IndyCar is one of the most famous motorsport series in the world, however it doesn’t stand alone when it comes the single seater racing in the US. Sabre Cook has been aiming to race in IndyCar for many years and this year has competed in the Cooper Tires USF2000 series which runs alongside IndyCar, as well as being a part of the ‘Road to Indy’ scheme. A few weeks ago, she raced in another championship with the United States F4 Championship at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, and the 2 days prior to this was spent completing a prestigious Renault F1 team backed engineering competition at the track. She told me about racing, her love of engineering and balancing the 2 in the car.
Growing up, Sabre had a strong motorsport influence, with her Father racing motorcycles professionally, and it was his love of the sport that lead Cook herself to start driving. “My Dad used to race Motocross and Supercross, but he didn’t really want us racing motorcycles so we got into karting. I drove for the first time when I was 8 and from then on, I had an interest and a passion for racing, especially when I started having success. I also loved maths and science which went well with motorsport,” she told me. With the sport beginning as a hobby, it was 2 years before she began considering it as anything else, however once she started competing, it became clear she had a real and natural talent. “When I got my first kart I didn’t realise I had to slow down to turn the corner and so went full throttle! I spun out and so for the next 2 years, I went pretty slow. One day I was getting teased by some boys and something just clicked. I talked to my Dad and he got me a proper kart. I won my first race by 10 seconds and it was then that I realised it was really something I wanted to do,” Sabre explained.
Following success in local karting events, Cook began racing both nationally and internationally in series such as SKUSA (Super Karts USA), KZ World Championship and Rotax Can-Am Challenge. However, financial difficulties have proved tricky, causing her to spend more years than she would’ve liked karting before she could secure the budget needed to move on to formula and sports cars. This meant when the time came to transition from karting, Sabre found it a little more difficult. “It’s been hard for me because I was in karting for so long because I was never able to get a full budget. Last year was my first season, so that made it a bit harder because it’s harder for an old dog to learn new tricks! The basics are still there, but you have to learn weight transfer and in formula cars you have to trust the downforce. But I think it’s more mental than anything else,” Cook said. Despite this, these years allowed Sabre to create and develop her racing style and skills, something she believes helps in not only motorsport. “If you’ve spent a lot of time karting, you develop your race craft, awareness and reactions and that translates to anything in life. Its easy to go to another series or vehicle with that knowledge, but you have to be open to learning new things,” she said.
Since 2015, Sabre has been involved with IndyCar and the ‘Road to Indy’ programme, having won a scholarship with the scheme that year. This season has been her first racing in an IndyCar paired series with her taking part in the Cooper Tires USF2000 series. With this only her second season in formula car racing, some may expect this to be quite an overwhelming experience, however having been a part of the ‘Road to Indy’ programme has prepared her well. “It wasn’t such as huge difference as some of the karting events I’ve done have been huge. It’s definitely a new platform to get used to, but a lot of the IndyCar and Mazda guys are people I grew up with karting. They do such a great job at putting on this programme for up-and-coming drivers and trying to give us opportunities so we can learn what we need to do to advance,” Cook described. With racing in IndyCar one of her ultimate aims, Sabre had been trying to put together the budget for USF2000 for many years and thankfully she was eventually able to. “Finally, I was able to do it with the support of some key individuals and my sponsors, who have been amazing. It’s difficult because it’s not a cheap series and so I wasn’t able to run all the races this season, but just to be able to do half of them, it was a great experience for me and I learned a lot,” she told me.
Not that long ago, Cook raced in a series that was pretty new to her: United States F4 Championship. As a support race for the United States F1 Grand Prix, she drove the car competitively for only the second time. “The first time I drove the car was at a race in New Jersey a few weeks before. It’s nice going from the USF2000 to this car because the USF car is a little faster and so anytime you go backwards (in speed) it’s a bit easier to adapt to,” she said. However, despite there being an increase in people watching, Sabre was keen to focus on the job at hand.
With the end of the year rapidly approaching, Sabre’s plans aren’t fully confirmed yet, however she has many options on the table, something that can be both a positive and negative. “For next year I’m looking at all my options, continuing in the Road to Indy is a possibility, I’ve considered doing something in sports cars, but for now I’m not totally sure. It can be nerve-wracking (to have all the options), but sometimes it’s hard in racing because it’s like life, nothing goes to plan. With every step forward, there’s an increase in budget and that’s difficult. But I just try to take it one step at a time,” she described. In terms of her future plans, Cook believes it is important to set yourself aims and goals with there being 2 championships she would love to compete in. “I think you definitely have to have a goal set. Ultimately, I would love to race in IndyCar or the World Endurance Championship,” she told me.
Whilst working on her racing career, Sabre has also studied for a Mechanical Engineering degree, graduating at the end of last year. This understanding of the engineering side of the industry has helped her driving, with her saying: “it definitely helps me to understand the changes we make to the car and how I communicate with the team better. Sometimes I can be a little over-analytical as a driver, but I am able to balance the two. I think it helps me more than anything as you to learn about the world around you.” With engineering being such a passion, working in it would be something Cook would consider, however for now she is focussed on the racing. “I would definitely be interested in going into the engineering side of the industry, it’s really something that I enjoy. Right now, I’m pursuing the racing side because now is the time to do it and I can always go and get an engineering job later on,” she said.
Although her focus is for now on the racing, prior to her US F4 race, Sabre took part in a prestigious engineering competition. Speaking ahead of the US Grand Prix weekend, she explained: “I’m doing the Infiniti Engineering Academy which I did a few years ago and made it to the Nationals Finals. I didn’t have any of the key engineering teachings under my belt at the time which I think was what hurt me. The competition is the 2 days before the race at COTA so I’ll do the engineering evaluation, then the exams and competition on the Wednesday and Thursday and then I’m on track racing on Friday and Saturday.” The Infiniti Engineering Academy was created in 2013 in order to find the best talent from around the world, to go onto work in the automotive and motorsport industries. With 7 global regions represented, (Asia and Oceania, Canada, Europe, China, United States, Middle East and Mexico) one participant is selected from each region as the winner with the prize being a 6-month placement with the Infiniti Technical Centre Europe and 6 months with Renault Sport F1 team. Having previously competed in the competition, Cook is hoping this time, having completed her degree, she will have all the knowledge necessary to be even more successful. Speaking of the opportunity she said: “I’m super appreciative that Infiniti came up with the Engineering Academy. It’s amazing that there are teams giving opportunities for drivers to move up through the ranks, but also for engineering talent.” After 2 days of hard work, and previous rounds of competition, Sabre was announced as the US winner of the Infiniti Engineering Academy, meaning next year she will take up the 2 placements with Renault F1 and the Infiniti Technical Centre.
Having raced in multiple series covering karting, sports cars and formula cars, Sabre has had a lot of success throughout her career, however there are some victories and races that stand out to her when she looks back on her racing so far. “The first time I remember thinking ‘this is what I want to do for the rest of my life’ was when I won the TAG USA World Championship. I was 13 at the time and I remember crossing the line and thinking ‘wow’. It was just one of the most amazing feelings I’ve had. That was the moment I knew racing would be with me for a long time,” Cook described, adding: “but I think my favourite win would be in 2012 when I was the first and only female to ever win a National SKUSA Pro title. Everything just came together. I remember when they were giving out the awards and I got a standing ovation and that was probably the moment I felt most blessed. It was like all my hard work had paid off.”
In many of the series she has competed and been victorious in, Sabre has been the first female to take part and to win. As a child this was something that she thought about and, in some cases, would try to ignore, however as she has got older, it is now something she is proud of. “When I was younger I would think ‘I’m not a girl, it’s not a big deal’ and so I would just try and put it out of my mind. Now I’m proud that I’m able to represent women in motorsport with what I’m doing. I know I have to put my best foot forward because you never know who’s watching. I think it’s really important to give young girls the best image that they should strive for because they’re the ones who are going to carry it on,” Sabre told me.
Sabre Cook’s career has not been easy with financial difficulties having been a struggle. However, that hasn’t held back her success, with her holding many titles and having a large number of victories to her name. Speaking of the advice she would give to those wanting to follow in her footsteps, she said: “if you want something and you’re willing to work for it, you can achieve anything you set your mind to. I know it sounds cliché, but once you decide that is what you want to do, you have to work harder than anybody else because you truly can achieve whatever it is that you want.”
Photo credits: Sabre Cook @Sabre_Cook, Infiniti Motorsport @InfinitiMSport and Renault F1 team @RenaultSportF1