Simona de Silvestro has been announced as the driver for an Indy 500-only team aimed at recruiting women to the sport.
IndyCar, like every motorsport series with a press office, announced a diversity initiative last year called Race for Equality and Change. Unlike some of the slightly vaguer offerings from international series, it explicitly set out that things like recruitment and procurement would be scrutinized to make sure effort was being made to find diverse candidates. This includes supporting initiatives from grassroots operations upwards.
They did also light up the tower at IMS, the traditionally most effective way of making change happen in motorsport. As far as initiatives go, it had money behind it—$1 million, which admittedly isn't a ton in racecar dollars—and things have steadily happened. Last month, USF2000 team Force Indy was announced to promote Black Americans into motorsport careers and today, Paretta Autosport has relaunched the mission of 2016's Grace Autosport team.
The woman at the helm of both teams is Beth Paretta, former executive at Fiat Chrysler but this time they actually have a car. The team, described as "an extension" of IndyCar's Race for Equality and Change, will receive technical support from Team Penske and has secured a Chevy engine to run the 500.
Mark Miles, president and CEO of Penske Entertainment Corp, which owns IndyCar and IMS, made it clear they would have to be good enough for the event independently but supported to do so, "It will be up to Simona and the team to qualify the car for the grid, but knowing Beth, I know that her team will be up for the task."
De Silvestro has contested the Indy 500 five times previously, having entered the series as Rookie of the Year in 2010 and last running in 2015. She switched to Formula E, driving for Andretti in 2015 and 2016 before putting in a stint in Australian Supercars.
She was the last woman with a theoretical contract to race in F1, with a struggling Sauber team in 2014. She failed to secure the necessary funds for her seat, which went to current IndyCar driver Marcus Ericsson.
Speaking about her return to IndyCar, De Silvestro said, "My career really took off through my time competing in IndyCar and the Indy 500, so returning to compete with Beth and her new team in alliance with Team Penske is a special and rare chance in my career. Being part of the goal of diversity and inclusion for everyone, and especially women in Indycar, and in motorsports in general, is very important to me and how I would like to see the future of racing."
Although, as a newly formed team and a one-off entry, it'll be tough for Paretta and De Silvestro to conquer The Brickyard in their first year. Paretta did say, though, that they would attempt to literally make their mark on motorsport history.
"Our team, along with our technical alliance with Team Penske, will work hard to give Simona the best car we can provide so she can achieve her best results. Competition drives us. The Indy 500 is the greatest race in the world, and one day soon we hope to have a woman’s face on the Borg-Warner Trophy.”
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