Simona De Silvestro and her HVM Racing team are in Edmonton this week hoping to put a slew of problems behind them that have left her buried deep in the driver standings.
"Finishing races would be a pretty good first goal. We've only finished three races this season," said the 23-year-old. "We've had a really difficult season, but we just have to work through it and try to get the best we can every race weekend."
De Silvestro's No. 78 Dallara stalled out at the season opener in St. Petersburg, Fla., and it's all gone downhill from there: collisions, mechanical problems, engine failures, fuel pump problems and gearbox breakdowns.
She was also blackflagged early at the Indianapolis 500 because her Lotus engine was too slow.
Lotus has indeed been the locus of HVM's despair. The engine-maker came late to the series in 2012, and its 2.2 litre turbocharged powerplant has been running about 2.5 per cent slower than the Chevy and Honda engines being used by the other teams.
The four other teams using Lotus have switched to a rival.
Lotus has been allowed to make modifications, and De Silvestro said the 2.5-per cent gap narrowed a bit in Toronto two weeks ago and may close a bit further for Sunday's race on the 2.2-mile, 13-turn temporary street course at Edmonton's City Centre Airport.
"I think we got a little bit closer (to bridging the gap)," she said. "But I think we're still outside of that."
The woman from Thun, Switzerland — dubbed the "Iron Maiden" or "Swiss Miss" — sits a distant 24th in the point standings. She has completed just 598 laps in nine races while all the other full-time drivers in the series are over 1,000. Sebastien Bourdais, by comparison, has 626 laps and he's sharing a ride with Katherine Legge at Dragon Racing.
When De Silvestro's car holds up, there have been results: a 13th-place finish at Belle Isle, Mich., and 14th at Iowa.
The driving skill is there, as she showed last year in St. Petersburg while duelling with Tony Kanaan en route to a 4th place finish — her best result in three years of driving in IndyCar.
But it has been a tough three years.
After a promising rookie season in 2010, she has since been burned, bruised, concussed and pinballed between walls at Milwaukee, and spun clockwise on her head down the track in a fiery wreck at Indianapolis.
Her hands have been burned twice: in Texas in 2010 she was trapped in her blazing car for a minute while crews worked to unhitch a kinked water hose.
A year later at the Indianapolis 500, her ride's back end slipped out coming out of a turn in practice, went airborne, caught the catch fence, flipped over, skidded down the track and caught fire.
Despite burning her hands again, she was OK. But three races later at Milwaukee, she sustained a concussion when her car lost control out of a turn, spun rear-end first into the outer wall then pinballed, back-end first again, into the concrete inner wall.
There are still reminders.
"You can see the burns a little bit on the hands, but it's all good now," De Silvestro said.
She added that the Indianapolis crash led her to question driving for a living, but it ultimately taught her a lot about who she is and what she wants to be.
"When I went back in (the car), it just really showed me that that's what I wanted to do," she said. "I wanted to be a race car driver, and that makes me want to work even harder to be successful."
That journey continues with Edmonton, focusing only on the car in front of her.
"Usually you go into the race and you want to win it, where in our case it's not really realistic, so you try to make a better result than you had before," De Silvestro said. "Our best finish is 13th so hopefully we can finish 12th or 11th.
"That would be a really good goal for us."Suggest a correction