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Simona de Silvestro already making a name for herself
Simona de Silvestro, as in the female IndyCar driver whose name isn’t Danica Patrick.

The 21-year-old from Switzerland, an IZOD IndyCar Series rookie this year, drives the No. 78 for HVM Racing but she’s already making a name for herself.

In the season opener at Sao Paulo, Brazil, some slick pit strategy put her in the lead. Despite driving on older tires she managed to hold that lead for four laps on the street course before eventually finishing 16th.

"I was a little bit nervous having Dario (Franchitti) and Ryan (Hunter-Reay) behind me," she said. "I just kind of put my head down and drove away."

At the street course in St. Petersburg she was challenging for the top 10 when she was spun out by Graham Rahal. She recovered enough to post another 16th-place finish.

"It’s a shame," she said, "because we had a top-five car. He (Rahal) kind of saw too big of an opening and he kind of jumped into it and hit me."

There are more than just two women in the IndyCar Series this year, but de Silvestro and Patrick are the only two racing full-time on competitive teams. Milka Duno drives full-time but hasn’t been more than a field filler this year.

Sarah Fisher drives a part-time schedule but won’t drive at Barber. She opted to step out of the car she owns in favor of Rahal, who’s much better on road courses.

De Silvestro, who is from a town near Geneva called Thun but now lives in Arizona, laughs when asked what she thinks about being compared to Patrick.

That’s because the comparison is like night and day.

"Danica has done a lot of great things for the sport," she said. "But me and her are really different."

Patrick is not just a driver. She’s also a brand.

De Silvestro has never appeared in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition and she’s not a GoDaddy girl. And she could not care less about modeling.

"I want to prove that girls can be real competitive," she said.

She’s already demonstrated she can be competitive.

She won four races in the Atlantic Championship Series last year and was leading the championship standings until the final race of the year. She is the winningest female driver in Atlantic history, led a series-best 172 laps last year and scored nine podium finishes out of 12 races.

This weekend will be a huge challenge for her — racing at one of the most technical road courses in North America for the first time. She’s been on the track at Barber, logging laps in the open test session in February.

"We were in the middle of the pack" on lap times during the test session, she said, "but it was only the second time in an IndyCar for me."

She isn’t expecting to chalk up this race as a learning experience by running around in the back of the field all day.

"Coming from Europe, it’s kind of like a track there," she said of Barber. "I kind of grew up on these kind of tracks."

So she has no qualms about raising expectations in just her third IndyCar race.

"I hope I can get a top 10," she said.  AL.com

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