Paretta Autosport, Simona de Silvestro Racing Toward New Chapter in Indy 500 History05/20/2021
The first female-dominated Indianapolis 500 team is well on its way to making some real history at a place that has seen more than its share of racing history.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, has not, however, seen a female-led and female-dominated team race in the 500.
Unlike team owner Beth Paretta’s failed first attempt at putting a car in the Indianapolis 500 in 2016—her Grace Autosport effort with driver Katherine Legge ended a few weeks before the 500 when the team was unable to secure a competitive car—the 2021 edition of Paretta Autosport looks like a good bet to make the 33-car field for the 105th Indianapolis 500 with driver Simona de Silvestro.
“We’ve done a lot in four months,” said Paretta on Wednesday, exactly four months after introducing the Paretta Autosport entry on January 19. “Hopefully it’s resonated with people (that we’re out to) be more than another team, another entry, trying our best. We’re trying to do a lot more and trying to provide opportunity and hopefully some inspiration, both for kids and for women everywhere to push and work hard (and) to also know that anything might be possible for yourself.”
As for the Paretta entry, first things first. No, not everyone on the team is a woman. There are plenty of men on the team, and while Paretta tried out the idea of an all-female over-the-wall crew in practice back at the shop, it’s a good bet that there will be some men changing tires and working on the car in the pits on race day.
“No, the crew over the wall will be coed,” Paretta said. “We’ll see as the week goes on who may go over the wall, and ultimately the number one priority is safety and then competition.
“Here’s the thing: If we have zero women over the wall for the Indy 500, you’ll see them at the next race. It’s all about progress. Just the fact that you see this lineup and how far we’ve gotten in these four months, that’s how I’m measuring our progress. Every time we can integrate and add one more woman in a key role, that’s what we’re going to get to.
“Is it going to be 100 percent (women) over the wall? No. And we’re going to prioritize safety and competition.”
One of those over-the-wall hopefuls is Andra Buzatu, who comes to Paretta Motorsports via the NASCAR Technical Institute following a stint in the military, where she was a mechanic.
“Since February, we have all been getting up at 3:30, 4 o’clock in the morning four days a week to be at the Penske shop by 5:00 a.m. to practice our stops,” Buzatu said. “Every single day we’re learning something new, and we had quite a few women start out on the team, so the women that you see standing here are the ones that made it and are in a final part of the team.
“When it comes to being over the wall, we’re hoping to see a lot of us going over the wall. It will still be tentative on race day, where we are, but we have been working very, very hard to be where we are. I think the biggest point is that we’re just another race team, and we’re here to win, and we’re here to really show that we deserve to be here.”
The emphasis on safety and competition is a Paretta mantra this month. Sure, she wants to make her mark on the 500 and show that not every team needs to be built the same way. But above all, she wants to win, and she’s not going to turn away someone just because that someone happens to be a man.
“This is also on the competition team, the support from Team Penske,” Paretta said. “Clint Cummings, Casey Eason, Chris Fry, Jefferson Hodges, Michael Nelson, Tom Novins, John Picchinotti, Raul Prados, our race engineer; Gary Prall, Shaun Rinaman, who is our amazing pit coach who’s been training the women in pit stops; Vance Welker, our crew chief; and that’s it alphabetically.
“So although this is female forward, I want to make sure that everybody understands that this is with the support and help and guidance and mentorship from some very amazing and experienced men who have worked in racing for many years, who have been part of this process from the beginning and teaching some of our women that are new to IndyCar some of the ways of working around this car and working around this racetrack.”
The team’s pilot, veteran IndyCar driver and current Porsche factory driver de Silvestro, has been solid in practice so far. Case in point was Wednesday’s practice session when de Silvestro logged 120 laps at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which was more than all but one car (Graham Rahal). De Silvestro’s Chevrolet, which is getting a technical boost from a partnership with Team Penske, was a solid 24th quickest.
This year, thirty-five cars are competing for 33 spots in the 500. So far, so good on that front.
As for de Silvestro, she feels like this team is providing her with her a legitimate shot to not only compete, but compete for a win at Indianapolis. She’s made five previous starts in the 500, the most recent with Andretti Autosport in 2015. That year, she finished 19th. That was also her most recent IndyCar start in a multi-series racing career that has included 68 starts in Indy cars.
“You come to race to win races. That’s what we do this for.”
“I think the biggest thing because I’ve driven so many different cars in the last six years is I think what I’ve learned the most is just adapting myself a bit,” de Silvestro said. “When you’re in open wheel for so long, you kind of start to understand and know what you kind of need in the race car to be quick, and jumping from Formula E to a (Australian) Supercar and now to a GT car, I think the big thing is just in my driving, being adaptable.
“I think like any racer who enters (the 500), I try to be as competitive as I can be. You come to race to win races. That’s what we do this for. For sure, I think right now it feels really good. For sure it’s only early days, but I feel pretty competitive out there, and yeah, the team around me is great.”
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