Simona De Silvestro

Resilience defined Simona de Silvestro’s four years in IndyCar

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Tough as nails. Resilient beyond belief. Personable beyond comprehension. Respected by her peers.

Although Simona de Silvestro didn’t win a race in her four years in IndyCar, she ticked a lot of boxes to make her a fan and paddock favorite.

What sticks out to me most was her resiliency.

De Silvestro entered IndyCar in 2010 with Keith Wiggins’ HVM Racing operation, a team with slightly-more-than shoestring finances. She entered after a crushing blow in the Formula Atlantic season finale a year earlier at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, when she was taken out by another competitor on the first lap to cost her the title.

No matter. Her management team and support, from what was at the time Team Stargate Worlds, helped her take the next step in her open-wheel career. Meanwhile the others from Atlantic, Americans John Edwards and Jonathan Summerton, weren’t able to.

Her new car just looked ragged watching it either on the ground on TV. But de Silvestro hustled it like nobody’s business. She was Indianapolis 500 rookie-of-the-year, and some of her qualifying and race performances (Edmonton and Mid-Ohio in particular) were just sublime to watch.

The breakout should have happened in 2011, still with HVM but with new support from Nuclear Clean Air Energy and Entergy. Fourth place at St. Petersburg behind eventual KV Racing Technology teammate Tony Kanaan – in a race with its own subplot featuring de Silvestro’s old engineer working with Kanaan in his first race with KV – heralded her as a star in the making. Ninth at Barber and fastest lap in Brazil were further proof.

Then Indianapolis 2011 happened, and quite honestly, it was hard to imagine her being able to recover fully from it. Her practice crash was her second fiery one on an oval (Texas 2010) and also cost her the team’s new, improved chassis.

But the resilience emerged once again even in the unloved, heavier, older backup chassis that she qualified for the field before Bump Day. Working together with her PR rep Monica Hilton at HVM, the legend of Simona and “Pork Chop” was born.

Further results the rest of the year went begging… and the less said about 2012 with the Lotus engine the better. Except that when she had every opportunity to throw her engine manufacturer under the bus, she never did. That was the professional in her.

So, the breakout, part 2, was planned for 2013. And sixth place at St. Pete, with KV, battling Kanaan for what had been a podium position, was the first sign ’13 was the finally year we’d all been waiting for.

To follow the narrative though, even though she finished in the top 10 in three of the first four races and battled through a tough midseason, the resilience returned again. She was one of the series’ top-10 drivers on a consistent basis the last five races (finished top-10 in all five), and her first podium with second at Houston was no less than she or her supporters deserved.

In summation, then, 65 starts, three top-fives, and 14 top-10 finishes, a best start of third at St. Pete this year and a couple fastest race laps. Not great numbers on paper, but toss out the 15 starts from 2012 with the hapless Lotus sled in her car and you see she did overachieve at a rather good level given the equipment at her disposal.

Ultimately though, 13th in the final standings – as she was this year – was probably as good as it was going to get given her career struggles on ovals. She made strides, but with the field as deep as it is, it was the final mountain to hurdle. Even her best oval finish, eighth at the IndyCar season finale in Fontana, came after being caught up in an accident and merely surviving the high attrition rate. Her road and street course prowess, however, was very much evident.

For IndyCar, the loss is its second major driver gut-punch of the offseason, following Dario Franchitti’s medically enforced retirement.

De Silvestro was liked by some because she was the “anti-Danica Patrick,” who built her brand purely on her racing ability rather than her sex appeal. In interviews, de Silvestro often said she didn’t want to be the next Danica, but the first Simona.

But she was also liked because of her down-to-earth nature, effervescent smile, and ability to wring as much as possible out of less than the top machinery.

De Silvestro and her management team deserve credit for sticking it out this long, and for her, F1 has always been the goal. At 25, she’s far from “old,” but when you consider she’s older than almost half the field of 22, she’s got another test of resilience to come.

But I’ve had the chance and privilege to cover her consistently since her first Atlantic season in 2007. Knowing her, she’ll tackle it full on.

Hawksworth’s luck goes from bad to worse leading into Indy 500

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After a rough start to the 2016 season, Jack Hawksworth was hoping for some good luck and better performances when he got to Indianapolis earlier this month.

Unfortunately, it’s been more of the same.

Entering the Indianapolis 500, the Bradford, England native sits 20th in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings with just 60 points, a whopping 182-point deficit behind points leader Simon Pagenaud.

Hawksworth’s best finish to date in the first five races of 2016 has been 11th in the season-opening event at St. Petersburg.

Since then, it has all been downhill, as he’s finished 19th (Phoenix), 21st (Long Beach), 19th again (Birmingham) and then a 20th place finish (in a 25-driver field) two weeks ago in the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis – despite qualifying in the Firestone Fast Six for the last event.

Hawksworth continued to endure niggling engine issues during the first week of practice and qualifying for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 this Sunday.

That included qualifying a disappointing 31st in the 33-car field, his worst effort in three tries to make the Indy 500 (Hawksworth qualified 31st in 2015 but moved forward three spots as the last row changed).

Luckily for Hawksworth, only 33 cars were entered for the historic running of the 500, so he was assured a spot in the field either way.

But bad luck reared its ugly head once again in Monday’s practice session at the 2.5-mile Brickyard when Hawksworth felt the engine go in his No. 41 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda.

“We’ve had our fair share of setbacks these past two weeks (but) this is the cherry on top of the cake,” a dejected Hawksworth said. “We’ll obviously have to change the engine.

“I was pretty happy with the car today. Now we need to get miles on the new engine on Carb Day. That’s important to break it in before Sunday. Then we reset and go to the Indy 500.”

Given all the bad luck Hawksworth has endured, there is one bright spot: the only direction he can go from here is up.

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Andersen working to ensure value for MRTI schedule selections

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Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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One of the key goals for Dan Andersen of Andersen Promotions, which runs and operates the Mazda Road to Indy, is to ensure when a race is added or dropped to the schedule, it’s done with the right business reasons in mind.

Looking first at the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the schedule grew from 16 to a planned 18 races for the 2016 season. Phoenix and Boston single races were added with Road America also added as a doubleheader; Long Beach and Milwaukee fell off compared to 2015.

However, in looking at three of those events – Long Beach, Phoenix, and Boston – things have quickly evolved just in the opening months of the year.

Phoenix ran at an admittedly odd 1:30 p.m. MT and local start time, nearly five full hours ahead of the Verizon IndyCar Series race with nothing on-track in-between.

Long Beach’s absence made for a topic of discussion in the paddock.

Perhaps in an unfortunate coincidence, the magnitude of North America’s marquee street race was put into direct comparison to the challenge of launching a first-year street race, when Boston’s cancellation came out late last week.

It’s with that as context that we sought out some insight from Andersen about how the schedule came together – why Phoenix and Boston were the new adds and why Long Beach was dropped.

First up, looking at Phoenix, Andersen was equally as perplexed by the mid-afternoon start time as many were, this writer included.

“We tried to move our race slot, and IndyCar did as well. That was a track decision,” Andersen told NBC Sports.

“I believe it had to do with the concert in-between and maybe they didn’t want to have anything going on to detract from the concert. That will be a topic to discuss for next year.”

Andersen noted Phoenix International Speedway track president Bryan Sperber was influential in getting the track back on the calendar to some acclaim, but prefers a closer gap to the Indycar race in 2017.

“That event, I didn’t actually make our deal with the track – that was done by INDYCAR directly,” he said. “The track was very good to us, and Bryan Sperber was super nice, but next year we’ve got to try be closer to IndyCar.

“Bryan didn’t explain the time slot directly to me, but Phoenix was apparently pretty inflexible on what is was going to be. As that was a co-promoted event between Phoenix and INDYCAR, we and INDYCAR didn’t have the same situation that normally exists.”

Shifting to Long Beach, the vibe was weird with Indy Lights not on the schedule. Indy Lights had run at Long Beach in its earlier iteration from 1989 through 2001, and again in the reincarnated version from 2009 to 2015.

It’s understood that Andersen would have needed to pay a considerable amount in order to remain on the Long Beach weekend bill for 2016, and with that in mind, Andersen was conscientious that teams couldn’t afford the extra hit in budget that would come along with it.

“We absolutely wanted to go back to Long Beach,” Andersen explained. “When I took the series over, Long Beach was part of the INDYCAR sanction, and when INDYCAR renewed their agreement, Lights wasn’t included.

“INDYCAR basically said to me, ‘what do you want to do?’ and I replied ‘We want to go there, but if you can’t make that happen, you can’t make it happen’. Then Long Beach came to me and said ‘we’d be glad to have you back, and this is the number.’

“I’m able to commit to spending a stipulated amount on suites, hospitality, signage, and ticket buys, but this was a straight fee, and I just don’t have the budget for that. I would have had to add significant cost to every car for their entry fees.”

So why add Phoenix, Road America and (in theory) Boston, then?

“We were disappointed in losing Long Beach, but delighted that we could add Road America, Phoenix and Boston – and now, Watkins Glen.”

The Boston fallout meant there was a temporary drop off to 17 Indy Lights races, but with Watkins Glen being added it’s back to 18.

Fortunately, the Boston cancellation didn’t affect the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires or Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda schedules.

To get all three series on the same weekend, Andersen and series partners often are willing to commit a certain amount in purchases from the promoter to showcase the entire Mazda Road to Indy.

“Certain tracks, we are able to commit our partners to spend a certain amount of money,” he said. “Here (Barber), for instance, I have agreed to spend a certain amount of money to have all three of my series on this venue, and to cover that, Allied Building products stepped up, Cooper stepped up, and Mazda stepped up.”

May is both busy and important for the Mazda Road to Indy from both a current schedule and future planning standpoint.

The new Tatuus USF-17 chassis, which will premiere in USF2000 next season, will be revealed later this week at IMS – at 9 a.m. ET on Carb Day.

Meanwhile on-track this month, there’s been the usual six races at the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend – arguably the standout weekend for the full Mazda Road to Indy of the season.

Then you get to Friday, May 27 – which is going to be “Fully Jam-Packed Friday” for the Mazda Road to Indy – with Indy Lights’ Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in its usual Carb Day slot and then Pro Mazda and USF2000 having their third time and date in as many years at Lucas Oil Raceway in nearby Clermont.

The race was the “Night Before the 500” for years and ran late Saturday night, but shifted last year to an early afternoon race during the day. Now, it’ll be a Friday night affair, the “Carb Night Classic”.

And with other race events ongoing in the area, it might be a tough draw at the series’ shortest track. That being said, Andersen is bullish the Friday night opportunity might work better than what’s been done in the past.

“Last year, (USAC) realized they were losing a lot of teams to the Little 500 so they decided to go to a daytime race on Saturday instead of a nighttime race so that teams could exit Lucas Oil Raceway and run to Anderson, Indiana and do the Little 500,” Andersen explained. “That sort of worked, they had a little bit better car count then the year before

“So, this year they’ve decided that we are going to move it to Friday night, because I guess the Hulman 100 moved to Thursday night, so there’s no real conflicts with Friday night.

“I’m actually happy with that because Saturday, Legends Day at the Speedway, is an off day for us. It’s a little busy for us with Carb Day being Friday, but it works because we do Carb Day with the Indy Lights and then we go over to Lucas Oil Raceway and we run a traditional nighttime race there. I think it will work.”

Scheduling is one of the areas that Andersen can control, and doing so to make things as cost effective as possible for all three rungs on the ladder is key to success.

As Andersen made the important note, he’s in this for passion and to help promote the next generation of open-wheel talent – not to make money on this personally.

PWC weekend wrap: Long leads winners at CTMP

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Photo: Wright Motorsports
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This past weekend, the Pirelli World Challenge headed north to Canada at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park – the track formerly known as Mosport – for an incredibly busy weekend featuring no less than eight races among the full complement of seven classes, plus the debut of the new Sprint-X series.

There wasn’t much in the way of passing though in the GT ranks, following the round of Balance of Performance adjustments determined prior to the weekend. In race one, each of the top 12 starters finished in the top 12, with only minor changes. Race two was similar, with the order shifted only by a first green flag lap accident on a damp track.

Nonetheless, in his first weekend with a new team, albeit one he’s worked with in other categories, Patrick Long dominated proceedings in his No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R. Long swept the pair of GT races and for good measure, so did his teammate, Michael Schein, in his No. 16 Wright Porsche in the GTA ranks.

“It was an iconic weekend from Wright Motorsports,” Long said. “They hit the ground running. We were able to put together a strong car for qualifying, and we continued to dial the car in all weekend.

“They were two very different races. The first one was a hot and long race where we had to manage traffic.

“On Sunday half of the track was wet, and it was a cut-throat sprint. The top three cars traded qualifying laps during the course of the race. We had the car to beat, and it was a storybook debut for us. John Wright and Bob Viglione [engineer] put their heads down and turned out two terrific cars for Michael and I.”

Saturday’s race one saw Andrew Palmer in the No. 87 Bentley Team Absolute Bentley Continental GT3 and Ryan Eversley in the No. 43 RealTime Racing Acura TLX-GT complete the podium.

On Sunday, James Davison finished second on the road in the No. 33 Always Evolving Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3, following a determined and aggressive start to get himself into podium position, past Eversley and the two Bentleys of Palmer and Adderly Fong. Unfortunately the maneuver would halt Eversley’s momentum, knocking him back into Fong, who proceeded to pitch the Acura into a spin that caused a heavy accident. Per a Nissan release, Davison was later assessed a post-race penalty for the incident, although the team has appealed the decision from PWC officials.

With Davison demoted to 11th for the time being, it promoted Palmer back to second and Kyle Marcelli up to third in the No. 2 CRP Racing Audi R8 LMS ultra, thus securing his first podium of the year and in World Challenge.

Schein, as noted, won both GTA races – thus halting Martin Fuentes’ season-long win-streak of the first seven races – while Alec Udell and local driver Chris Green split the GT Cup wins.

Lawson Aschenbach took his No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R to the win in the first of two GTS races on Saturday, but contact between he and Brett Sandberg’s No. 13 ANSA Motorsports KTM X-BOW GT4 on Sunday at the first turn and first lap opened the door for Max Riddle to score a win on home soil on Sunday in his No. 07 TRG-AMR Aston Martin Vantage GT4.

There were four additional races on the weekend, including the debut of the new Sprint-X championship, which premiered to mixed reviews.

All classes except the Sprint-X ranks head to Lime Rock Park this weekend for track activity on Friday and Saturday.

RESULTS

GT

  • Race 1: 1. 58-Patrick Long (Porsche), 2. 87-Andrew Palmer (Bentley), 3. 43-Ryan Eversley (Acura), Pole. 58-Long
  • Race 2: 1. 58-Long, 2. 87-Palmer, 3. 2-Kyle Marcelli (Audi), Pole. 58-Long

GTA

  • Race 1: 1. 16-Michael Schein (Porsche), 2. 07-Martin Fuentes (Ferrari), 3. 96-Bret Curtis (BMW)
  • Race 2: 1. 16-Schein, 2. 07-Fuentes, 3. 66-Frankie Montecalvo (Mercedes)

GTC (all Porsche Cup)

  • Race 1: 1. 17-Alec Udell (GMG), 2. 20-Sloan Urry (TruSpeed), 3. 00-Corey Fergus (MP), Pole. 09-Chris Green (Pfaff)
  • Race 2: 1. 09-Green, 2. 17-Udell, 3-20-Urry, Pole. 09-Green

GTS

  • Race 1: 1. 10-Lawson Aschenbach (Chevrolet), 2. 13-Brett Sandberg (KTM), 3. 07-Max Riddle (Aston Martin), Pole. 10-Aschenbach
  • Race 2: 1. 07-Riddle, 2. 19-Parker Chase (Ginetta), 3. 14-Nate Stacy (Ford), Pole. 13-Sandberg

TC

  • Race 1: 1. 91-Nick Wittmer (Honda), 2. 26-Toby Grahovec (BMW), 3. 4-Dennis Hanratty (Lotus), Pole. 33-Adam Poland (Mazda)
  • Race 2: 1. 26-Grahovec, 2. 91-Wittmer, 3. 54-Patrick Gallagher (Mazda), Pole. 33-Poland

TCA

  • Race 1: 1. 70-Elivan Goulart (Mazda), 2. 74-Matthew Fassnacht (Mazda), 3. 49-Joey Bickers (Mazda), Pole. 70-Goulart
  • Race 2: 1. 70-Goulart, 2. 49-Bickers, 3. 73-Daniel Moen (Mazda) Pole. 49-Bickers

TCB

  • Race 1: 1. 14-Henry Morse (Mazda), 2. 94-Tom O’Gorman (Honda), 3. 65-Will Rodgers (Mazda), Pole. 65-Rodgers
  • Race 2: 3. 65-Rodgers, 2. 94-O’Gorman, 3. 25-P.J. Groenke (Chevrolet), Pole. 65-Rodgers

Sprint-X

  • Race 1: GT: 1. 46-Mills/Wittmer (BMW), 2. 69-von Moltke/Ostella (Audi), 3. 14-Holden/Braun (Porsche); GTS: 07-Wilson/Riddle (Aston Martin), 2. 09-DeBoer/Alexandridis (Aston Martin), 3. 45-Beaufait/Vance (SIN)
  • Race 2: GT: 1. 46-Mills/Wittmer (BMW), 2. 14-Holden/Braun (Porsche), 3. 69-von Moltke/Ostella (Audi); GTS: 07-Wilson/Riddle (Aston Martin), 2. 09-DeBoer/Alexandridis (Aston Martin), 3. 45-Beaufait/Vance (SIN)

London Formula E race to leave Battersea Park after season finale

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 27:  Formula E cars drive through battersea park during the FIA Formula E Visa championship, ePrix at battersea park on June 27, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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LONDON – The upcoming London ePrix on July 2 and 3 will be the last to be held at Battersea Park after Formula E officials came to an agreement to move the event with the local council this week.

Ever since its addition to the Formula E schedule for season one, the race at Battersea Park has been subject to a persistent and spirited protest from a group of locals who sought to protect one of London’s most-visited parks.

Formula E team bosses were given a draft calendar for season three over the Berlin ePrix weekend that omitted London from the schedule ahead of a planned High Court review this week that put July’s event in doubt.

However, this was called off after Wandsworth Council issued a statement on Tuesday confirming it had come to an agreement with Formula E that ensures the season two finale will be the last to be held at Battersea Park.

“Formula E has notified us that they will be holding their final races in Battersea Park this summer and that from 2017 onwards they will be seeking alternative locations,” Wandsworth Council’s community services spokesman Cllr Jonathan Cook said in a statement.

“Our understanding is that this now includes the possibility of a street circuit in central London, which has always been their preferred option but was not previously possible.”

Reports emerged following the news that the race would move from Battersea suggesting that a possible circuit being explored would centre on Buckingham Palace and incorporate some of London’s other most iconic landmarks.

Recent races in Paris and Berlin have been hugely successful in the very heart of the city, but nothing has been confirmed for London for the future.

“We’ve had preliminary conversations with the Greater London Authority, but there’s been no permission or route authorized yet,” Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag told the London Evening Standard.

“I love Battersea Park, but you’re effectively in a park and all you see is trees — this would be a view of London’s landmarks.”

A spokesperson for the recently-elected Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “The Mayor intends to work with FIA Formula E to explore other sites in the capital.”

London is not the only race that is at risk of not returning in season three, with Beijing, Putrajaya and Punta del Este also omitted from the schedule.

As reported by motorsport.com last weekend, six new races are set to join the fray including double-header events in Montreal and New York in the summer of 2017.

Other possible new rounds include Singapore, Brussels and Marrakesh, while the season-opener in Hong Kong has already been announced.