by Julian Spivey
Potentially the best story at this year’s Indianapolis 500 is the majority-female team Paretta Autosport owned by Beth Paretta and driven by Simona de Silvestro. The aerodynamics engineer on the team is also a woman, as is most of the pit crew. The entire team is comprised of about 75 percent women.
And Paretta Autosport is out to prove it can hang with the boys at the what’s likely the world’s most famous racetrack Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
This is a dream Paretta has had for quite a while now. She planned to field a race team at the event as far back as 2016 but revived the idea last year when the series was purchased by team owner Roger Penske, who launched a diversity initiative within the sport. Penske team, which has won more Indy 500s than any team in the racer’s legendary history, is providing Paretta Autosport technical partnership.
De Silvestro will be competing in her sixth Indy 500 on Sunday, but it will be her first start in the race after six years away competing in other forms of auto racing. De Silvestro, who competed full-time in the IndyCar Series from 2010-2013 with a best career finish of second place at the 2013 Grand Prix of Houston. Her career high at Indy is 14th, which she accomplished in her rookie try at the track in 2010. She spent the last five seasons competing in the Australian Supercars series.
De Silvestro is one of nine women to compete in the history of the Indianapolis 500. Janet Guthrie was the first woman to qualify for the race in 1977. Sarah Fisher’s nine starts in the race are the most for any female driver. Danica Patrick’s third place finish in the 2009 event is the highest finishing position in race history for a female driver.
De Silvestro in an interview with People Magazine said she believes this female-led startup will lead to more opportunities for women in the sport in the future.
“I think we can inspire so many people through this,” she said.
De Silvestro was Paretta’s first choice for the ride on this team telling People the 32-year-old Swiss driver is “probably the best all around woman driver in the world.”
Four of the seven pit crew members of Paretta Autosport are women, two of whom are moms with kids at home, one is a former Coast Guard mechanic and the other is a dog groomer and bartender when not working in the pits. The previously mentioned aerodynamics engineer previously worked in NASCAR and came to racing from Boeing, according to People.
De Silvestro will be piloting the team’s No. 16 Chevrolet sponsored by Rocket Pro TPO, Money Lion and University of South Carolina’s Carolina Online from the 33rd and final spot on the starting grid. Qualifying was a struggle for the team attempting to make its debut in the series in the sport’s biggest race, but once again the team was just a gleam in Paretta’s eye last year. The car that will be starting in the middle of the final row right beside de Silvestro is Will Power, a driver for Penske Racing’s top-flight team and a former series champion and winner of this race just three years ago. Paretta Autosport out-qualified two other teams for the field’s final spot.
Anything can happen during Sunday’s race and it’s probably hard to have expectations for a first-time team, but one thing is for sure – it’s a terrific story and hopefully merely the beginning for the team.