If female IndyCar Series team owner Beth Paretta had made the decision with her heart instead of her business plan, Simona de Silvestro would have been competing in the 106th Indianapolis 500 on May 29.
Racers from around the world dream of competing in the world’s biggest and most famous race, in front of crowds approaching 325,000 fans at the “Cathedral of Speed” – the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
It’s a race that the driver from Switzerland has competed six times, including a 14th-place finish as a rookie in 2010. She returned from a six-year absence in 2021 and was able to squeak the Team Penske-owned No. 16 Chevrolet into the field for Beth Paretta Autosport in 33rd position. De Silvestro finished the race in 31st.
Team owner Roger Penske, who also own IndyCar, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Indianapolis 500, agreed to help Beth Paretta Autosport achieve its goal as a “Female Forward” operation in 2021. Penske supplied a Chevrolet/Dallara car from its fleet along with some of its top crewmembers that had achieved Indy 500 victories with some of the greatest names in the history of the race.
But the stipulation was Beth Paretta Autosport would have to stand on its own in 2021. Penske is adding a Porsche Sports Car program that will compete in both IMSA and WEC beginning in 2023. The same crewmembers that worked with Paretta’s team at Indy in 2021 are key members of the Porsche program.
With many of the full-time IndyCar teams adding an extra entry to its lineup for the 106th Indianapolis 500, Paretta realized it would stretch one of those two teams to add her car to their program.
Plus, the cost to field a team in the Indianapolis 500, including the tires used for practice, the cost of running a car per lap around the 2.5-mile Speedway and the hotel bill for her team members is quite high.
Instead, Paretta made the sensible decision. Her team would skip this year’s Indianapolis 500 and use its funding to compete in three road course and street course races this season.
“As a team owner, you are looking at a little less than mid six-figures for a single race,” Paretta revealed to me the cost to bring a race team to a regular IndyCar race. “A West Coast race could be a bit more.
“When you are looking at a 17-race schedule, you need $8.5 million to $9 million. Last year with Covid, it was worse because everybody had to have their own hotel room.
“My hotel bill for the Indianapolis 500 was as big as my tire bill. And, you have to feed them, buy them shoes, pants, socks and firesuits that they wear one day. They are not cheap.”
The Next Step
She has aligned her operation with Ed Carpenter Racing, which will supply engineering, crew support and setup advice to Beth Paretta Autosport and the No. 16 Chevrolet.
De Silvestro and Beth Paretta Autosport made its 2022 debut in the June 12 Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America, starting 27th in the 27-car field and finishing 21st on a course where De Silvestro had never competed previously.
“I think it was really important to finish this race,” De Silvestro said afterward. “We had so much going on with me getting back in the car, getting to know the team again and working with my engineer. But we finished and I think we can be pretty happy because things started to come together at the end.
“It’s something to build on.”
The next race is Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Presented by the All-New Honda Civic Type R.
De Silvestro has competed in four races at the 13-turn, 2.258-mile road course in Steam Corners, Ohio with a best finish of eighth in 2010.
The final race of the three is the August 7 Big Machine Music City Grand Prix on the streets of Nashville, Tennessee.
Paretta believes in the long-term development of her IndyCar team, her “three races for the price of one Indy 500” is more beneficial.
I had a chance to talk to both Paretta and De Silvestro, Carpenter, and others at Road America two weeks ago.
“Everybody is emotional when it comes to the Indianapolis 500,” Paretta told me. “This was a decision that was more pragmatic than emotional. We will be back to Indy, for sure. The idea of bringing these women to new places adds to their skill set. They worked their tails off last year and to bring them back and have them do the exact same thing this year wasn’t as appealing.
“What we are doing costs more than doing that. What I’m doing cost more than that.”
Paretta believes three races will give her team more experience that will be valuable when the day comes that BPA can add more races to its schedule.
The goal is to one day become a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team.
Paretta emphasized that she is not attempting to create an all-female IndyCar program, but instead a “female forward” team.
“I know that got hooked as a talking point early, but the reality is to be female forward,” Paretta told me. “There was never going to be enough women at the top level. Respectfully, any race team, you will always have people coming in and getting poached.
“The idea was to be majority female and co-ed. It was always going to be diverse-forward. I think it’s impossible to be all-female at this level.
“We made last season happen because of the seasoned men that helped us out at Team Penske. They loved it. What really helped is these women were delightful and did all the hard work and that earned them respect.”
Paretta also valued the opportunity to work with Team Penske and learn from the most successful and historic team in IndyCar with a record 18 Indianapolis 500 victories.
“You can’t do this alone, not to start a team,” Paretta explained. “Up and down the paddock everybody started with somebody else, for the most part at least for a couple of years. We knew from the beginning, there would be logistics. The people are my team are now on the Porsche LMDh Program.
“He’s building a Sports Car team. People tell me I need to understand what goes into building a sports car program. I’ve actually done that with the Viper and going to Le Mans and how much time it takes.”
Although BPA has joined forces with Ed Carpenter Racing, many of Paretta’s team members continued to work and train at Team Penske during the offseason.
“One thing that Team Penske is doing very graciously because it’s part of the Race for Equality and Change, the women we hired, many of them live near Team Penske in Mooresville, North Carolina,” Paretta explained. “They are going to go through some pit training there because it’s easier, they can do a couple weeks of it to get their legs back under them.
“Also, creatively, they need to learn what it’s like for a car come in from left to right because you’re changing your economies of motion doing a pit stop from an oval to a road course. They’re actually going to train and go through Team Penske’s pit training school.
“As a reminder, last year the women we hired for our pit crew, you can pull this up on Peacock to watch, last year’s 500, those women we hired February 1st. They had never pitted an Indy car before. From February 1st to the end of May they learned from scratch. If you look to see the pit stops, they pitted a car cleanly in the Indy 500. They did that all by being trained by Shaun Rinaman and the team at Team Penske.”
Enter Ed Carpenter Racing
The next phase in BPA’s development includes the current arrangement with Ed Carpenter Racing (ECR).
The car and all of the parts are leased through ECR. Paretta supplies the commercial team in charge of marketing, sponsorship, and public relations. Her team also brings some crewmembers over to ECR’s No. 16 team roster with some assigned to working on the car.
“I’m basically leasing Ed Carpenter Racing’s equipment for those weekends,” Paretta explained. “I have some doubled up people, junior people shadowing his people. Last year, of my team of 30, 20 were women. This year, I have 17 of those coming back, including commercial. Those are seasonal employees because you can’t make a living off three races.
“It’s tough to manage, but what is fantastic and exciting is these women are committed to it. They are excited by it, and they are all coming back. Some of these were rookies to racing. We picked a couple of women because they were athletic. This was their introduction to racing and they caught the racing fever, so we are happy to have them back.
“A lot of my people have jobs with flexibility. That is why we sought out the people we did last year, and it worked out. Having jobs with flexibility allowed them to do that. “Even though you saw us in one race, the month of May is two weeks, and the open test is part of another week. For them to commit to that last year, they had to have very understanding employers. They were probably also excited about the opportunity for them.
“This year, if you look at the calendar, we have a race in June, a race in July and a race in August. That makes it a little easier. That’s how it ended up when I picked the races to do and that makes it a little more palatable when you are part time.
“Some of them are moms.”
As for Carpenter, he has built an impressive IndyCar team with Chevrolet that features 21-year-old Rinus VeeKay and 30-year-old Conor Daly as his two full-time drivers.
Carpenter returns to the cockpit for the oval races on the schedule in the No. 67 Chevrolet.
Because BPA is running in three street and road course events, there was no conflict with his driving schedule. He saw this as a great opportunity help Paretta and her cause.
“I watched everything they were doing last year and, on the communication, and exposure side they clearly did a phenomenal job last year,” Carpenter told me. “Being aligned with that, I think there are some win-wins. When we evaluated the whole thing, I thought there was a good opportunity. We have common interests and relationships with Chevrolet and everything they are doing, and building is extremely important to me.
“My first born is my daughter. I think in a way, it’s fun for me to get her more excited. I’m sure she will be a big Simona fan coming out of this.”
Carpenter agrees that leasing a car from an existing IndyCar operation makes tremendous business sense, instead of purchasing a car.
“We are entering into that phase of this car’s life cycle there are a lot of questions and unknowns about how long we are going to be using this stuff,” Carpenter explained. “It doesn’t necessarily make sense to buy a new fleet of race cars that don’t have a lot of life left in them moving forward.
“We will be supplying equipment as Penske did last year for Paretta Autosport. I know she has ambitions to start ramping up on her end of things. There are less road blocks to growth as she needs and wants to do more.
“I have a great group of people on my team that are super strong on the operation side. As long as we have time and a plan, we can make it happen. We are prepared and will hopefully help Simona have a successful reintroduction to IndyCar.”
Carpenter admits it had to be a difficult decision for Paretta to skip this year’s Indianapolis 500. It’s the grandest spectacle in all of sport with a huge crowd and an international audience.
This weekend’s race will be held on a road course carved out of a cornfield in a community called, Steam Corners, Ohio, surrounded by small Amish family farms.
“It’s a hard decision to choose this over that because the Indy 500 is the greatest,” Carpenter said. “But it’s a long view and playing the long game for Beth and Paretta Autosport, she doesn’t want to be a one-off every year at the Indy 500. She wants to grow her team to a point where they are competing full time in the IndyCar Series. I think that is a logical step in that direction, even though it doesn’t include the Indy 500.
“Strategically, it was a smart decision.”