Detroit powers all-female Indy 500 race team
For the first time ever, the Indianapolis 500 will feature a women-run, women-owned racing entry. And Metro Detroit will bring a lot of horsepower.
Seasoned Swiss ace Simona De Silvestro will drive the Rocket Pro TPO sponsored, # 16 Chevy-powered Paretta Autosport IndyCar owned by Beth Paretta, a Detroit-based businesswoman with NASCAR and IMSA racing experience. The team will receive technical assistance from Penske Racing of Bloomfield Hills when it comes to the legendary Memorial Day weekend race.
“The cool thing about professional racing is that men and women can compete against each other on the same team. It’s really a common thing,” Paretta said in an interview. “And racing is more than just a driver. There are so many other roles on a team that people can strive to be a part of it.”
The announcement comes as motorsport seeks to speed up access for women and minority drivers. Female racing drivers lost their most prominent ambassador, Danica Patrick, through retirement in 2018. Patrick is the only woman who has ever won an IndyCar race or qualified for a NASCAR pole. Paretta Autosport is a by-product of the Race for Equality and Change initiative of the IndyCar series, which was launched last year to expand the racing possibilities.
“There was a hiatus after Patrick’s retirement,” said Paretta. “There are great women with talent, but they need sponsorship money. If our team gets a few more people to watch races that might otherwise not have been seen, it helps the sport as a whole we tell it. ” The racing history is a little different, then that helps (all teams and drivers) in the paddock to find sponsors who see value in it. “
In addition to IndyCar, Katherine Legge and Christina Nielsen were signed up as an all-female team at the helm of a Porsche 911 in the GTD class of IMSA. And the rules for off-road extreme e-racing series for electric vehicles require that a male and a female driver – who share driver and passenger duties – “promote gender equality and a level playing field”.
Paretta Autosport’s clients bring a wealth of experience to the track.
The 32-year-old De Silvestro, currently a works driver at Porsche in Europe, has driven from sports cars to Formula 1. Her IndyCar career began in 2010 when she was named Rookie of the Year at the Indy 500, finishing in 14th place. In 2011, she survived a horrific loss of quality for the 500 – a race she competed in five times. She finished second at the 2013 Houston Grand Prix and was only the third female IndyCar podium finisher after Patrick and Sarah Fisher.
“She’s a very good racing driver,” said veteran Autoweek racing writer Stephen Cole Smith. “And along with Katherine Legge and Pippa Mann, she is one of the three best drivers in the world.”
Team owner Paretta rose the corporate ladder to become the first female director of a performance brand and motorsport in the industry as operations manager for Fiat Chrysler’s SRT division. Under her watch, Team Penske took Dodge to the NASCAR championship in 2012, last year the brand drove the ovals of the stock car series with high benches.
“The technical alliance with Penske is really a wonderful opportunity,” said Paretta. “We’ve spent many NASCAR race weekends together on the timing booth. I’ve worked with him in so many different roles.”
You and Penske will team up again at Indy’s legendary Brickyard. De Silvestro will do their first laps in the Chevy car on Thursday and Friday as the IndyCar racing teams go to an open test on Indy’s bench.
Team Penske, which will field four riders under its own racing banner in search of their 19th Indy 500 victory, will provide Paretta’s team with crucial technical expertise.
Since 2015, Paretta Grace has been running Autosport, an organization dedicated to promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education for women through racing.
An Indy 500 listing doesn’t come cheap. Rocket Pro TPO, a division of Detroit-based Rocket Mortgage – the country’s largest mortgage lender – that works with independent mortgage brokers, will be the primary sponsor of the bills. The online banker MoneyLion is a co-sponsor.
“Having Rocket Pro TPO on board as the main sponsor is a perfect partnership,” said Paretta. “We’re both big believers in highlighting the power of women while using technology and speed to be the best at what we do.”
Paretta and Rocket hope to use their bright red and painted IndyCar to draw attention to the potential of women in the racing and mortgage lending industries.
In 1977, Janet Guthrie became the first woman to drive the Indy 500. She was followed by nine other women, with Patrick achieving the best result with third place in 2009. Patrick was the last female participant in the 2018 race.
Paretta follows in the footsteps of racing driver Sarah Fisher (Indy 500 starts as driver: nine), who founded Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing in 2011. This team has since merged with Ed Carpenter Racing.
“Beth (Paretta) called me a few months ago and told me about the opportunity, and I think an hour later I had a Zoom call with Roger Penske and Bud Denker (President of Penske Corp.),” driver Simona De drove Silvestro told Racer magazine. “If I really come back to the speedway with such a constellation and the Penske team, it will really be – to be honest, as a driver – a dream come true.”
Henry Payne is a car critic for The Detroit News. Find him at [email protected] or Twitter @HenryEPayne.