Print and Go Back News & Opinion [Print without images]

Saturday, May 21, 2011
Updated: May 23, 2:51 PM ET
Full speed ahead for Simona de Silvestro

By Brant James

INDIANAPOLIS -- Simona de Silvestro was trying to explain how she'd been unable to mentally and emotionally process the last 48 hours when the pitched voice of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway track announcer grabbed her attention.

"Ryan Briscoe trying to bump Simona!"

The 22-year-old from Switzerland had sustained second-degree burns on the backs of her hands and fingers in a fiery wreck during a Thursday afternoon practice for the Indianapolis 500. Cleared to practice the next day by IndyCar Series doctors, despite wearing heavy gauze bandages, she had squeezed into the top 24 qualifying spots on her third and final attempt on Saturday. The position provides a brief mental respite, forcing the onus onto the other drivers to take her place with a better time on Sunday's Bump Day.

Briscoe was milliseconds from taking it away. But De Silvestro held 24th and a wide grin pushed across her weary face.

"Shooo," said de Silvestro, who within minutes was mobbed by adoring fans and trending in the United States on Twitter.

"[This] is important because I think it will be good for me to rest tonight," she said. "My head has to kind of get around it because it was really up and down. Yesterday in the morning I didn't want to get back in the car.

"I'm really lucky. Everyone was behind me and I think that gave me the last little bit to make it happen."

Simona De Silvestro
A native of Switzerland, Simona de Silvestro didn't gain much notoriety in her homeland until a crash at Texas Motor Speedway last season left her with minor burns.

De Silvestro said she has had new hand wraps "about 50 times" but is still in some pain while turning the wheel and using the paddle shifter.

"I just have to deal with it," she said.

In doing so she continues impress her peers with her toughness.

"That's a brave person," said fellow qualifier John Andretti. "Here we aren't even flipping a car and she's out there whipping us."

De Silvestro was the only female driver to qualify in the top 24 positions on Saturday, but Ana Beatriz (27), Pippa Mann (36) and Danica Patrick (31) can "bump" their way into the field on Sunday by posting a qualifying time superior to that of any driver in positions 10-24. A total of 33 cars will make the field.

De Silvestro hopes for a day to rest her ailing hands but will almost certainly have to defend her position again with so many strong cars still not qualified. Among them are Ryan Briscoe, who has qualified in every top-four spot since 2008, and the rest of Patrick's Andretti Autosport team, which includes Marco Andretti, Mike Conway and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Patrick was mystified by her team's issues.

"I don't know what it is, and I don't know if it's aero or balance," said Patrick, who finished third in Indianapolis in 2009. "It wasn't that bad out there. It was pretty easy flat so I don't know what's going on, but we're going to have to go to work and figure it out. We've got an Indy 500 to try and win, and we can't do it if we're not in."

Beatriz, like Patrick, was briefly in the field before being swept out.

"We need to figure out where we lost the speed," said Beatriz, who finished 21st in the Indianapolis 500 last season. "The car was much faster this morning. I'm just a little bit disappointed because I think we should be higher. We'll figure it out. I'm confident in the car and I'm confident with the team."