Can Simona de Silvestro be the first woman to win the Indy 500?


Simona De Silvestro will start her fifth Indianapolis 500 race on Sunday, May 24. With Pippa Mann, she is one of two women competing in a field of 33 drivers. Can she win the world’s biggest race and do what a handful of other women at the Brickyard – including Janet Guthrie, Lyn St. James, Sarah Fisher and Danica Patrick—couldn’t? I sat down with the affable 26-year-old from Thun, Switzerland, to find out what she thinks. Her nickname is The Iron Maiden, but I found her incredibly charming and funny.

Jim Clash: You’re starting 19th this year, driving for Andretti Autosport. Satisfied with that qualification spot?

Simona De Silvestro: Things didn’t go exactly how we planned, but that’s where [teammate] Ryan [Hunter Reay] started last year, so we’re okay.

JC: He won. Maybe that’s a lucky number?

SDS: I think so, but we’ll see at the end of Sunday for sure [laughs].

JC: Did you have any favorite drivers growing up?

SDS: Well, because I’m from Europe, they weren’t from IndyCar. I’ve always been a big Michael Schumacher fan.

JC: Did you ever identify with the pioneer women at Indy like Janet Guthrie and Lyn St. James?

SDS: Not really – that was before my time. I got to meet them later, when I went into Indy cars, and learned what they had accomplished. It’s nice to see women before you trying to do what you’re trying to do right now.

JC: What’s your game plan for Sunday?

SDS: It’s such a long race, and so many things can happen. The goal is to move to the front as quickly as we can, then make sure to be up front during those last 20 laps. The biggest challenge is to remain super-focused on every lap.

JC: Your team owner, Michael Andretti, has led more laps at Indy than almost anyone, but never won. Would it be special to win for him?

SDS: For me personally, it would be huge obviously, and also for all the women out there. For Michael, he’s such a great person. For him to give me this chance, it would mean even more [to win] because he has put his faith in me. I drove the first two races this year – finished fourth at New Orleans. But after Indy, I don’t think I will have any more races. The focus really is on 2016 for sponsorship to be full-time again.

JC: What are your thoughts on IndyCar’s decision to back down speeds during qualifying?

SDS: With what happened with those three cars flying up in the air, I think it was a good decision. I don’t think [the accidents] had much to do with the boost levels we had been running. On the trim side, I think we’re always going to be on the edge at Indy, and that’s where we were. Even after adding some wing, we were still on the edge, but that’s how these cars handle in qualifying.

JC: How do you handle fear? Fellow driver James Hinchcliffe almost died Monday in a terrible practice crash.

SDS: I know the danger that comes with this sport for sure, but I’m not scared of it. If you are, you shouldn’t be doing it. In the racecar, you cannot have fear. You definitely have respect, but at the end of the day it is your element, your happy place.

JC: What does scare you?

SDS: I hate heights. I don’t particularly like flying, especially over the ocean. That sounds a little weird coming from Switzerland, because we have a lot of mountains, but definitely heights is not my thing.

JC: You have to go race Sunday, yet you’re here in New York doing interviews. Isn’t it distracting?

SDS: I don’t mind being busy before races because I’m a person who over-thinks a lot. If I have too much time, I start thinking too much. When I look back at my races now, I have done a little bit better when I was distracted beforehand.

JC: What’s something people don’t know about you?

SDS: I read in a lot of interviews that I’m shy, and I’m like, “What?”

JC: All the guys out there want to know: Do you have a boyfriend?

SDS: I don’t have a boyfriend right now. To be honest, it’s really difficult to have a relationship in this business. I’m not out there looking. But if it comes, it comes, and we’ll see what happens.

JC: Ever asked a guy out?

SDS: I think so, in school.

JC: What did he say?

SDS: I think he said yes [laughs].

JC: What’s the dumbest question you’ve been asked?

SDS: I think, “What’s it like to be a woman in racing?” It’s always hard to answer, because I don’t know how it would be as a guy [laughs].