De Silvestro serves notice of streets of St. Pete
Slowly navigating the sea of post-race revelers on her green and white scooter on the way to an unscheduled news conference, Simona de Silvestro smiled as wide as the Alps and waved occasionally to acknowledge the applause and congratulatory shouts.
Additional praise for her entertaining duel with veteran Tony Kanaan and subsequent career-best fourth-place finish was heaped on upon her arrival at the Mahaffey Theatre as fans mingled under the late-day canopy of shade.
With such affirmation, she entered the theater. For a few minutes, the stage was hers.
Spectators stood and cheered during the spirited battle for third place in the closing laps of the seventh Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. De Silvestro, who started 17th in the No. 78 Nuclear Clean Energy/HVM Racing car, ran as high as second to eventual race winner Dario Franchitti following a Lap 13 restart. Running fourth after her final service stop, de Silvestro rode the gearbox of Kanaan's No. 82 GEICO KV Racing Technology-Lotus entry into the corners of the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit but couldn't overtake the 2004 series champion.
"I would have never thought we would have finished like we did," said de Silvestro, whose previous best was eighth at Mid-Ohio in August.
"It's the first time really competing like that against Tony Kanaan," the 22-year-old sophomore IZOD IndyCar Series driver from Switzerland said. "It's pretty crazy for me because I've been watching him since I was growing up and to be right there racing him now is pretty cool."
Taking his seat at the table, Kanaan deadpanned "Not bad for an old guy."
"I used every single strength and experience I had to hold her off," said Kanaan, who was making his debut with the Jimmy Vasser-led team. "I just really drove it as hard as I could. I made a mistake with three laps to go, she pulled alongside me, couldn't make the pass. At that point, I was hoping for a no-yellow because I was going to be a sitting duck (he was on primary Firestone Firehawks and de Silvestro was running the more-grip alternate tires) and I would lose third position. Simona blew my doors off on a restart before and I knew she was strong."
If she could have utilized the Honda overtake assist more often (there were 15 pushes left of the system than responded with 12 seconds of added horsepower), the outcome might have been a dousing of champagne on the podium.
"I was running fourth and didn't want to try anything crazy," de Silvestro replied. "I tried at the end to try to get third place but I wasn't quite there. Tony was struggling at the end quite a bit and I was really pushing. I almost got inside of him in Turn 1. It was a big risk to take but I think it was the right choice. It's a lot of fun because on the street courses as a driver you can really push yourself and find the limit."
Back at HVM Racing transporter, de Silvestro could have taken a curtain call the area was still so thick with well-wishers.
"Indy was one of my highlights because just to qualify for the Indy 500 not many drivers get that opportunity," she said. "Definitely today is going to go right up there, too, because I think it was one of my best races. I didn't really make too many mistakes and I think we are just here to try to beat every driver."
HVM, with owner Keith Wiggins, won six races in Champ Car (Mario Dominguez, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Nelson Philippe and Robert Doornbos) and de Silvestro could make it seven this season. Next up is the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by Legacy at Barber Motorsports Park (April 10), where she was running as high as fourth last year.
"The way this weekend started, we struggled quite a bit," she said. "It was the first time working with my new engineer (Brent Harvey). We started working together and it clicked in the morning warm-up so I'm looking forward to the rest of the season."