Sunday, September 4, 2011

Bandaged De Silvestro ready for Indy 500: 'It's painful'

Sunday, September 4, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS ? This was media interview day for the Indianapolis 500 drivers, and here was the first question.

  • Simona De Silvestro burned her hands in a crash last week, but she will start Sunday's Indianapolis 500 23rd.

    By Jonathan Ferrey, Getty Images

    Simona De Silvestro burned her hands in a crash last week, but she will start Sunday's Indianapolis 500 23rd.

By Jonathan Ferrey, Getty Images

Simona De Silvestro burned her hands in a crash last week, but she will start Sunday's Indianapolis 500 23rd.

Who's the lady over there with hands you can't see, since they're bandaged to treat all the burns?

"It's painful," Simona De Silvestro was saying about the injuries from a crash last week. "But when you get in the car, the adrenaline starts to take over."

Then she mentioned how doctors have been taking dead skin off her hands, and doesn't that sound like a fun day. "It looks pretty good to them," she said of her healing wounds. "It doesn't look really good to me."

But she intends to be clutching a steering wheel for 500 miles with all that gauze. Just like she climbed into the car to qualify last weekend, two days after hitting the wall in practice, flipping down the track, and ending upside-down in flames.

"This," she said, "has got to be the hardest thing I've ever had to go through." But she was smiling.

(Note to self: The next time someone asks for a list of tough athletes, hope no one giggles when I mention a 22-year-old former fencer from Switzerland named Simona.)

(Second note to self: Not every female driver in the Indianapolis 500 is named Danica).

With the Indianapolis 500 turning 100 years old, it seemed a good time to check how the battle of the sexes is going.

As late as the 1970s, female sportswriters were not allowed in the garages. Come Sunday, four women will drive in the race. The Man at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is actually a woman, with Mari Hulman George the chairman of the board, and her three daughters among her board members.

On the track, Danica Patrick remains the queen of IndyCar racing, except her highness is said to be seriously pondering a move to NASCAR. There have even been thoughts this might be her last Indy 500, though she isn't addressing the subject much, other than to say she is amazed to find her deliberation on SportsCenter.

"I'm very flattered that people care," she said.

Danica has been seen as the support beam holding up the entire IndyCar stage with some of the American public. How ironic is it, that in this traditional man's world, the marketing folks fret about the decision of a woman?

Meanwhile, the drivers and their camps motor on.

"We'll survive without her," Tony Kanaan said. "If anybody thinks that this sport is only alive because of her, we have a problem. She is important, yes. I appreciate what she did for the sport and still does for it. We'd love to still have her here. But if she doesn't want to be here, fine."

Mario Andretti: "The Danica effect was very important, but I think we have overgrown that."

And three-time champion Helio Castroneves: "I'm sure we could come up with somebody else, some other female strong enough to represent what Danica did."

In the field is rookie Pippa Mann, an Englishwoman driving here because the men didn't take her seriously in Europe. "Out here," she said, "it's about whether you can drive."

Also Brazil's Ana Beatriz, whose full name is six words and 35 letters long.

And the woman whose bandaged hands look like she tried to wrestle a hot stove. To walk away from that smash-up and drive so fast two days later caught everyone's attention.

"She proved to the world what they already knew, that women are a lot stronger than men," Kanaan said of De Silvestro.

"She's for real," added Andretti, who came along in the age of one-gender garages. "Determined, capable, smart."

It isn't easy trying to make a living as a driver from Switzerland, where auto racing is banned. The Swiss apparently prefer safer pastimes, such as throwing yourself down a snowy mountain on two skis.

"It was scary for me," De Silvestro said of her decision to return so quickly after the crash. "The toughest decision I've ever had to make.

"You have one part that says you shouldn't do it, it's dangerous. But then there's the race car driver inside me."

The race car driver won. And the women's movement rolls on at Indianapolis.

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