Nissan Motorsport newcomer Simona de Silvestro tells Mark Fogarty why she's ready for the challenge of becoming Supercars' first full-time female driver in her latest effort to break the gender barrier in issue #96.
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If de Silvestro doesn't make it in Supercars, it won't be for lack of opportunity. Rather than waiting for a woman to fight her way in at the bottom, Supercars has given de Silvestro the chance to establish herself from a secure and solid base.
Supercars is underwriting her three-year deal, paying her substantial salary with the backing of retail giant Harvey Norman. Reputedly worth a total of $3 million a year, the guaranteed funding immediately made de Silvestro attractive to teams well inside the top half
of the field.
Nissan Motorsport beat Prodrive Racing Australia and Walkinshaw Racing on the basis of its factory backing and allied marketing support. Along with the financial and promotional benefits, the interest was underpinned by the belief that, as an accomplished open-wheel racer, she has the talent and dedication to become competitive in Supercars.
De Silvestro is the first female to compete full-time in the championship since Christine Gibson, who was fifth in the 1976 standings in a factory-backed Alfa Romeo 2000 GTV after contending for the title under the then under and over three-litre class structure. Christine Gibson, the wife of legend Fred Gibson, is the standout woman in Australian touring cars so far. De Silvestro will be challenging the best on outright and even terms.
In fact, the 28-year-old Swiss arguably has the best chance a female has ever had to compete equally with the established men in a major road-racing championship. Supercars' intervention has overcome the traditional obstacles women drivers have faced, leaving her free to demonstrate she can transfer her talent to tin-tops.
The deal gives de Silvestro security, time to become competitive and she joins a well-resourced operation with an improving car. The combination is unprecedented for an outsider, alleviating the uncertainties that normally burden a foreign rookie. As well, Nissan will actively promote her involvement, assisting Supercars' efforts to broaden the sport's appeal to women.
Despite proving at least equal to her male rivals, de Silvestro's previous efforts to break through the gender barrier were stymied by conservative attitudes.
Without securing big backing to offset the 'risk', she was unable to continue in IndyCar – even though she is one of only three women to have stood on the podium – or graduate from testing to racing with the Sauber Formula 1 team.
Her reputation as a tough and fearless racer earned her the nickname 'The Iron Maiden', and with the time and the tools to establish herself in Supercars, de Silvestro is confident she will prove worthy of the intimidating sobriquet on the track.
Out of the car, her uncontrived amiability, charm and directness will ensure she is a promotional asset to both Nissan and Supercars.
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