Simona de Silvestro will pursue F1 dream, starting as Sauber-affiliated driver

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Simona de Silvestro will be moving on from IndyCar after four years in the championship, and has been confirmed Friday as a Sauber-affiliated Formula One driver for 2014.

The preparation isn’t racing-related for the moment, as she’s not been placed by Sauber into a GP2 or World Series by Renault team. It will involve on-track testing, simulator training and mental and physical preparation as part of working to gain a superlicense and move into an F1 race seat in 2015.

“This is a major step towards me achieving a lifelong dream and I’m so happy to have the opportunity to take this step with such a great team,” the 25-year-old Swiss driver said in a release. “The Sauber F1 Team is a team with a legacy and the only Swiss team in Formula One, which I think makes this even more exciting.

The tie-in is a natural one; it’s a Swiss team, with F1’s lone female team principal in Monisha Kaltenborn.

“I can’t thank Monisha Kaltenborn and Peter Sauber enough for their support and belief in my abilities and for giving me this chance,” de Silvestro said. “I’m thrilled to have this extremely unique platform on which to prepare myself to take on the challenge.”

Kaltenborn didn’t elaborate more on the role of “affiliated driver” – the team already has Giedo van der Garde and Sergey Sirotkin in the pipeline behind 2014 race drivers Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez – but did admit she was pleased for de Silvestro.

“After four years in IndyCar, Simona’s ambition is to enter Formula one in 2015,” Kaltenborn said. “We regard her as a very talented race driver, and we, therefore, decided to take her on board as an “affiliated driver” and support her on her way to the pinnacle of motorsport.”

De Silvestro was in Austin to meet the Sauber team at this year’s U.S. Grand Prix. What at the time seemed a PR promotion, has, indeed, turned into so much more.

Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

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We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.