I think it takes incredible drive, skill and determination to achieve the professional level of any sport and IndyCar racing is no exception. To then be a female driver in the male-dominated world of motorsports shows an even higher degree of skill and determination. But to be a female driver in professional motorsports, then flip your car, suffer second-degree burns and come back and qualify for the Indy 500 days later, really does make IZOD IndyCar series driver Simona De Silvestro the "Iron Maiden."
They call her the "Iron Maiden" because of an event in 2011 days before the Indianapolis 500 race. After flipping her car several times due to a mechanical failure during practice, sliding hundreds of feet down the track upside down, then surviving a fireball that engulfed her car, leaving her with second-degree burns, Simona returned two days later, and driving her backup car, qualified for the Indy 500. Since the crash she's been working with burn victims, especially children. I had a chance to speak with Simona before the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. A group of children and their families from the Children's Burn Foundation were spending the race weekend as Simona's guests, watching the races, touring the pits and just having fun.
2012 finds Simona De Silvestro behind the wheel of the #78 Entergy Nuclear Clean Air Energy car, driving for Lotus HVM Racing . De Silvestro joined the IndyCar series in 2010 at the age of 22 and I think she's had two solid years of building and honing her skills. If her team can get that car dialed in and making more power, equal to the Honda and Chevy cars, I think we could see Simona having a great 2012 season. I think as a driver, she did well in Long Beach this year, but had an engine failure only 11 laps before the end of the race, after experiencing a lot of techincal issues (and rain issues) during practice and qualifying. I think she would have finished in the top ten, if not higher, had the engine not failed.
Here's my interview with Simona De Silvestro:
Since they call you the Iron Maiden do you like the band, Iron Maiden?No, I've never seen them, I didn't even know it was a band, until I was called the Iron Maiden and some people on Twitter told me that there was a band. I'm not even listening to their music, I think I have to check it out.
Have you had that nickname a long time?No, I got it last year after Indy. I had a pretty big crash and qualified the next day and the fans called me that. It's a pretty cool nickname to have, I think.
Talking about the crash, what was the biggest thing that helped you make the decision to get back into racing, and just get back into the car so quickly?
I think it's what you live for as a race car driver. There's always gonna be something really difficult that is gonna happen to you once in your career, and I think that's what happened to me last year. It's hard, but you have to tell yourself you know, I think you have to try it. If I go back in the race car and I'm not having fun then I know that's it, I shouldn't do this anymore. But I went back in the car, had a lot of fun, had a smile when I got out, that was the important part
How do you balance the following the IndyCar blocking rules with the natural driver's instinct to defend your position and win races?
I think the new blocking rule is awesome. I think that's how racing is supposed to be and I think that it has made the racing so much better. In the first two races there were people fighting in the first group and even farther back there were people fighting for position.
It made better opportunities to pass, before you were kind of stuck with one pass because everywhere else nobody was actually making mistakes or things like that. But now if you block somewhere, it kind of puts you a little bit in a bad position coming out of the corners, so the guy behind you is going to get a different opportunity to pass you. I think it made the races much better.
Growing up where, you did, in Switzerland, how did you first even think of getting into racing, or was there a big karting scene there?
No, not really, because racing is banned in Switzerland. But luckily, Switzerland is pretty small, so France and Italy are really close by, and they're kind of the Mecca of go karting. We follow a lot of motor racing in Switzerland, Formula 1 is always on TV and it's a really fun sport to watch. I was really lucky to get the opportunity to get into a go kart when I was six.
After your accident, I understand you've begun to work with other burn victims and some of them are visiting you this weekend at the race.
I'm working with the Children's Burn Foundation here in L.A. and it's just fun to have them on board with me. I've been through something like this at Indy and so I can really relate to it, and that's the important thing. It's just nice to have the kids out to the racetrack with a big smile, they've been through something really tough in their lives. To just give them the opportunity to believe in themselves, they still can do whatever they want. They've just been through something really hard and just have to keep fighting for it.
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A lifetime auto racing fan, Freddy Sherman collects vintage muscle cars and attends races and rally events in the U.S. and around the world. You can follow him on Twitter - @thefredsherman.