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De Silvestro poised to rival Patrick

Has the "Danica stopper" been found? Only time will tell.

The question of whether or not young Swiss driver Simona de Silvestro can turn into a true star in the IZOD IndyCar Series and enter a rivalry with its most popular driver, Danica Patrick, won't be decided for a while. But what's for certain is that America's top open-wheel league will feature two full-time female competitors on the grid in 2010.

De Silvestro will make the jump to IndyCar with HVM Racing after winning four events in last year's Atlantics season. To get used to the bigger IndyCars, she tested with the team during the offseason and at last week's IRL Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

"It's a little weird when you come from one series and you're winning, and then you kind have to re-learn everything," she said during a league teleconference yesterday. "It's a bigger car, longer races and all of that. But I don't feel any pressure from that...it actually gives me confidence because I've been winning (in Atlantics).

"I think if I do my job right, I think we can be really successful here too."

Still, she and HVM team owner Keith Wiggins, as well as her veteran engineer Michael Cannon, aren't being too fanciful with their aspirations for this year.

De Silvestro will have to come to grips with different equipment and learn the art of high-speed oval racing. Also, HVM is trying to rebuild after a dismal season in 2009 with E.J. Viso (now at KV Racing Technology) and late addition Robert Doornbos, who spent the first 12 events with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing before joining Wiggins' group.

"I think everybody goes in with the goal to be successful, and everybody always has the goal to win races," Wiggins said. "But I think like everybody, you set realistic goals...I think we're clearly setting goals to finish the race and be consistent, and I have no doubt we'll be in the middle of the pack. And then, we want to develop from there."

"My advice to Simona is just continue to do the things that made her successful in the lower formula," said Cannon. "Don't lose sight of the fact that the game is effectively the same. You still want to go out there and give it all you can and compete at the highest possible level. So it's exactly what she's used to doing. It's what she's good at really."

How far -- and how quickly -- she can progress could determine how much of a role she may play in IndyCar's future plans. As a solid competitor on road and street courses, De Silvestro may put HVM's No. 78 car in the top half of the field when the series races on those types of tracks. But if she can adapt to the ovals (and HVM gives her a decent car), her stock will grow considerably amongst IndyCar watchers.

It's that potential which has people buzzing about a possible rivalry with Patrick, whose mainstream presence dwarfs the sport. The anti-Danica brigade has only seemed to grow stronger as her part-time exploits in the NASCAR Nationwide Series dominate the airwaves and the headlines. To them, the "glamour girl" of the sport is on a one-way ticket to Sprint Cup and her star power has, in the long run, only helped her – not the IZOD IndyCar Series.

If Patrick runs her entire two-year IndyCar deal with Andretti Autosport, then it wouldn't be a stretch to see De Silvestro plugged into the role of the "anti-Danica" by hardcore open-wheelers. But that will be later on down the road. De Silvestro knows that she's got a tough task ahead of her in the present, and that's what matters the most.

"I think the goal for me for this season is to learn as much as I can and try to help the team," she said. "I think my speed is getting there, but I am really working towards having good results at the end."

A lot of people besides her are hoping for exactly that.