The list of drivers to latch onto the back of Will Power or Tony Kanaan on a road course--and stay within striking distance--is a short one, but that's just what Simona De Silvestro, the 22-year-old native of Thun, Switzerland did today at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
De Silvestro, all smiles and excitement after placing fourth in the 100-lap season opening race for the IZOD IndyCar Series, crossed the finish line less than a half-second behind Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar Series champion, and ran as high as second early in the event.
Attrition certainly played a part in helping De Silvestro move from her 17th-place starting position to fourth by the end of the two-hour race, but it had nothing to do with her ability to tussle with three of IndyCar's best road racers.
While Franchitti and Power created a bit of separation in at the head of the field, the most heated battle on Sunday took place between Kanaan and De Silvestro as they scrapped for the final spot on the podium.
De Silvestro's attacking style fits perfectly with the best road racers in the IZOD IndyCar Series. (Marshall Pruett)
Both drivers came into the race feeling unsettled, with Kanaan signing to drive for his KV-Lotus Racing team just days before the event, and De Silvestro having to work with a new and unfamiliar race engineer on the eve of her sophomore IndyCar campaign.
The fact that De Silvestro's usual engineer left her team to assume the role as Kanaan's engineer at KV-Lotus only managed to add to the brewing on-track battle at St. Pete.
With the final 15 laps of the race turning into a private duel between Kanaan and De Silvestro, and only after the race was over, the two protagonists revealed just how much they enjoyed the spirited duel.
"It's the first time really competing against each other," said De Silvestro. "You know, it's pretty crazy for me because I've been watching him since I was growing up and to be right there racing him now is pretty cool, you know."
Kanaan, who was unfamiliar with the new green and white color scheme on De Silvestro's car, admitted it took a while before he learned which driver was pushing him to his limits and beyond in the quest for third place.
"[My team] said that it was Simona, and I [then] remembered because she blew my doors off in the restart before. And I knew she was strong. You know, I used everything I could to be able to hold her off."
Becoming a regular contender at the sharp end of the grid is clearly De Silvestro's goal, but for now, and with many celebrating her breakthrough performance at St. Pete, a Tweet late Sunday night from her sparring partner put a nice wrapper on the weekend.
"Great job girl," said Tony Kanaan to his new pal @simdesilvestro. "Next time take it easy on the old guy here. . Nice drive."
Kanaan and De Silvestro step into the ring for Round 2 at Barber Motorsports Park on April 10th.
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