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Move over Danica, here comes Simona
Simona de Silvestro
With rumors that Danica Patrick may be on her way to NASCAR fulltime in 2012, IndyCar has wisely decided they had better turn attention away from an asset that may be leaving the series and focus on one that has a bright future - Swiss Simona de Silvestro.

Nearly a half hour after completely stealing the vinegar from Dario Franchitti's season-opening win at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, in which the two-time defending Izod IndyCar Series champion had led 94 of 100 laps, the 22-year-old de Silvestro stared at a mass of people pining for her autograph. They were lined up three deep, jostling for position along a flimsy barrier, waving and calling to this once obscure Swiss female who had captured their imagination not just with a fourth-place finish, but with how hard she'd tried to get more.

Her rousing late battle with veteran Tony Kanaan for a spot on the podium was unsuccessful, but de Silvestro's bid for legitimacy and a place in North American open-wheel racing was off to a fine start in her second season. In a racing series that lures and nurtures females more than any other – providing one of the only true genderless venues of competition in the world – and for a fan base that cherishes female drivers more than any other, on this Sunday in St. Petersburg, Simona de Silvestro had just become the next big thing.

"It's pretty huge," she said of the reaction. "You do what you do on the race track, and you come out from a good race and people just stand there and want to talk to you. I really enjoyed it, talking with a lot of them. I think they will come to a lot of races. It's just nice having people like that … Overwhelming."

All the attention will eventually lead to comparisons with and discussions about the biggest of IndyCar's big things: Danica Patrick. For a racing series struggling to garner much attention, that's not a bad thing.

"We just think [de Silvestro] is fantastic," said Terry Angstadt, IndyCar's commercial division president. "You have to have performance in the racecar, and again, she is just a fantastic personality. I just loved seeing all the fans swarm all around her after St. Pete. I must admit to being taken aback. I was walking through that parking garage, and the mob was swarmed around her transporter. It was great. Diversity is one of our brand attributes, and she's a great example of the opportunity she has in this series and the opportunity the series has to capitalize on her."

And it can all happen without contrived comparisons of two very different drivers, said auto-industry analyst Peter DeLorenzo, editor of Autoextremeist.com.

"I don't think it's Simona vs. Danica," DeLorenzo said. "[Simona] is an alternative – a fresh face IndyCar fans can embrace." Yahoo! Sports

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