Simona de Silvestro earns first career IndyCar podium

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Simona de Silvestro won’t have much time to celebrate her first IZOD IndyCar Series podium finish, as she’ll have another 90 laps to contend with tomorrow at Houston’s Reliant Park. But it’s still a great result for the Swiss fan favorite, who held off a hard-charging Justin Wilson for the runner-up spot this afternoon.

In a race marred by attrition, De Silvestro – who qualified fifth for Race 1 of the Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston – was steady throughout the afternoon on the bumpy, 1.7-mile temporary circuit. Her second-place result marks a career-best finish, improving upon her fourth-place run at St. Petersburg in 2011.

“I tried to keep up with [race winner Scott Dixon] but I didn’t quite have his pace,” De Silvestro said. “But I think we were pretty good on cold tires and I could pull a little bit of a gap on Justin and work from there.

“I’m just really happy to be here. We’ve been waiting a really long time for this podium and everybody on the team and all my sponsors that have supported me all these years – it’s really cool we can be together and celebrate this.”

De Silvestro was expected to take the next step forward in her IndyCar career when she joined up with KV Racing Technology over the off-season. But after a solid start (three Top-10 finishes in the first four races), she was unable to net a Top-10 for the next seven races.

However, her performance has been on the uptick lately. At Sonoma, she made up 13 positions to finish ninth, and on Labor Day weekend in Baltimore, she collected her first Top-5 of the year with a fifth-place showing.

“Lately, the biggest key has been just focusing on what I need in the race car,” De Silvestro said of her recent surge. “Me and my engineer, we really sat down and tried to get what I wanted and the results have been coming. It’s been really nice to kind of put our heads into it and just do it our way and the results have been coming.”

Today’s podium finish is a milestone for De Silvestro, who rose through the ranks of Formula BMW and the Atlantics series before making her way to IndyCar in 2010 with HVM Racing.

She showed flashes of potential during her three-year run with HVM but also had to endure a disastrous 2012 in which she was saddled with a woefully uncompetitive Lotus engine. Nonetheless, she refused to throw Lotus or her team under the bus and she saw things through in order to land at Chevy-powered KV.

“I think over the last three years, we’ve been fast but it seems like we never really could get it together – ‘Oh, we had a bad pit stop, oh, we didn’t have something go our way.’ I think I’ve learned a lot on how to manage a race now and I think that’ s really important,” she said.

“I feel like everything is really starting to come together. Hopefully, we can be as successful here in IndyCar as we used to be in Atlantics or Formula BMW.”

F1 2017 driver review: Esteban Ocon

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Esteban Ocon

Team: Sahara Force India
Car No.: 31
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P5 (Spain, Mexico)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 87
Championship Position: 8th

A shining star in Mercedes’ junior programme, Esteban Ocon vaulted fellow youngster Pascal Wehrlein in the pecking order to secure a seat at Force India for 2017 – and boy, did he live up to the hype.

Ocon arrived at Force India with half a season of racing under his belt after his outings with Manor late in 2016, but wasted little time in settling in, scoring points on debut in Australia after winning a thrilling three-way fight with Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso.

The Frenchman spent much of the year close to teammate Sergio Perez – even if things did get a little too close in Canada, Baku and, finally, Spa, prompting the team to introduce team orders – and impressed the entire paddock with his displays.

While no podium was forthcoming, Ocon was often leading the midfield fight, enjoying three straight finishes ahead of Perez from Japan to Mexico. Given how well Perez is rated on-track in the paddock, to have convincingly beaten him in such fashion did a lot for Ocon’s reputation.

The term ‘Oconsistency’ also came into F1’s dictionary as he set a new record for consecutive finishes from his first race, with his retirement in Brazil ending the streak at 27 grands prix. It was also his first retirement in a single-seater race since the 2014 Macau Grand Prix.

The highlight moment arguably came at Monza, though, when Ocon stuck his Force India third on the grid through torrential rain in qualifying. While he would drop to P6 at the checkered flag, the display nevertheless cemented his place as one of F1’s rising stars.

Mercedes rates Ocon very highly, and with Valtteri Bottas’ future beyond 2018 already being questioned by the paddock, a good season could see the youngster move on up to the top table of F1 for 2019. His progression in the next 12 months will be fascinating to keep track of.

Season High: Lining up P3 on the grid at Monza after a rainy qualifying.

Season Low: Clashing with Perez in Baku, costing Force India a possible podium.