Photo: Chris Owens/INDYCAR

Simona De Silvestro Joins Female Led Paretta Autosport for Indy 500

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

Beth Paretta announced the launch of Paretta Autosport at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Tuesday morning, looking to make the 105th Indianapolis 500 with Simona De Silvestro as their driver.

As part of the Race for Equality & Change program, Team Penske will provide technical assistance to the No. 16 Chevrolet powered race team.

“Today is the beginning of a commitment to gender equity in sport, to encourage women to work hard so they can earn their seat at the table or spot on the grid,” said the team principal of Paretta Autosport. “INDYCAR has been a leader and a welcoming place for women for many years because of the hard work of many women and men before us, but now we have a stronger commitment with INDYCAR’s ‘Race for Equality & Change’ to make sure opportunities continue in the future.

“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.”

De Silvestro, who last competed at Indy in 2015, said she’s very excited for the opportunity that could lead to greater things for females in motorsports.

“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,” said De Silvestro. “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. I want to thank the NTT INDYCAR SERIES for taking such an important leadership role in providing gender and overall diversity inclusion in motorsports.”

No stranger to the sport, Paretta previously announced Grace Autosport in 2015, but the project never materialized because the partnership fell through. It led Paretta searching for a new partner, but with only a month left before the 100th Indy 500, she axed the project.

“I had to take the tough decision and pull the entry because the car that we had wasn’t race worthy,” Paretta on not entering a car in 2016. “Could we have put it together down to the wire? Maybe, but I wasn’t willing to do that because there’s extra scrutiny on a program like this. Everyone’s watching and you must bare that responsibility. Although I had to take that tough decision, that’s part of racing and if you’re doing it the right way, you make those tough decisions.”

From that point forward, Paretta wasn’t discouraged as she went back to work six months after withdrawing the team. Her no quit attitude has led to this moment where the timing was right following discussions with the Penske organization. It might’ve taken her five years, but she wanted her effort to be sustainable instead of being just an entrant.

From Left to Right: Indianapolis Motor Speedway President J. Douglas Boles, Roger Penske, Beth Paretta and Penske Entertainment Corporation’s Chief Diversity Officer Jimmie McMillan following the announcement at IMS (Photo: Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR).

“To put a car on a grid as a one-off, sure. You can do that, but it’s not easy,” Paretta added. “To build a program takes time and I’m more interested in a program.”

President and CEO of Penske Entertainment Corporation Mark Miles described it’s now up to the Swiss racer to set the bar behind the wheel.

“We are pleased to welcome Beth and her Paretta Autosport team to INDYCAR this year,” said Miles. “Her team’s addition to the INDYCAR ‘Race for Equality & Change’ program this year will ensure that INDYCAR and the Indianapolis 500 continues the legacy of having a female driver qualify for the 2021 Indy 500.

“Of course, 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.”

From a location perspective, the female-led race team will operate in Penske’s shop in North Carolina, making it easier for Paretta to work with them.

What also made it easier for Paretta is having an experience racer like De Silvestro, and while she hasn’t competed in IndyCar since 2015, she’s certainly kept herself real busy in the world of motorsports. Whether it’s competing in Supercars for three full seasons to endurance racing across the world.

“Simona has been racing full-time even though we haven’t seen her here in some very competitive series including Supercars against Team Penske. They were also comfortable with her capabilities and I think she’s a great fit,” Paretta on De Silvestro’s racing career.

“She’s done real well here and I think it’s a really great opportunity and we can have a shot to have some good results. The fact it’s a really good fit for the mission, so beyond just behind the wheel, I think we’re very aligned and that means a lot to me.”

During the conference, De Silvestro confirmed she has gotten Porsche’s blessing to compete in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” scheduled to commence May 30. She found Tuesday’s announcement as culmination of what she’s been working for her entire racing career.

“It’s quite a special day and something I’ve worked for my entire life to get a proper shot at this race. It’s super exciting that it’s finally happened,” said De Silvestro. “When Beth and Roger Penske called me a few months ago about this opportunity, it was quite surreal that it happened so quickly.

“To come back like this is something it’s all coming together, getting the right opportunity. I think this is the one to be honest. I’m pretty grateful the fans are welcoming back with open hearts and hope to put on a good show.”

In five previous starts, De Silvestro’s best outing was 14th in 2010 which earned her Indy 500 Rookie of the Year honors, joining Lyn St. James (1992) and Danica Patrick (2005) as the only females earning that award.

Last August’s 200-lap race didn’t feature a female racer in any capacity since 1999 as Pippa Mann was the last to make the 33-car grid in 2019. Mann didn’t enter as she wasn’t able to secure sponsorship to compete.

Compared to her tenure in IndyCar from 2010-15, she’s motivated and focused on proving folks her worth like some have hoped from her for the past decade.

“I see the picture a little bit differently and know what I need to be quick. I’ve been so lucky to be racing in so many different cars and I think that can help a lot, but I’m super excited to get back into an Indy car,” said De Silvestro.

“From a driving style point of view, I think it’s definitely the one so far the one that’s fitted the best for me. Just getting the chance to get back into an Indy car I’m really happy about it. I think I’ve grown quite a lot and the things I’ve experience are going to be really good for my future and I can’t wait to get going.”

While the long-term goal is running more NTT IndyCar Series races, the team’s focus is making this year’s running and set the bar for females who either want to get involved or become fans of the sport.

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. Over the years, Luis has focused on writing, video and photography ranging from Idaho athletics to auto racing with ambitions of having his work recognized.