As racing enthusiasts from near and far throttle up for the triumphant return of the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix to Austin’s Circuit of The Americas, one stereotype-crushing addition to race weekend is promising to get fans’ motors running.
There’s no shortage of edge-of-your-seat entertainment cruising to COTA Friday, October 22 through Sunday, October 24 as part of a full weekend of electrifying motorsports events.
From the total joyride that is Formula 1 (which will showcase Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton — who has won seven F1 drivers’ championships — and Red Bull driver Max Verstappen in their neck-and-neck battle to reign supreme this season) to tons of live music (performances from Twenty One Pilots, Billy Joel, and Kool & the Gang and a curated set from DJ Diesel, aka Shaquille O’Neal) to COTA’s lineup of immersive village experiences, there is something that will thrill any adrenaline junkie.
But this year, speed freaks have another reason to get revved up. Rolling out for the first time ever at COTA during Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix weekend is the W Series, the thrilling international single-seater motor racing championship for female drivers.
Not only is this racing series just as precarious, rip-roaring, and fast-paced as Formula 1, its visit to COTA is also significant because this weekend’s W Series doubleheader on October 23 and 24 will conclude the series’ 2021 season and mark its first races outside of Europe.
Launched in October 2018, W Series is a free-to-enter motor racing championship that provides equal opportunities for women and eliminates the financial barriers that have long prevented them from progressing to the upper echelons of motorsport.
The series is an important step in ensuring male and female racers have equal opportunities. Though considering a female driver last started a championship F1 grand prix race 45 years ago, women racers definitely face an uphill battle, further underscoring the importance of institutions like the W Series, which selects female drivers purely on their ability.
Visitors to the COTA racetrack this weekend will also be introduced to the only U.S. driver in the W Series, 27-year-old built-for-speed Colorado native Sabré Cook, who drives for U.S.-based Bunker Racing.
At COTA, this speed racer will be at somewhat of an advantage over her fellow W Series racers, who mostly hail from Europe and may have never driven at COTA, a track Cook has raced on several times and visited many more. She’ll also have homegrown support in the form of U.S. fans, including many of her own friends and family members.
“It’s definitely going to be special. With all our races being in Europe, most of my friends and family have never seen me race in real life,” Cook tells CultureMap, noting that given her history with COTA, she’s not at all worried about navigating the grueling twists and turns of the 3.41-mile track. “Nothing concerns me. I’m interested to see how our cars respond to the bumps COTA has developed over time. But I’m more excited than anything else. It’s going to be physical and a great experience.”
Cook, who comes by racing naturally and grew up with her father racing motocross and super cross, started kart racing at the age of 8, and picked up several championships and podiums on her ascent to the W Series. And with an engineer’s brain — and training to match, including from the Renault F1 team — Cook is also uniquely equipped to be a race car driver.
“I think it definitely does give me a different perspective,” she says. “Sometimes that can make me overthink things. But I think it’s good. It kind of marries the two of my passions together.”
While Cook regularly deals with being pigeonholed as a female in a male-dominated sport, often navigating questions from media about what it’s like to be a woman in racing — as if she would know anything different — she also must navigate the real-life perils of the sport.
To get a sense of this peril, one needs only watch the terrifying W Series crash at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium earlier this season. Though Cook was able to narrowly avoid the pileup, her teammate, Fabienne Wohlwend, was caught up in the horrific wreck. Thanks to advances in safety gear, no one was hurt, but such incidents beg the question: Do crashes affect drivers’ racing plans or test their mettle?
“Racing doesn’t come without risks. But cars nowadays are so safe,” Cook says. “You kind of just put it out of your mind and focus on the job at hand. You’re less likely to do the job well and more likely to crash if not. The crash at Spa didn’t bother me much, but I’ve seen other crashes where people did not get out so fine. It makes you think twice about it. But it’s just part of the sport, and you learn to accept that risk when you get in the car.”
Cook, who admires legendary F1 drivers like Jim Clark and Ayrton Senna, and has the “ultimate goal” of competing as a driver in the IndyCar Series, knows she’s standing on the shoulders of female racing giants in her pursuits.
“I really learned a lot from Janet Guthrie’s story. Listening to what she had to go through to be the first female at the Indy 500 was amazing. She was treated so poorly. People were just mean about it,” Cook says. “Even when Lyn [St. James] came along after that, it was still tough for her. They were the first to do it, and I’m so grateful they did.”
All these years later, an event like the COTA hosting the W Series is “massive for the series,” Cook affirms.
“So many young American girls have started following W Series, and lots of them have been in touch with me to say they are planning to go to COTA,” she says. “For those girls to see us on [the] track is going to be really special, and I hope we’ll inspire them to stick with it and continue to climb the motorsport ladder.”
As Cook continues her own upward trajectory in motorsports, fans would be wise to take note, as this weekend at COTA will certainly not be the last time she will wow the world with her blistering speed and technical racing expertise.
Whether she eventually ends up driving in the IndyCar Series, for IMSA, or even in F1, Cook is sure to run the good race.
Check out the W Series races at COTA Saturday, October 23 at 5:25 pm, and Sunday, October 24 at 11:05 am.