Since 2000, eight women have driven race cars in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, with a record four earning starting positions in the 2010, 2011 and 2013 Indianapolis 500s.
Recent participation has been limited, with Tatiana Calderon the only woman to have competed in a series race so far this season. That changes this weekend when Simona De Silvestro drives the No. 16 Paretta Autosport Chevrolet in the Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America presented by AMR. Calderon drives the No. 11 ROKiT/AJ FOYT RACING Chevrolet.
With Calderon scheduled for 12 races this season and De Silvestro three, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES has its most entries for women drivers since 2015 when De Silvestro and Pippa Mann combined for nine starts.
“I’m super happy to see another female driver joining the grid, to see women in motorsport,” Calderon said. “I think it’s great for the series, great for the sport. (De Silvestro) is another very competitive driver joining the grid that is already quite competitive.”
This will be the 70th series start of De Silvestro’s career. She has scored top-five finishes on street circuits and ovals, highlighted by a second-place finish in a Houston street race in 2013. She was Rookie of the Year at the “500” in 2010.
Paretta Autosport, owned by veteran motorsports executive Beth Paretta, set a new standard for women participating in the “500” last year when she introduced the female-forward team. Women served in numerous roles on the team, including several on the pit crew that serviced De Silvestro’s car. Several of those women have gone on to even bigger roles in the sport, and some are on the team’s car this weekend.
“I think if (Paretta) wouldn’t have put this program together, I don’t think these women would be in those positions now,” De Silvestro said. “I think that’s really something special … something that Beth can really be proud of.”
De Silvestro is at Road America this weekend because of Paretta’s continued effort. It will be only the second NTT INDYCAR SERIES race for the 33-year-old Swiss driver since 2015.
“Yeah, I’m super pumped,” De Silvestro said. “(Paretta) is an amazing person; I wouldn’t be here without her from that point of view. I think all of the women involved (with the team) I think we’re pretty grateful for her really fighting for this and getting it going.”
A decade ago, women driving in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES had success. Sarah Fisher won a pole at Kentucky Speedway in 2002, and Danica Patrick, a two-time pole winner, won the 2008 race at Twin Ring Motegi Speedway in Japan. Those two raced against each other for six seasons before Fisher drove her last series race in 2010.
Milka Duno joined Fisher and Patrick for 43 races over three seasons (2007-09) before De Silvestro and Ana Beatriz joined the series in 2010. Mann came to the series in 2011, and Katherine Legge followed in 2012.
Mann and De Silvestro are the only women to have competed since 2015.
Calderon, a 29-year-old Colombian, said she remembers watching several of those women when she was racing in Star Mazda.
“I looked up to Simona (and) Danica,” she said. “There was Bia (Beatriz) at some races when I was there, as well.
“I think sometimes you have to see (the success of others) to believe it, for the young generation to say I want to be in INDYCAR because there are females that can compete against men in a very competitive championship.
“(De Silvestro) was doing so well. I wanted to be in INDYCAR (as I watched) her and Danica being very competitive. I think it’s great to have her back, to have more females.”
De Silvestro said it makes her “feel old” to hear that Calderon looked up to her, but she appreciated it. Calderon said it is important for the two of them to inspire others.
“I hope that together we can keep that momentum going and to see more females starting also in single-seaters because at the end, that’s what we need,” she said. “It’s a circle, so hopefully there will be more and more (women) joining us in the future, and we can stay and represent women in the best possible way.”
Calderon said the open nature of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES paddock gives young girls the opportunity to see their dreams in action.
“That’s one of the things I love most about American racing, that the paddocks are open for more kids, for more people so you can interact with some of the little girls,” she said. “Just a handshake or a picture can change their view on the sport. That’s something you feel with their parents as well. It’s like, ‘Look, this is a girl; you can do this.’”
They are. Two of them this weekend at Road America.