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AUTO RACING

Simona De Silvestro still upbeat for Indianapolis 500 despite burned hands

The 22-year-old Swiss driver, who suffered injuries in hard crash in May 19 practice, says the burns are 'pretty painful' but she will push through it to race. Her tenacity has made a big impression.

May 26, 2011|By Jim Peltz
  • IndyCar Series driver Simona De Silvestro's burned hands didn't stop her from qualifying Saturday for the Indianapolis 500.
IndyCar Series driver Simona De Silvestro's burned hands didn't… (Geoff Miller / Reuters )

Reporting from Indianapolis — "It's pretty painful right now," Simona De Silvestro said Thursday as she glanced down at her bandaged hands. "Since they peeled the skin off, it has been quite a bit of a challenge."

So too was De Silvestro's challenge of qualifying a backup car for the Indianapolis 500 after her hands were burned in a hard crash that destroyed her primary car during practice May 19.

But the 22-year-old Swiss driver drove the backup car to an average speed of 224.392 mph at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last weekend, qualifying 23rd in the 33-car field for the famed race.

De Silvestro, in her second full year with the Izod IndyCar Series team of HVM Racing, already had turned heads with her driving prowess. Her tenacity after suffering first- and second-degree burns on her hands has made another big impression.

"She did a fantastic job," said Alex Tagliani, the Canadian who won the pole position for Sunday's race. "She pushed it to the limit and got the proper amount of speed out of it to qualify."

De Silvestro said her bandages are changed almost daily but that there isn't much she can do about the pain other than to grin and bear it. Pain-killing drugs aren't an option for drivers racing at Indianapolis.

"It will be a challenge [during the race], but when you're in the car you start thinking about other things and I'm pretty sure I'm going to start forgetting about it," she said.

De Silvestro said her team has been very supportive and "if in the middle of the race I couldn't drive, they would understand." When it came to qualifying, "it was really up to me.

"I know it's going to be difficult," she said. "I'm just going to try to do my best . . . and be out there as long as I can, and I hope it's going to be [the full] 200 laps."

Despite her willingness to drive more than 220 mph with the pain of burned hands, De Silvestro said she didn't want to look when doctors had to remove some of her burned skin.

"I'm not really good with gross stuff," she said. "But they say it looks good."

Driver switch

After Ryan Hunter-Reay of the Andretti Autosport team was bumped from the field in qualifying last weekend, his team went to rival A.J. Foyt's team asking whether Hunter-Reay — and his valuable sponsors — could get a ride with Foyt for the Indy 500.

Foyt agreed, and Hunter-Reay took over a car driven by Brazilian Bruno Junqueira that had qualified. But because of the switch, Hunter-Reay's No. 41 car will start at the rear of the field.

"[It's an] awkward position to say the least," Hunter-Reay said. "I feel absolutely horrible for Bruno. But this whole deal is not about me.

"I talked to Bruno right after this," Hunter-Reay said. "He understands it's big-league sports."

Patrick denies jump to NASCAR

Danica Patrick denied a report this week that she was making plans to definitely switch to NASCAR stock-car racing full-time next year.

"That is not true at all, not at all," Patrick said. "There haven't been any decisions made."

Patrick, 29, has been competing part-time in NASCAR's second-level Nationwide Series around her IndyCar schedule and has said she is mulling whether to choose one series or the other in 2012 or continue dividing her season.

james.peltz@latimes.com

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