ST. PETERSBURG — Simona de Silvestro has been a team leader in IndyCar for three years. Now she's back on a learning curve, the newcomer on a team led by one of the most accomplished, respected veterans in the series.
And she couldn't be happier about it.
De Silvestro joins KV Racing for next season to pair with Tony Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar champion. She has already done two tests with her new team and has another next month at Sebring.
"Having Tony as a teammate, I think I can learn a lot from him, especially on the ovals. I think I have a lot of work to do in that part," de Silvestro said last week from the offices of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg — where she was also looking forward to attending Sunday's Bucs-Falcons game at Raymond James Stadium and seeing her fantasy team's quarterback, Josh Freeman. "And on the road and street courses like St. Pete I think we can really push each other."
The 24-year-old Swiss driver did just that in St. Petersburg in 2011, finishing a career-best fourth after she spent the final segment of the race trying to pass Kanaan for the final spot on the podium.
"I think that's where he had a lot of respect for me, I think we raced hard the whole race," de Silvestro said. "But I'm really happy to have him as a teammate. He's a great person and we just get along. Even in 2010, my rookie year, when I had questions he was kind of my go-to guy."
Now she joins a two-car KV team that did not retain Rubens Barrichello or EJ Viso.
"She has shown a lot of determination, and to now be able to work with someone as experienced as Kanaan will be a huge asset for her," team co-owner Jimmy Vasser said upon her signing.
De Silvestro struggled last season with the Lotus engine package. Chevrolet won the drivers' and manufacturers' championships in its first year back in the series and Honda, the lone supplier in the series from 2006-11, remained strong. But Lotus was so uncompetitive that most of its teams reached deals with one of the other two manufacturers in time for the Indianapolis 500.
De Silvestro's single-car HVM team was the lone Lotus holdout and remained so all season.
"Last year was really difficult," de Silvestro said. "Other people who were with the Lotus engine managed to get out of it. We seemed not to be able to, and that was a big mistake the team made. I think it was just time for a change and time to get into a bigger team."
Her first tests in a Chevrolet, at Texas and Barber Motrsports Park in Alabama, were a revelation.
"When I was testing at Barber … I felt like a little kid again," she said. "It was really powerful. You could push the car and the lap time would show up. Last year I felt like I was driving the wheels off the car and the lap time would never come down."