Last year, De Silvestro won four races, all from the pole, and was leading the Atlantic championship until she was punted into a tire barrier in the season-ending race. With nothing left to prove in Atlantics, Safiulla arranged a test at Sebring in an Indy car campaigned by HVM Racing. She'd never driven anything remotely as powerful as the Dallara-Honda, but that didn't dissuade her from lighting up the rear tires as she left the pits for the first time. "You always have to show off a little bit," she explains with a contagious laugh.
Keith Wiggins, HVM's phlegmatic team owner, raised an eyebrow as he watched her slither off. But he figured it would take her time to get up to speed, so he climbed into the trailer to grab a cup of coffee. "While I was inside," he says, "I could hear her down the back straight. Christ, she was on it! I had to get back out there, as much out of concern as out of interest."
Cannon was equally surprised. "Typically, rookies don't start making sense of the car until the middle of their first day. But she came in after her second outing. I think it was her thirteenth lap in the car. She said, 'It has some understeer. But I'd like to settle the rear under braking first.' So we made some changes, and the next time she came in, she said, 'Better. Now you can fix the understeer.' That's a professional race car driver. I told Keith, 'She was very impressive. If we can find a way to run her, I'd like to take care of her car.' "
HVM is a small team whose success on the racetrack belies its meager resources. This year, after funding for other drivers failed to materialize, Wiggins agreed to run De Silvestro for a budget he reckons is maybe one-sixth of what Penske Racing spends on each of its three drivers. Because the team is running only one car, De Silvestro can't share data with a teammate. Also, most of the tracks are new to her.