Monday, 27 August 2012

Simone des Forest


Simone (right) and Odette Siko with the Triumph, 1935

Simone des Forest was a popular figure in her native France, and enjoyed a lengthy motorsport career, on both sides of the Second World War. Born in 1910, she was the youngest of the French ladies’ motor racing “set” of the 1930s, which included Madame Hellé-Nice and Anne Itier. She learned to drive at the age of twelve, at home, and at nineteen, was described by some sources as one of the first French women to earn a driving license.

Her competition career began very soon afterwards, in 1930. Her first event was a hillclimb at Baraque. In 1931, she is described as having entered a Paris-Vichy race, perhaps a road race, although no entry lists for this event, have come to light. It is quite probable that “Paris-Vichy race” refers to a stage of the Paris-St. Raphaël Rally. Some female racers of the time faced the disapproval of their families, but not so Simone; her mother is described as her co-driver from Paris to Vichy. Her mother was also her navigator for the Paris-Antibes-Juans-les-Pins rally in 1931, in the family Rosengart.

After a quiet couple of years, Simone reappears on the motorsport scene in 1934. She was talent-scouted by Charles de Cortanze for the Monte Carlo Rally, following her performances in a series of ladies’ races at Montlhéry, organised by de Cortanze himself. Simone partnered Fernande Hustinx in a Peugeot 301, starting at Bucharest. They won the Coupe des Dames and were seventeenth overall. Simone kept a detailed notebook, complete with skilful illustrations, of her journey, which has partly been published.

The following year, Simone teamed up with Odette Siko for the Monte. They were driving a Triumph and won their class. The pair may also have entered the Monte together again in 1937. At around this time, she also entered the Paris-St. Raphaël at least once, apparently in an Amilcar.

In 1937, Simone’s most high-profile activity was her involvement in the Yacco speed trials at Montlhéry, a series of record-breaking runs in a giant Ford-engined Mathis “Matford”. Yacco Oil had assembled an all-female team of Simone, Odette Siko, Claire Descollas and Madame Hellé-Nice, who were to attempt a string of speed and endurance records. Claire Descollas, who was nominally the team’s captain, and after whom the Matford, “Claire”, was possibly named, dropped out after the first day of runs, and the endeavour was also troubled by friction between Hellé-Nice and the rest of the team. Simone, the youngest of the four, did not see eye-to-eye with her more flamboyant and well-travelled colleague, and Odette Siko had to keep the peace. Nevertheless, despite these setbacks, the Yacco ladies’ team set 26 new records , some of which still stand.

Her activities between 1937 and the outbreak of war in 1939 are hazy: there are references to her finishing tenth in a French road racing championship, but little in the way of solid results. During the war itself, she worked as a truck driver for the Red Cross.

Unlike many of the French racers of the inter-war years, she recommenced motorsport after the end of the war, having escaped unscathed. In 1953, she entered her first Mille Miglia, at the age of 43. She and Annie Bousquet were driving a Renault 4CV, and were 282nd. There are photographs of Simone standing next to a 4CV, alone, in circulation, and she may have used this car in rallies, or in regional races. Later in the year, she teamed up with Elyane Imbert, driving a Porsche 356 Super 1500. They entered the Spa 24 Hours and Nürburgring 1000km during the summer, but were disqualified from both races. In the German event, this was due to receiving outside assistance.

Simone apparently remained active in motorsport until 1957. After that, she retired, concentrating on running her own driving school, which was established in 1950. As well as motoring, she took an interest in flying, and qualified as a pilot. Her airborne activities may account for some of the gaps in her competition record, on both sides of the war.

After her death in 2004, at 94, she lives on in French culture. The popular expression “En voiture, Simone!”, said to indicate the start of some action or another, refers to Simone des Forest, after being used in a TV programme in 1962.

(Photo taken from http://rallyemontecarlo1935.unblog.fr)  
(Thanks to Richard Armstrong for data.)

Monday, 20 August 2012

Simona de Silvestro


Simona in 2010

Simona de Silvestro is a Swiss single-seater driver who competed mainly in America as a professional racer, before being signed by the Sauber Formula One team as an "affiliated driver". She was born in 1988.

Being born in Switzerland meant that, after a karting career, she had to race elsewhere. She did one season of Italian Formula Renault before moving to the States. This season was rather up-and-down in nature, with a fifth place at Monza its highlight, and two other top-ten finishes, but also some disappointing performances, and four retirements. She was 20th overall.

Her first US season proved to be a change in fortunes. Driving in Formula BMW for EuroInternational, Simona was much more on the pace,  and did everything apart from win - she was second twice, at Lime Rock and Mosport, and the only time she was out of the top ten, was when she was disqualified during the second Lime Rock race. She was fourth overall.  

She then moved on to the Champ Car Atlantic junior series in 2007, with Walker Racing. Despite a poor start to the season, with two retirements from her first two races, her best finish was seventh, at Mont Tremblant, and she also managed to pick up a tenth place at San Jose. She was 19th overall at the end of the season. For a change, she also made a guest appearance in an SCCA race, driving a Mazda MX-5.

She returned to the championship in 2008 with Newman Wachs. This proved to be a real turning point in her career. During the first round at Long Beach, she became the second-ever woman to win a race, moving up from her qualifying position of second. After that, she achieved a string of other top-ten finishes, including two fourths at Road Atlanta and Trois-Rivieres. Apart from two retirements, she only finished outside the top ten three times. She was eighth overall.

After being a regular fixture in the Atlantic top ten in 2008, she improved her performance once more in 2009, only finishing outside the top three on three occasions, two of which were retirements. She scored four wins, four seconds and one third, and was third overall. Her team this year was Team Stargate Worlds.

She graduated to the Indy Racing League in 2010, still supported by Stargate, in conjunction with the HVM team. Her season started solidly, although not spectacularly, with a pair of 16th places at Sao Paulo and St Petersburg, then a 21st at Barber. Normally, she qualified slightly higher. Her first Indy 500 led to a 14th place, battling from 22nd on the grid. This earned her a Rookie of the Year award. A trio of DNFs then followed, including a fiery accident at Texas, which left Simona with burns to her hand. However, when she returned for the Toronto round, she shot up from 21st on the grid to ninth, her best finish so far. Later in the season, she managed to better it, with eighth at Mid-Ohio, but she could not maintain the momentum, and had three more non-finishes. She was 19th overall.

She was retained by the team for 2011, and started well, with a fourth at St Petersburg and ninth at Barber. After this, her pace dropped off, leading to 20th places at Long Beach and São Paulo. The Indy 500 gave her a DNF, following a string of dramatic incidents; another spectacular crash during practice left her with burns, of varying severity, on both hands. She was allowed to qualify with the team’s spare car, and was classified 24th, but did not finish.

Two indifferent races at Texas followed, then another practice crash at Milwaukee, which preceded another retirement. Simona did not attend the next race, in order to recover from what appears to have been concussion. Her return at Toronto gave her a tenth place, her only top ten of the season, but then bad luck struck again, and she had to miss another round due to issues with her passport. The last rounds gave her a twelfth, fourteenth and a DNF. She was 20th at the end of the year.

Her contract with HVM continued for 2012, this time driving the new Lotus-engined car. Simona and the team struggled with reliability in the early part of the season, only finishing every other race, and hoped that a new engine from Lotus would improve their fortunes. Sadly, it did not make much difference: the DNFs continued and Simona's best finishes were a pair of fourteenth places, at Belle Isle and Iowa. She did not finish the Indy 500, after qualifying in 32nd place. Her final championship position was 24th. 

Unsurprisingly, she switched teams for 2013, moving to KV Racing Technology, alongside Tony Kanaan. She was on the pace quickly, qualifying third for her first race, and finishing sixth, and following up with top-ten finishes at Long Beach and São Paulo. Indianapolis itself was mediocre, with Simona finishing 17th, although up from 24th on the gird. A mid-season lull followed, but she managed to drag herself out of it, and back into the top ten, at Toronto. Things really picked up towards the end, with a fifth place at Baltimore, then a second at Houston, the best of Simona's career. This was a first podium position for a female driver, on an Indycar road course. A tenth and an eighth rounded out the season, and she was thirteenth overall.

Despite her comparative success, Simona's management have hinted that she was not happy with the KV team, and certain KV people admitted as much in 2014.

Another catalyst for Simona to move on, was a testing deal with the Sauber Formula One team, as an "affiliated driver". This was offered as a year of testing and training, with a view to a race seat in 2015. As she was not one of the team's official test drivers, she was only allowed to drive non-current machinery. She tested a 2012 Sauber at Fiorano and Valencia, and has covered sufficient distance to be awarded a Superlicence. She hoped to secure the place in the team, and had sponsorship from an energy company towards achieving this. Unfortunately, an announcement was made at the start of October, to the effect that Simona's financial backing was no longer in place, and she was no longer in the running for a 2015 race seat. Team principal, Monisha Kaltenborn, was said to be considering an alternative role for her within the team., but Simona's "affiliation" was pronounced over. She ceased working with her manager in November, and was said to be considering a return to the IRL. 

She did, in fact, return to Indycar, but only briefly, driving for Andretti Autosport. She did three races, one of which ended in an impressive fourth place, at NOLA. She was also 18th at St. Petersburg, and 19th at Indianapolis itself. Later in the season, she moved across to the Andretti Formula E team, having done two guest races for them in London. Her season started slowly, with a DNF in China, but she was thirteenth at Putrajaya and eleventh at Punta del Este. She took her first points finish at Long Beach, with a ninth place, and repeated it in Berlin. She was 18th in the championship.

In October, she also travelled to Australia for the Bathurst 1000. She was driving in the first all-female team for over ten years, sharing a Prodrive-prepared Ford Falcon with Renee Gracie. An accident by Renee left them down the order, but they were classified in 21st place.

In 2016, she decided that Australia was where her racing future lay. She and Renee Gracie teamed up again for the Bathurst 1000, driving a works-prepared Nissan Altima. They were fourteenth overall, an improvement on last year. Towards the end of the year, it was announced that Simona would be racing full-time in Supercars in 2017. She signed a three-year deal, which, unusually, was with the series promoters themselves, rather than an individual team.

(Picture by Lisa Hurley, from paddocktalk.com)