestro, who returns after her Indy500 start last year with Paretta Autosport. Here is what they had to say about the upcoming weekend at Elkhart Lake!
IndyCar is back at Elkhart Lake for the eighth round of its 2022 schedule – and for the first time since a long time two female drivers are on the grid. Tatiana Calderon, the first full time female driver since 2013, is contesting her rookie season with AJ Foyt Racing – and is joined by Simona de Silvestro – who was the previous last female full time entry before Calderon – who returns with Paretta Autosport after contesting the 2021 Indy 500 in a one-off.
Tatiana Calderon had a solid learning season so far, with a P15 at the Indy GP as her best result to date. She gained some experience and points as she quickly adapts to the car, the tracks and the series. There is still more to come from the Colombian.
Simona de Silvestro joined last year's Indy500 and made history with a mostly-female oriented team; they survived the bump day and showed very promising performance on track.
Now De Silvestro and Paretta are back for a three race campaign, starting from Elkhart Lake this weekend. Paretta Autosport cooperates with Ed Carpenter Racing this season and Simona, despite having raced for 4 seasons in the series, is starting again from scratch with the new cars. Her last full season was, in fact, in 2013, after which she only had a handful of entries mainly at Indy. In her last campaign she finished 13th in the standings, in between Sebastién Bourdais and Josef Newgarden. Her teammate Tony Kanaan was 11th, just 35 points ahead.
“He [Josef Newgarden] ended up going to Team Penske and then won the championship twice. In the end, you need to get the right shot", recalled Simona before the Road America round.
"You need to get people behind you who really want to support you. I think as female drivers, we do get the opportunities, but I think also sometimes it’s all really quick, we have a bit of a bad season and the support then isn’t the same", she said.
"I think with some guys, they get more chances at it, and that’s sometimes something we have to fight for a little bit more. It’s a bit trickier to navigate.”
She has a point. This has been noticeable quite a few times when competitive women finally got a chance. They rarely had a second one.
This weekend, Simona will start her three-race campaign and targets a return to the series in a full time role next season. Together with Paretta Autosport and in cooperation with Ed Carpenter Racing, Road America is just her first step towards the 2022 plan.
“I think the last time I was at Road America was 2009,” De Silvestro said. “So yeah, it's been quite a while. But for me and the expectation, at the end of the day you want to do the best job you can. We have to be realistic as well, we have not tested, it's the middle of the season, all these guys and girls have been running half the season already. So we need to see where we kind of stack up."
Both Tatiana Calderon and Simona de Silvestro spoke about their future and how they have the additional role of inspiring the next generation of up-and-coming female drivers in the sport to be brave and reach for their goals. They do carry the responsibilities of being role models when gender balance in the top championships is still so far away.
Calderon stressed a very important point about the visibility of female racing drivers: "I think, sometimes, you have to see it to believe it for the younger generation, because there are females that can compete against men in this very competitive championship."
“I think the trend has changed a little bit that there's some up-and-coming female drivers in the junior series", she continued, "it's much more common to see female drivers, which is really positive."
"Being the two of us in the top series – and hopefully also getting results – I think it can encourage even more girls to go driving. I think it's really important that we are able to compete in IndyCar again", Simona added.
“For me, it’s just been about having those opportunities, and maybe you have to knock on the door, and with little changes, you can maybe change the perception of somebody or get them interested. I have felt that more in America than in any other place, so hopefully we start to change some stereotypes and some beliefs – and we can get more young girls involved very early-on. I think you need that in this sport, to start early.”
De Silvestro and Calderon are not only racing for themselves or their teams – they're genuinely racing to make a change. They will tackle an iconic and extremely demanding track such as Road America this weekend, against some of the best drivers in the world, to inspire the next generation of young female racing drivers, mechanics, race engineers and spotters, as Paretta Autosport has proven.