Nissan Motorsport’s Simona de Silvestro has exclusively opened up on the challenges she has faced, not only in her foray into the Supercars Championship but in her motorsport career.
The Swiss driver became the first female full-time Supercars driver last year in 20 years when she signed to Nissan Motorsport, following on from two wildcard starts at the Bathurst 1000 in 2015 and 2016.
Entering with a CV more impressive than most of the field thanks to starts in IndyCar and Formula E, her first year driving in every round was always going to be a learning experience trying to master the brutal V8 compared to the more nimble open-wheelers she had previously raced.
Taking time to talk before the Melbourne 400 kicked off, de Silvestro opened up on a trying debut season in an exclusive interview with MotorsportM8 editor Richard Bailey.
“(In 2017) Everything was quite different, a bit frustrating as well because you are coming in to a new series and you have a lot of pressure to show what you can do,” she said.
“Adapting to the car took a while and also it took a while to get in to my head how to drive these cars.
“Throughout the year, every race we went to, I was learning a new track; we don’t use simulators so in the first practice you are getting your bearings and not working on the car.
“It was a big snowball effect which doesn’t work out too well so it’s better in year two.”
Standout drives at Bathurst and Newcastle last year went unrewarded but ultimately built confidence within de Silvestro who has used the experience to back herself this year.
“Newcastle felt like how it did when I was racing in IndyCars, it was good to get to know I could get the car to do that and to make me feel comfortable setup wise.
“All the work we did all year ended up in Newcastle. Going in to this year, I can work on the car to try and get that feeling which is a big plus.”
A shuffle around at all levels within Nissan’s Supercars operation has seen her end up with her third co-driver in three years in Alex Rullo, as well as a new engineer, but despite this she remains focused on the job at hand.
“Alex is driving in Super2, it was a team decision because I would’ve liked to have continued with David Russell.
“We had good chemistry and worked well together but it’s a team decision so you just get on with it. I haven’t put much thought in to it, there’s enough stuff to focus on now and the endurance season is quite far away.
“I feel more confident with where the car needs to be so that’s a big plus because before every track was difficult.
“Towards the end of the season, Blake [her previous engineer] and I got to a car that I liked. Now we are trying to get that feeling with Chris and this new car.
“Going in to this race, we have a better plan than Adelaide where we hadn’t been together before.
“If you start to work with someone new and only have one test day, it makes it tricky.
“Most other series have a few test days where you can figure out and try different stuff. Adelaide is like being thrown in the deep end.”
Recently becoming a part of Susie Wolff’s ‘Dare to be Different’ campaign, which encourages young women to participate in motorsport, has been an honour for the Swiss born racer, however comments from Carmen Jordá on women’s prospects in motorsport have solidified her belief that now is a time for unity.
“I think she (Susie) has done a good job in Europe and it’s cool for me to be a part of it in Australia. I’m the only female in the highest racing series here so there’s a lot of eyes on what I’m doing,” she explained.
“I just try to get the best result possible which I hope will inspire more young girls doing go-karting and also more parents to give their girls a chance to try motorsport. That’s the biggest goal and with CAMS’s involvement in getting it integrated here in Australia is pretty cool.
“There’s not many of us but we should be working together to show it is possible for young women.
“I’ve never really talked to Carmen personally but I felt at the time that it wasn’t the right thing to say. I felt like in my career, being a woman has never been a physical hindrance to me.”
Images via Keith McInness Photography and MotorsportM8