The only time Simona de Silvestro gave her parents any peace when she was a child was when they turned on a Formula 1 auto race. Even then, it seems, she loved the sound of the racing engine.
De Silvestro smiles at the memory from long ago.
"My mom and dad said it was the only time I was quiet," she said. "And when I was about 4, my dad, who worked for a dealership that imported Porsche and Audi, had a go-kart demonstration at his dealership. I wanted to drive one so bad, but my feet wouldn't reach the pedals. I cried, and he finally promised [that] when I could reach the pedals, he'd buy me one. About a year and a half later he did, and that's evidently how it all started. I've been racing ever since."
As an IndyCar rookie last season, de Silvestro finished 14th in the Indianapolis 500 and earned Rookie of the Year honors. On Monday, she came to Baltimore to promote the Baltimore Grand Prix, the newest race on the IndyCar schedule. She also announced new sponsorship with Entergy Nuclear, which promotes an issue — clean air — instead of a product.
"I'm excited about their sponsorship," she said of Entergy Nuclear, which she had raced for in the Atlantic Championship Series in 2008. "And I'm excited that we're coming to Baltimore for a street race. I really like street courses. In Europe, that's the kind of racing we do. It's easy for the fans to be around and see lots of things, and it's challenging for the driver, if you put it all out."
Monday's activities were designed to create a buzz about the event Sept. 2-4, which promoters said is expected to draw more than 100,000 people to downtown Baltimore. The IndyCar race will be run on the city's streets, with cars reaching speeds as high as 190 mph.
"Our goal was 100,000, but I think we're going to shoot through that," said Jay Davidson, president of Baltimore Racing Development, the event's organizer.
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard was even bolder in his predictions.
"I see a huge impact," Bernard said. "With in the next year, I believe, Baltimore will become a top-three event in our series. I've never seen so many tickets sold so fast."
With 71/2 months to go until the Labor Day Weekend event, promoters have sold 27,000 tickets, 68 percent of them locally and the rest to residents in 38 states and Europe.
De Silvestro, 22, is a native of Thun, Switzerland. That she pursued racing is somewhat remarkable given her home country does not allow major auto racing.
"There was a big crash in the 1950s at Le Mans [in France]," she explained, "and the Swiss government reaction was to say we're not going to have that in our country. It's not the best country to start racing in, but we do have go-karts and smaller challenger series. There are Formula 1 teams based there, like [BMW] Sauber."
And there was and is television, where Formula 1 is the king of sports and where de Silvestro watched and learned to admire seven-time F1 world champion Michael Schumacher.
"He was really good," she said. "You could look at him and see how good he was at being really focused and at bringing his team together around him. I'm trying to do that, too."
Her team's principal owner, Keith Wiggins, said he hired de Silvestro because she had a recognizable driving talent.
"She's a proper driver," said Wiggins, an Englishman. "It wasn't a scheme. It wasn't a woman plotting to just get into the sport or by us to get publicity. She can truly drive a racecar. … She's better than Danica Patrick right now. She just needs some more experience, and there will be more pressure on her to find the small improvements."
Patrick is the face most often seen in IndyCar promotions. The driver, featured in the 2009 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, has the looks to draw fans. But she also has on-track credentials, having been the sport's 2005 Rookie of the Year and the first woman to win an IndyCar race (the Indy Japan 300 in 2008). She also has the best Indianapolis 500 by a woman, having finished third in 2009.
De Silvestro, while pretty, personable and strong, said being like Patrick is not her goal. She wants to be better. And she has come to realize it won't be easy. After one IndyCar season, she knows she has to be more consistent and make fewer mistakes.
"Being a woman doesn't come into it if you're winning and doing well," she said. "So far, that's what I've been doing. But at this top level of open-wheel racing, you have to be focused all the time."
In Europe, every budding racecar driver wants to drive a Formula 1 car and win the world title. De Silvestro did. But now, having been in the United States since 2006, her dreams are different.
"I really want to win an IndyCar championship," she said. "And the Indy 500. That's everyone's dream in open wheel, isn't it?"
If you go
Baltimore Grand Prix Festival of Speed
What: Auto racing festival, featuring IndyCar Series open-wheel race
When: Sept. 2-4.
Where: Downtown Baltimore
Tickets: Available at baltimoregrandprix.com or by calling Ticketfly at 877-435-9849.
Rows 1-10: Adult, $130; ages 12 and under, $100
Rows 11+: Adult, $160; ages 12 and under, $125
Rows 1-10: Adult, $75; ages 12 and under, $60
Rows 11+: Sold out
Rows 1-10: Adult, $65; ages 12 and under, $50
Rows 11+: Adult, $75; ages 12 and under, $60
Three-day: Adult, $65; ages 12 and under, $50
Sunday: Adult, $45; ages 12 and under, $30
Saturday: Adult, $30; ages 12 and under, $20
Friday: Adult, $20; ages 12 and under, $15