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Indy driver finds ovals not as easy as they look on TV

Simona De Silvestro of Switzerland crashes in the third turn during practice for the Indianapolis 500 on May 19, 2011. She suffered second-degree burns to her right hand and less serious ones to her left.

Mark Miller/Mark Miller/AP Photo

No one needs to explain the sophomore jinx to Simona de Silvestro.

All the IndyCar Series driver needs to do is look at the severely burned and mottled skin on the top of her right hand when she needs a reminder.

"They don't look very good but I just have to wear gloves in the sun and things like that," said de Silvestro, who drives for HVM Racing.

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"It's a little annoying during the summer but definitely I thought it would look way worse five week after the crash so it's good and I am happy about that."

After a pair of top-10 results in the first two races, including a fourth in the season opener in St. Petersburg, Fla., things started to go terribly wrong for de Silvestro when she returned to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May, a place where she captured the Rookie of the Year Award last year for a 14th place finish in the Indy 500.

The HVM driver was taken to the track's medical centre following a heavy crash in practice for the 2011 Indianapolis 500 where she suffered second-degree burns to her right hand and less serious ones to her left.

While she bounced back a week later to qualify her car 23rd for the race, her 2011 Indianapolis 500 lasted only a few laps before a crash ended her day.

A month after she slammed the concrete lining the famed Brickyard, de Silvestro spun backwards into the wall in a qualifying run at the Milwaukee Mile and ended her day in hospital again. She retired from the next day's race after realizing that she wasn't fit to drive after a few laps. The Milwaukee accident also caused her to skip the oval race at Iowa prior to the Honda Toronto Indy last weekend.

"I think everybody crashes really hard once on an oval and it just seems to me that it happened all together," she said.

"Maybe it's a good thing and I kind of get them out of the way early instead of later. I think I've learned from it and I just have to keep focusing. The hands are good, but I still have a bit of a stiff neck from Milwaukee but you just fight through it."

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At Exhibition Place in Toronto, de Silvestro qualified 17th before piloting her No. 78 Nuclear Clean Air Energy Dallara-Honda to a 10th-place finish, her first top-10 since the second race of 2011 at Barber Motorsport Park in Alabama.

The return to the top-10 came despite damage from hitting the wall early and some issues with fuel mileage. More importantly, it helped return some confidence after her oval woes.

"Finishing 10th is pretty good with all the things that happened. I think we could have had a stronger run, but from where we from, we struggled all weekend long, but we found it in the race," she said after the Honda Indy Toronto.

"We keep improving every week; we just need to find it earlier in the weekend. But we're headed in the right direction."

Although she cracked the top-10 in Toronto, the result actually pushed her one place back in the overall points standings. Andretti driver Ryan Hunter-Reay leapfrogged over her in the standings on the strength of his third place finish. She is now 19th with eight races left in 2011.

"Going into the season, our goal was to finish in the top-10 and I think it's still achievable even if we didn't do all these ovals," she said.

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"I think it's possible. We just want to go out every weekend and just try to improve and get better. Right now, we are just going to take each race one at a time and we happen to be doing a few road courses so we will just build the confidence up again."

The next race is in Edmonton next weekend where de Silvestro will face a newly designed track in a city where she likes to race. The Edmonton circuit was moved to another area of the downtown City Centre Airport where it is held due to some runway closures following last year's event.

With three ovals left in the IndyCar season, de Silvestro will be facing the walls again when the IndyCar series hits the track at the 1.058-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway in mid-August. And she's determined not to let the concrete barriers win.

"I am not 100 per cent comfortable on them yet and I just have to finish them and get the experience," she said.

"The first time I watched an oval race on TV, I was like 'that looks easy.' It's way difficult actually. You really have to forget that you've been racing for 10 years and start from scratch. If you look at it, the people running up front are all the ones who have been doing it a long time, so experience is really the biggest thing on the ovals."

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There's an old saying about timing being everything in racing and Jeff Pappone's career as a motorsport correspondent shows that it also applies to journalists covering the sport too. More

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