With fifty laps to go, De Silvestro's drink bottle stops working. With thirty-seven laps to go, the team goes to a fuel-conservation strategy. De Silvestro is poised to pick up several positions when the field is frozen by a hellacious wreck on the last lap, and she finishes fourteenth, running out of fuel as she takes the checkered flag. After being towed to the pits, she has to be helped from her car. "She did an awesome job," Perona says. "She deserves a raise."
An hour later, revived with food and water, De Silvestro is still jazzed by the experience. "It was crazy out there!" she says, her eyes shining. With time, perhaps, her sense of wonder will dissipate. But at the moment, she radiates her passion for racing, and she openly expresses the sense of joy she gets from balancing a car on the limit of adhesion.
When the race began, she says, the buffeting was so fierce that her tires didn't feel like they were touching the ground. Then her car was wicked loose, and on one occasion, she countersteered so violently that she ran out of steering lock. What else? She was dehydrated. She barely avoided Vitor Meira's wreck. Her right foot was numb from matting the throttle for so long. Sounds like a nightmare, right? "Oh, no," she says, genuinely horrified. "That was the funnest thing I've ever done. I can't wait to come back next year."
Like Saint James and Patrick in years past, De Silvestro was named Rookie of the Year. Patrick, who'd been booed again during the driver introductions, ran a gritty race to finish sixth (and ate plenty of humble pie afterward). Nobody's ever doubted Patrick's bravery or determination, and she's always been especially good on ovals. But nothing on her résumé -- one professional race win -- suggests that she's going to be a dominant driver in IndyCar, much less NASCAR.
Still, no matter what trajectory Patrick's career takes, it's impossible to overestimate the adversity she had to overcome or the impact she's had. Thanks in part to Patrick's success, De Silvestro has never had to deal with the issue of gender. "For me," she says, "it's always been about results." For better or worse, she's not a pioneer. She's just a driver with two X chromosomes, and her goal isn't breaking down barriers or beating the boys. It's winning races. And if she can win enough of them, it really won't matter that she's a woman.