So what happened at her debut in Brazil? She led four laps. In fact, her pace has been good all season, allowing her to run solidly in mid-pack before being victimized by rookie miscues. Kansas Speedway, her first oval, was the only track where she seemed in over her head. "She threw out the parachute the first few laps," Perona says. Says De Silvestro: "It's funny, because last year and the year before, when I watched oval races on TV, I was like, 'Oh, that's easy.' Then when I got to Kansas and everybody told me it was flat [full throttle], and I'm like, 'Are you sure about that? It doesn't look possible.' " She smiles. "The first fifty laps, I was so confused. But when I passed Justin Wilson, the light bulb came on."
Cannon was convinced that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway played to De Silvestro's strengths-high-speed corners and the ability to provide high-quality feedback. She breezed through rookie orientation and practiced well before drawing a bad qualifying number on Pole Day. During the autograph session the day before the race, the drivers were seated according to their grid position, which placed De Silvestro next to Patrick. Hundreds of fans showed up with Danica apparel and merchandise. And there was one remarkably self-possessed thirteen-year-old girl wearing a Simona hat and T-shirt.
"I don't like Danica because she's always whining," Jessica Hoopengardner said after snagging De Silvestro's autograph. "I found it fairly funny when she got booed last week. I like Simona because she's a good, new female driver. I think she'll finish between tenth and twentieth tomorrow."
Out of the mouths of babes . . .
Race day is obnoxiously hot and humid. This means De Silvestro will have to deal not only with brutal conditions in the cockpit but also with a treacherously greasy racetrack. The tension ratchets up during the interminable prerace festivities, and after getting to the grid, she fights the almost irresistible urge to go to the bathroom. It's a relief to finally be strapped in the car. Still, during the pace lap, for the first time in the middle of a full field of thirty-three cars and a racetrack filled with fans, she's so nervous that her legs are shaking.
Immediately after honorary starter Jack Nicholson waves the green flag, De Silvestro picks up a position. But before the first lap is over, Davey Hamilton wrecks in front of her -- a taste of what's to come. Ten drivers will crash out of the race, and three more will park their undrivable cars. De Silvestro struggles with an ultraloose car that constantly threatens to end her day. On several occasions, she dirt-tracks the car around turn 3, and she survives half a dozen heart-stopping moments in turn 1.