STORY BY ALYSSA ROENIGK, PHOTOGRAPHY BY SARAH RICE
Roughly 30 laps into Sunday’s 105th running of the Indianapolis 500, driver Simona De Silvestro will pull into pit lane. In the six seconds it takes to refuel her No. 16 Paretta Autosport Chevrolet, her crew will swap out four Firestones, adjust the front wing and attend to the Aeroscreen windshield on her IndyCar. Typically, teams want pits that are flawless, fast and fade into the noise of the race.
But the Paretta team expects to attract attention. Because for the first time in motorsports history, four of its seven over-the-wall pit crew members will be women. De Silvestro’s two spotters will be women. Two of her engineers, including a Data Acquisition Guy, will be women. And every front office role at Paretta Autosport — from business operations to public relations to merchandise and marketing — is filled by a woman.
“It’s important to me that the bigger message is this isn’t women at the expense of men,” says team owner Beth Paretta, whose vision to create a coed race team has been six years in the making. “I’m trying to expand the grid.”
During the team’s first outing at the Indy 500, Paretta hopes young girls see ponytails fly over the wall during pit stops and women engineers communicating from the timing stand. She also wants the novelty to wear off quickly: “My hope is that in five years, us being a team of mostly women is the least interesting thing about us.”
“This isn’t women at the expense of men. I’m trying to expand the grid.”BETH PARETTA
For the past four years, Andra Buzatu (above), 23, worked as a diesel mechanic in the Coast Guard, on engines bigger than the cars she services at Paretta. “Everything is so delicate and precise that I have to remind myself to be gentle,” Buzatu says. “In IndyCar, there is no whacking stuff, no improvising, no duct taping pipes.” Adds performance engineer Lauren Sullivan, 33, who came to IndyCar from NASCAR by way of the aerospace industry, “It’s really like working on upside down airplanes.”
Before arriving at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last week, none of the women on De Silvestro’s pit crew had been to an IndyCar track. Some of them had never been to a racetrack. “I want race day to be here so badly,” says Amanda Frayer, 26, the outside rear tire changer. “Everyone tells me you can’t picture it. You just have to experience it.”
Two members of De Silvestro’s pit crew, Sara Durant, 39, seen here checking tire wear after practice, and Muller, a backup tire changer and the Aeroscreen attendant during pit stops, are moms with young children at home. “Training for something again reminds me of who I am outside of the home,” Muller says. “It’s made me a better, happier, more present parent.”
“I’ve always suppressed parts of myself to be one of the guys. Here, it’s clear we have the ability and talent and I don’t feel that pressure.”LAUREN SULLIVAN One of only three women in history to finish on the podium in IndyCar (Danica Patrick and Sarah Fisher are the others), De Silvestro is thrilled to return to the series she says made her career. “The 500 is really close to my heart,” she says. “And the older you get, the more you realize how special and important this race is.”
At their first hot stop practices, the women were logging 15- to 18-second pits. On the Thursday before Indy 500 qualifying, their hot stops were down to sub-four seconds and competitive with every crew on pit lane. “I emailed them right away to say, ‘Ladies, that was amazing,'” Rinaman says. “And they’ve only been training since February.”
“Any time you see shifts in diversity, it’s because the people who were the majority opened the door.”BETH PARETTADe Silvestro’s qualifying effort was more dramatic than planned. She piloted the No. 16 for the first time since April just three days before last Saturday’s qualifying at IMS, where she failed to make the top 30. During Sunday’s Last Chance Qualifier, she punched her ticket into her sixth Indy 500. “We’re starting at the back, so we can be a bit crazier with strategy,” De Silvestro says. “I have full trust in this team. We have nothing to lose.”
Video by Erin Kirkland