AP Auto Racing Writer
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- She has a new team, a real engine and finally the opportunity to show she's the real deal.
Simona de Silvestro isn't wasting any time seizing the moment.
De Silvestro capped what ultimately may go down as her breakout weekend with a sixth-place finish in Sunday's season-opening IndyCar race at St. Petersburg. She was headed toward a podium finish until Marco Andretti passed her for third with two laps remaining and her old tires couldn't help her hold off teammate Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon.
It didn't temper her mood.
"It's been a good weekend for us, unfortunately we lost a few positions at the end there," the Swiss driver said. "We kind of ran out of tires at the end. I think we can be pretty happy with sixth. Now we know what we have to work on for the next race."
De Silvestro drew raves all weekend from the only people who really matter -- her fellow competitors -- for her performance on the track from the opening practice. She was fast from the very start with her new KV Racing Technology team, and there was no adjustment period needed for the additional horsepower she's got this season from engine manufacturer Chevrolet.
She spent all of last season driving for small HVM Racing, which was saddled the slow and underperforming Lotus engine. As all the other Lotus teams fled by the Indianapolis 500, HVM was locked into a bad contract and couldn't break free.
It meant de Silvestro, already going against the grain with a smaller team, never had a fighting chance last year because of the Lotus woes.
Now on equal playing field, she mixed it up in every practice session, qualified a career-best third and was running in the top-six the entire race with winner James Hinchcliffe, perennial title contender Will Power and all the other IndyCar big dogs.
"It was really cool to be up front all day with Will, Hinch and everybody. It was awesome," she said.
Her performance was praised after the race from the likes of Mario Andretti, who congratulated her on pit road, and his grandson, Marco, who felt guilty for passing her.
"It's a selfish business," Marco said. "I felt for her, but I needed this so bad."
She was also welcomed warmly into the Chevrolet family by Jim Campbell, U.S. vice president of performance vehicle and motorsports.
"We are proud to have Simona with Team Chevy," said Campbell, who also has Danica Patrick representing the Chevy brand in NASCAR.
"She is racing up front in the first IndyCar race of the season with Chevrolet power. She was quick all weekend long. It's going to be an exciting season for her and the team."
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