Note: The editorial staff at INDYCAR.com is taking a look back at the 10 biggest moments of 2021 in INDYCAR in this year-end series, with one installment appearing on the site per day in countdown fashion from Dec. 22-31.
A dream formulated nearly a decade ago became reality in 2021.
In the fall of 2014, longtime motorsports executive Beth Paretta had a conversation with a colleague who had recently attended a Formula One race and saw two female engineers working for a team. It was described to Paretta like “seeing two unicorns.”
A thought was generated. Could a team built mostly of women compete in Indianapolis 500 for the first time? Paretta saw no reason why it couldn’t, and if achieved it could be an inspiration to the thousands of young girls who aspire to have a place in the sport.
If Paretta was going to field the team, she needed a driver capable of winning the “500.” She selected Simona De Silvestro, who had made five previous starts in the iconic race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and was named the “500’s” Rookie of the Year in 2010 after finishing 14th.
Once the idea was shared with Roger Penske, the owner of IMS and the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, the effort went into high gear through Penske’s “Race for Equality & Change” initiative. Penske arranged for a technical alliance with Team Penske, and Paretta began organizing potential crew members and auxiliary personnel to make the Chevrolet-powered operation as female-driven as possible.
On May 23, the No. 16 Chevrolet-powered entry earned its coveted starting position in the 33-car field by posting a four-lap average of 228.353 mph. Yes, it had to survive a nerve-wracking Bump Day, but so did Will Power, a veteran Team Penske driver and the winner of the 2018 “500.” As every competitor knows, Indy has a way of humbling even the best of competitors, and it has been known to show no mercy when it comes to qualifying.
Like others who earned their way into the field on Bump Day, Paretta was admittedly relieved to make the race, which, of course, is never a foregone conclusion.
“It’s unbelievable,” she said. “It’s like climbing a mountain and getting to the top and looking around to see how beautiful it is. It’s just amazing and a testament to everybody working hard overnight, digging in and never giving up. That’s what it is and that’s what got us here and what got us (in the field) today.”
On Race Day, three of De Silvestro’s four tire changers were women, all there on merit. Race teams are permitted seven people to go over the wall for pit stops, and four of those representing Paretta Autosport were women.
The race did not go as well as intended, with De Silvestro retiring after the car’s brakes locked up and caused her to spin on pit road 31 laps from the finish. (The same thing happened to Power earlier in the race.) De Silvestro was credited with the 31st finishing position.
Still, the point had been made, and Paretta and her group soon began making plans for a return in 2022.