The burns on Simona De Silvestro’s hands are getting better. Restoring her confidence is another matter.
The 22-year-old Swiss earned the respect of her fellow IndyCar drivers by rallying from a frightening crash in a practice session at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to qualify for the Indy 500 and start the race.
De Silvestro said the crash made her think about quitting. And even with Indy in her rearview mirror, she admitted she’s still a little shaken up and that her mindset isn’t yet back to where it was before the accident.
”You still kind of think about it,” De Silvestro said during a break from testing at the Milwaukee Mile this week. ”It was definitely difficult. I’ve had other crashes, and I never had that thought – and this time, I did. So it definitely shook me up quite a bit. And then when you get back in the car, it kind of feels all right, so you know what you’re doing. You know you’re going to hit the wall. It just happens, and you hope that it isn’t as bad as what happened to me in Indy.”
As of Wednesday, during the test in Milwaukee, her hands still were bandaged.
”They’re getting better,” De Silvestro said. ”Actually, I think I’m a fast healer. Pretty much the left hand is almost good, and the right hand, we’re getting there. There’s just a couple of spots where there’s still some skin missing but it’s growing back. It definitely was a lot of up and downs because of the crash, but it’s getting better.”
De Silvestro was turning laps in a May 19 practice session when a piece of her car’s suspension broke, sending it into the wall, into the air and then upside-down. The car caught fire when it landed, and de Silvestro was lucky to get away with just burns on both hands.
”It was tough,” De Silvestro said. ”On Friday (after the crash), I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to be a race car driver any more. But then, I just figured, let’s try it, and it felt all right.”
She relied on her crew for encouragement.
”They really looked me in the eyes and said everything was going to be all right,” De Silvestro said. ”That’s how we were able to qualify.”
She struggled during the race, grazing the wall early and dropping out after 44 laps.
”I wish the race would have gone a little bit better,” De Silvestro said. ”But I’m actually happy that Indy’s over and I can focus on the next couple of races.”
But even though she has gotten back in the car and raced again, De Silvestro says her confidence hasn’t fully returned.
”I don’t think the confidence is back there yet, where it was,” De Silvestro said. ”But you just try to feel it out. You go back in the car, you tell yourself it’s going to be all right. And as soon as you get in the car, it just feels good. You feel like (you’re) at home. I think the more laps you do, the more confidence you get.”
Veteran IndyCar driver Tony Kanaan was among those who encouraged De Silvestro after her crash; Kanaan refers to her as ”my hero!”
”I said (to her), ‘It’s unfair for me to tell you to be strong, because you showed everybody in the world,”’ Kanaan said. ”If any men had any doubts that women are stronger than men, she proved that. I knew that already. So now she just needs to take her time, which she has. I mean, if you look at her hands, my God.”
Kanaan said it’s natural for a driver to have jitters after a serious crash, and De Silvestro did the right thing by getting back in the car as soon as possible.
Kanaan remembers flipping his go-kart in a race when he was 8 years old.
”My dad turned the go-kart around,” Kanaan said. ”The steering wheel was bent but he pulled it up, put me back in the go-kart. And I had no choice to say no.”
Kanaan said De Silvestro now faces a tough test in upcoming races, at Texas on June 11 and at Milwaukee on June 19.
”This is not a place to get your confidence back, I can tell you that,” Kanaan said of the challenging Milwaukee track. ”It will take it away for sure.”
If De Silvestro didn’t know before that racing is serious business, she does now.
”It’s really tough,” De Silvestro said. ”Especially in Indy cars, the speeds are so high, you’re risking your life out there on the ovals, especially. It’s just a risk you take. Car racing is dangerous. But even my crash, it could have been a lot worse. I just came out with a couple of burns. We can learn from it. It could have been a lot worse. I’m pretty happy to still be here.”