Women-led race team gearing up to run in Indianapolis 500

Paretta Autosport plans to enter the No. 16 car in the 2021 Indianapolis 500. (Image courtesy of Paretta Autosport)

Beth Paretta and Simona de Silvestro will be teaming up to put another woman on the Indianapolis 500 starting grid this May.

They’ll also be getting some help—from other women and IndyCar’s most successful owner.

On Tuesday, Paretta Autosport and IndyCar officials announced they would work together to put a predominantly women-run team in the series’ biggest race as part of an outreach to create more diversity in motorsports.

“Today is the beginning of a commitment to gender equity in sport, to encourage women to work hard so they can earn their seat at the table or spot on the grid,” Paretta, team owner and a longtime motorsports executive, said in a media statement. “IndyCar has been a leader and a welcoming place for women for many years because of the hard work of many women and men before us, but now we have a stronger commitment with IndyÇar’s Race for Equality & Change to make sure opportunities continue in the future.”

De Silvestro, the 2010 Indianapolis 500 rookie of the year, will attempt to qualify on the traditional 33-car starting grid in the No. 16 Chevrolet-powered car.

The announcement comes less than three months before IndyCar’s season opener in Birmingham, Alabama, and less than five months after the rescheduled 500 ran without a female driver for the first time since 1999.

It’s not the first time Paretta has accepted such a challenge.

In 2015, she announced that an all-female team that included driver Katherine Legge would attempt to qualify for the the 100th running of the 500 in May 2016. But when Paretta’s team couldn’t find a suitable car, the effort stalled.

That shouldn’t be a problem this year.

Team Penske, the most successful team in Indy history with series owner Roger Penske at the helm, will provide Paretta’s team with technical support for the May 30 race.

“We are pleased to welcome Beth and her Paretta Autosport team to IndyCar this year,” Penske Entertainment Corp. CEO Mark Miles said. “(The addition) will ensure that IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500 continues the legacy of having a female driver qualify for the 2021 Indy 500. Of course, it will be up to Simona and the team to qualify the car for the grid, but knowing Beth, I know that her team will be up for the task.”

The 32-year-old Swiss driver has competed in the 500 five times, finishing a career-high 14th in 2010 when she was named the Tony Renna Firestone Rising Star Award recipient. De Silvestro also has competed in Australian Supercars, Formula E and IMSA SportsCars and served as a development driver in Formula One. Since 2019, she’s been a factory driver for Porsche.

De Silvestro hopes to make her first Indy start since finishing 19th in 2015 with Michael Andretti’s team.

“My career really took off through my time competing in IndyCar and the Indy 500, so returning to compete with Beth and her new team in alliance with Team Penske is a special and rare chance in my career,” she said. “Being part of the goal of diversity and inclusion for everyone, and especially women in IndyCar, and in motorsports in general, is very important to me and how I would like to see the future of racing.”

The plan also calls for women to be included in additional team operations such as competition, administration, logistics, marketing and public relations.

For Paretta, it’s another chapter in a pioneering career.

She served as an executive with Street and Racing Technology and was hired at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles as the first female director to lead a performance brand and motorsports for an original equipment manufacturer. In that role, Paretta played a part in three championship-winning seasons from 2012-14, including Penske’s 2012 Cup title.

Paretta also serves on the the board of Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, but she has a bigger dream.

“Our team, along with our technical alliance with Team Penske, will work hard to give Simona the best car we can provide so she can achieve her best results,” Paretta said. “Competition drives us. The Indy 500 is the greatest race in the world, and one day soon we hope to have a woman’s face on the Borg-Warner Trophy.”

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