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Lots of learning achieved for de Silvestro in debut Supercars season

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Former Verizon IndyCar Series standout Simona de Silvestro has endured somewhat of a global odyssey since her last full season of IndyCar competition in 2013.

She spent 2014 in an affiliation with Sauber F1 Team and tested older chassis with the goal of entering Formula 1 with them in 2015, but the two parted ways in the Fall of 2014.

She briefly rejoined the IndyCar ranks in 2015 and ran three races with Andretti Autosport (St. Petersburg, NOLA Motorsports Park, and the Indianapolis 500) before entering a pair of Formula E outings at the London ePrix double-header in 2015 – the final events of the inaugural Formula E season – also with Andretti Autosport. That sparked a full-season effort in the 2015-16 campaign with the same squad, dubbed Amlin Andretti Formula E at the time.

However, the 2017 season saw a complete change in direction for the 29-year-old native of Switzerland, who has spent her career in mostly open wheel categories, as she joined the Supercars Championship, commonly referred to as V8 Supercars, in Australia. Having had a taste of Supercars competition in 2015 and 2016 after entries into Bathurst 1000 those years, she spent the 2017 season with Nissan Motorsport, her first full-season foray that did not involve an open wheel machine.

On paper, the season appeared to be a struggle, as she had a best finish of only 15th. However, she appeared to make progress at every round, with the season-ending Newcastle 500 likely her best outing of the year, as she battled inside the top ten and looked set to finish sixth before wall contact on the final lap relegated her to 20th.

Race 2 showed positive signs as well, as she ran near the top 1o before a spin dropped her through the field, leaving her to finish 17th.

However, in an article posted on Australian news outlet Speedcafe, de Silvestro expressed a sense of optimism after ending the season with a strong performance, even if the finishing position did not ultimately reflect it.

“This is really positive for next year to end this season with such good pace,” she said following the weekend. “I had a strong car for most of Sunday afternoon and was able to pass a few cars, which was cool. But unfortunately, we got turned around by a pretty silly move, which ruined our day. The car was really strong this weekend, so I’m annoyed we didn’t record the results that reflected that pace.”

De Silvestro added that the Newcastle venue, new to the Supercars championship this year, proved beneficial as it meant her lack of familiarity with the tracks – she saw nearly all of them for the first time this year – was not nearly as much of a handicap as in previous races since everyone needed to learn the circuit.

“I think the biggest thing from the weekend was that everyone started from a level playing field. Because the track was new, we were able to be more in the mix and not start behind the ball. The track also suited me quite well. I really enjoyed it,” she explained.

De Silvestro, who finished 24th in the championship in 2017, is slated to remain with Nissan Motorsport in 2018 for her sophomore Supercars campaign.

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MRTI: Toronto digest

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Last year’s visit to the streets of Toronto for the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires proved to be a pivotal point in the championship chase that year.

Kyle Kaiser swept both races in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, and doing so gave him firm control over the championship, and he all but clinched it ahead of the season finale at Watkins Glen – Kaiser needed to only start that event to wrap up the title.

And in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, while Parker Thompson swept the weekend, Oliver Askew was caught up in a crash in Race 2. Combine that with a second place finish from 2017 title rival Rinus VeeKay – VeeKay also finished third in Race 1 – and it kept the championship within reach of VeeKay, who took it all the way to the finale at The Glen.

The 2018 visit north of the border will likely be remembered for a similar impact on the MRTI championships, both in Indy Lights and USF2000 and, maybe most significantly, in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires.

A look at big stories to emerge from a wild weekend on the streets of Toronto is below.

Indy Lights

Santi Urrutia scored a much needed win in Race 2 on the streets of Toronto. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Santi Urrutia’s championship hopes were teetering entering the weekend – he was 49 points out of the lead and had been vastly overshadowed by title combatants Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta for most of the season. But, his Race 2 victory combined with a second place in Race 1 to close him to within 40 points of O’Ward for the championship lead. He’s still a bit of a long shot, but his chances look much brighter leaving Toronto than they did entering.
  • More significantly, Colton Herta’s title hopes may have taken an enormous hit. After crashing in Race 1 qualifying, just after grabbing the pole as well, Herta suffered a thumb fracture that he aggravated again after crashing during Race 1. It forced the team to recommend Herta essentially sit out Race 2 – he pulled off after running only a couple laps and finished sixth – and he dropped to 18 points behind O’Ward, who won Race 1 and finished second in Race 2. The margin is hardly a commanding one for O’Ward, but with the next stop at the ultra-physical Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Herta’s injured hand could remain a factor in the coming races and allow O’Ward to widen the margin.
  • One can’t help but feel bad for Victor Franzoni. Coming off the high of winning his first Indy Lights Race at Road America, Franzoni’s season took a turn for the worse. He crashed in Race 1 and then pulled off in Race 2 in order to conserve finances and resources – Franzoni detailed afterward that the budget is tight for him this year and crash damage from Race 1 does him no good. It would be a genuine shame if Franzoni’s season was derailed by funding issues, as the likeable Brazilian has made great progress all year and has the potential to make it as a Verizon IndyCar Series driver. He just needs the backing to get there.

Pro Mazda

Rinus VeeKay now trails Parker Thompson by only seven points in the Pro Mazda championship. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • No Mazda Road to Indy Championship was shaken up as much as Pro Mazda. Parker Thompson entered the weekend with a sizeable lead of 46 points over Rinus VeeKay. He exits the weekend only seven points ahead after finishes of eighth in both races – he was involved in a crash in Race 1 and made an unscheduled pit stop after thinking he suffered suspension damage in Race 2. Meanwhile, VeeKay dominated the weekend, winning from the pole in both races. It all means that what was once looking like a possible runaway has been all but reset. And we might see a genuine duel between them all the way to the season finale at Portland International Raceway.
  • There are few words to describe the relief everyone felt in seeing Harrison Scott walk away unhurt after his frightening airborne crash in Race 1. This was the first major crash test in a race for the Tatuus PM-18, and it aced it. And big kudos should also be given to the AMR Safety Team, who were already tending to Scott barely a few seconds after his car had come to a rest. Scott did start Race 2, but pulled off with a mechanical problem…which seems minor in comparison to what could have happened in Race 1.
  • Oliver Askew had his best race of the year in Race 2, finishing second to VeeKay for his second podium of the season. It’s been a tough year for Askew and Cape Motorsports after winning last year’s USF2000 title, and getting a podium under their belt could be just what they needed heading into the season’s stretch run.

USF2000

Kyle Kirkwood continued his USF2000 dominance on the streets of Toronto. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • After another weekend sweep, Kyle Kirkwood has one hand on the USF2000 championship. He leads Kaylen Frederick by a staggering 131 points – that’s over four road course races worth of points. He may well leave Mid-Ohio as the USF2000 champion. And even if he doesn’t, it would take something unheard of to keep the championship from his grasp.
  • Kaylen Frederick sits second, only three points up on Igor Fraga. Fraga had his best race since Race 2 on the streets of St. Petersburg, when he finished second, and he nearly outdueled Kirkwood for the win in Race 2. Both he and Frederick have caught fire of late, and their battle for second is very evenly matched.
  • Don’t count out Rasmus Lindh in the battle for second in the championship either. The Swedish driver is seven points behind Frederick and scored his third podium of the year by finishing third in Race 2 at Toronto. Second is well within his reach.

The Mazda Road to Indy is off this weekend before heading to Mid-Ohio, where Indy Lights and USF2000 again have double headers, while Pro Mazda will enjoy a triple header.

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