Rick Kelly says new recruit Simona de Silvestro is a “purebred racer” who has the skill, experience and temperament to make a successful transition to Supercars.
While De Silvestro was confirmed as a competitor for the 2017 Virgin Australia Supercars Championship back in September, today it was revealed she would spend her three years behind the wheel of a Nissan as part of the Kellys’ four-car squad.
“We’re pretty excited to welcome Simona into our team. Bathurst was a great pre-season test, if you like, to see how Simona liked our team and how we felt she was from a driver capability point of view,” Kelly said.
“We were really delighted with what we saw – her effort in the car, her progression throughout the weekend, and how she dealt with everyone from a team point of view was outstanding.
“She’s definitely a purebred racer and someone who has fantastic experience internationally and will be a great asset for us moving forward.”
Some international drivers have struggled with the unique beasts that are V8 Supercars, but Kelly believes De Silvestro will be well-suited to the category and has already proven herself.
A number of Indycar racers steered Supercars at the Gold Coast back when an international driver was required for the enduro and performed well. Sebastien Bourdais returned as a co-driver as recently as last year with Lee Holdsworth, while Will Power’s name was also in the mix after having raced at Bathurst back in 2002 as well as stints at Surfers.
“There’s no doubt the job they did was outstanding at Bathurst and shows her genuine capability,” Kelly said.
“Driving a Supercar is very difficult – a lot of internationals, as you said, have had a tough time coming to grips with that, so it was very pleasing to see the outcome of Bathurst from the first day to the end. It also shows she is fully capable and an accomplished driver in her own right anyway.
“I think a lot of that comes from the experience she’s had in other categories. Most drivers we’ve had from Indycar have shown they’re able to adapt to our car reasonably quickly. Obviously things happen in outs a lot slower than an Indycar, so certainly from that point of view it’s something she’ll be able to adapt to.”
A three-year deal means there isn’t too much pressure in De Silvestro’s debut season, with all parties agreeing it will take time before she achieves results.
“2017 will be learning, understand the car, the team and all the tracks we go to. Most drivers in our sport have been to all the tracks a large number of times and next year Simona will be new to, aside from Bathurst, Winton, and possibly Queensland Raceway. Most she goes to for the first time.
“We’re in a good position with our team now where we can offer a lot of support for an internationals driver like Simona coming in to get up to speed.”
Bringing young Porsche star Matthew Campbell into the squad as an enduro driver this year, Rick’s brother and 2005 Bathurst winner Todd Kelly said the brothers’ goal when creating their own team was to get to a place where they could offer new talent opportunities in the championship. For Rick, introducing Simona to Supercars fits that bill.
The second part of the announcement confirmed the Kelly brothers would also continue racing full-time, with only Michael Caruso locked in up to this point. His announcement came with Nissan’s extension of at least three years in September.
“Now we can focus on hitting Clipsal and the start of next year better prepared than we ever have before,” Kelly said.
“It’s probably the best position we’ve been in now for some time as far as having everything squared away and being able to prepare better than we ever had.
“For Todd and I, we’re obviously very keen and excited to continue racing at this point – there’s no doubt there will be a point where we’ll step outside of driving duties, but for now we’re both enjoying our racing very much. We’ve done it for a long time now and enjoy racing in our own team as well, so we both feel we’ve got some good results yet to come and obviously quite focused on being able to deliver that as well.
“We also have some great business partners around us who would like us to continue in a driving capacity as well so it’s good to have that support.
“Todd and I really love our sport, we love motorsport and Supercars in particular, and we’re very grateful we can continue being a part of it from not only an owner point of view but a driver point of view.”