But the 2010 IndyCar Rookie of the Year did a good enough job in her first major open-wheel campaign to earn another year behind the wheel with HVM Racing, this time with the backing of Entergy Nuclear, America's second-largest owner and operator of nuclear energy plants.
The three-year Entergy sponsorship was announced at the InterContinental Hotel in downtown Baltimore, delivering publicity to the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix scheduled for Sept. 4. De Silvestro later performed burnouts and simulated pit stops at nearby Camden Yards.
An eighth-place run at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course was De Silvestro's best finish in her rookie IndyCar effort, but the 22-year-old from Thun, Switzerland, was far more impressive than the results indicated.
"This is great news for HVM and for Simona," said HVM owner Keith Wiggins. "It gives Simona a long-term opportunity to develop into a top IndyCar driver while the team will have a stable platform over multiple years to support our championship effort. It is a terrific marketing opportunity with a strong partner who has an important message and role in our world's future."
De Silvestro was a proven winner in the defunct Atlantic Championship training series, and her road course qualifying performances in her rookie IndyCar season often put more celebrated drivers to shame. She also developed quickly as an oval racer, claiming Rookie of the Year honors at the Indianapolis 500 with a 14th-place finish.
She turned in those impressive performances despite having a program with a comparatively low budget. Throughout its history, HVM has made a name for itself by making the most of limited resources. The team won three races in the old CART/Champ Car Series between 2002 and 2004, including a flag-to-flag triumph by current IndyCar star Ryan Hunter-Reay at Milwaukee in 2004.
"It's great to be back with HVM; they are a great team and it was amazing last year to spend my rookie season in IndyCar with them," De Silvestro said. "Now with this sponsorship, I am more confident than ever that we'll have a great year. It's a great message and I am looking forward to creating awareness about the benefits of nuclear electricity throughout the racing season and beyond."
Entergy's sponsorship of the No. 78 car will continue the company's four-year-old "Nuclear Clean Air Energy" national education campaign that so far has been utilized mostly on college campuses. In addition to raising public awareness, the campaign assists in recruiting engineers and professionals to the nuclear energy sector.
"Having 'nuclear' on the side of a race car is as all-American as racing itself, since nuclear energy generates 20 percent of all U.S. electricity already," said John Herron, Entergy's chief nuclear officer. "Entergy wants everyone to learn more and get excited about our reliable, green source of electricity."
Confirmation of de Silvestro's 2011 program insures there will be at least two full-time female drivers in the IndyCar Series. Fan favorite Patrick continues with Andretti Autosport, while Brazilian Ana Beatriz is in negotiations to drive Dreyer & Reinbold Racing's second car alongside Justin Wilson.
Duno, whose poor performances at road racing venues resulted in INDYCAR's creation of a new rule requiring all entries to run at a speed within 5 percent of the leader, is not expected to return to the series. Although team owner Dale Coyne has expressed interest in continuing to run Duno at oval events, the Venezuelan is trying to break into ARCA stock car racing.
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for ESPN.com.