Sabré Cook is no stranger to being the only female racing driver on the grid. In fact, she’s the first and only female driver in the Porsche Carrera Cup. But behind the scenes, she’s had a cadre of powerful, talented racing women supporting her rise from karting to Formula 3, and now in the Porsche Carrera Cup with the winningest Porsche team in history, Kellymoss Racing.
Cook won a spot on the Kellymoss Racing team last year after the team principal and one of the co-owners, Victoria Thomas, decided to cook up a shootout to find the next fast woman to take on both the professionals and the “gentleman racers” in the highly competitive Porsche Carrera Cup. Cook is the only female competing in the Carrera Cup in the 2023 season.
The Porsche Carrera Cup is what is known as a single-make race. It takes place at tracks across the country, usually ahead of larger, more well-known race events like the Miami Formula 1 race and Long Beach Grand Prix. It consists of Amateur, Pro-Am, and Pro drivers, all competing in Porsche 911 GT3 Cup race cars, which are based on the current 992 generation of the road car. The GT3 Cup cars make 510 horsepower from a water-cooled six-cylinder boxer engine and get the wide-body chassis of the 911 Turbo. There are a total of eight, 40-minute races that begin in March and continue through October. All are broadcast. According to Porsche, 2023 includes the largest field, with as many as 40 or more competitors in a single race.
A scholarship shootout for the fastest woman
The shootout came about as the brainchild of Victoria Thomas, a principal of Kellymoss Racing, and Lyn St. James, the famed racing driver, who is one of just five women to have competed in the Indianapolis 500 and the first woman to win Rookie of the Year at the Indy 500 in 1992 . Cook, now 28, says that St. James, who is known in racing circles for taking female drivers under her wing, took an interest in her when she was just 18 years old and competing in karting. St. James reached out to Cook after she became the first female to win in the SuperKarts! competition in 2012 .
Thomas says that the impetus for the shootout came when St. James called her up one day in 2021 and, according to Thomas, said, “You are a woman who runs a successful racing team, why am I only just hearing of you now?”
“Ultimately,” Thomas said, “the epiphany moment was the telephone call from St. James, and the recognition that, along with the rest of the world, that I was one of the people that didn’t recognize the inequity, which was a huge wake-up call for me.”
Cook had approached the team in 2021 following a devastating injury she sustained in her second season in the W Series, the failed Formula 3 feeder series for women only. She was hit by a pair of competitors’ cars, and suffered a labral tear in her right hip and injuries to her low back and SI joint. She had expressed a keen interest in joining the team, but given her injury, Thomas told her to wait and recover.
As it turns out, Cook’s injury was fortuitous. During her year of recovery, she worked very hard to get back into racing shape and became a commentator for the W Series (and completed her college degree in mechanical engineering from the Colorado School of Mines ). It also gave the Kellymoss team time to raise funds and find sponsorships to create a scholarship fund to find the next fast woman to get behind the wheel of the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car.
Together, St. James and Thomas hatched the idea to run a first-ever all-female shootout to pit the few up-and-coming female racing drivers in the world against each other to win a single year of support for a spot on the team. Thomas and her team combed racing rosters and found a total of just 12 women who would be a good fit for the scholarship. Of those, just four fit the parameters that Thomas and her team and advisers, including St. James, race driver Katherine Legge, and Riley Dickenson, a star driver on the Kellymoss team, created for the scholarship. The initial process for narrowing down the field was simple enough: Thomas reached out to each driver and asked them to submit a video and racing résumé. The committee then narrowed the field from there and invited each to two days of testing.
Pushing female race drivers to the limit
The shootout took place at the road course at Putnam Park in Indiana in the summer of 2022, with the field narrowed from four women to just three: Cook said that it was both exhilarating and tough to be competing against two of her friends.
“I was really lucky that we were all very cohesive about it,” Cook said. “And at the end of the day, I tried to just look at it as like a super amazing opportunity. Who else gets to drive a cup car with two of their good friends on a normal day?”
The first day consisted of a fitness assessment run by PitFit’s Jim Leo. PitFit is a well-known training gym in Indiana focused on optimizing motorsport human performance. Cook had moved to Indiana to be closer to the heart of racing, rebuild her body from her injury, and find more racing opportunities. Cook is a client of PitFit and said she knew how tough the test would be. The women then had to do interviews and demonstrate their media savvy, a vital part of the racing rubric because media appearances bring in more sponsorship dollars.
On the second day, Riley Dickenson ran the course. He laid down a benchmark time and gave the women insights into how to be fast on that particular track. Then each driver had to run the course on her own, and the competitors weren’t allowed to watch each other while they raced. Then each one had to do more interviews with Lyn St. James, Katherine Legge, and racing journalist Jeremy Shaw.
Once the event was done and results were registered, the Kellymoss team and its advisors sat down to determine the winner. Thomas says that it was a tough decision, and not everyone agreed on the winner, at least initially.
“The fact that Sabré had the engineering background and could articulate and talk to the drivers, and she was just a physical beast, like she was a beast. So, for me, it was very clear,” Thomas said. “There were a couple of members of our team that said I think we need to take a little more time and make sure.”
After deliberations, the entire committee agreed to award Cook the scholarship, and she’s gone from 26th up into the top 10 over the last three races . Her teammate Dickenson has won all three races this year. The next Carrera Cup takes place at Watkins Glen at the end of June.
‘We all love motorsports’
As the first and only woman to compete with the winningest Porsche team in the Carrera Cup history, Cook says that at her heart, she just wants to be a racing driver – unbound by her gender. It’s especially poignant since she spent two seasons competing in the W Series, a series that failed to complete its second season due to financial problems and one that has been criticized for separating female athletes from their male counterparts, much like the new Formula 1 Academy. Cook says that her experience racing in both has underlined the contrast and pointed out where some of the all-women series lack and how, in some ways, they disadvantage female race drivers because of the competitive dynamics.
“The first season, when it all started in 2019, it was like such a refreshing thing to be a part of,” Cook said of her seasons in the W Series. “I think all the women that came together, the ones of us that made it to that final cut to be on the grid, we all love motorsports, we’re all working incredibly hard to be there, and we all respected each other for that. It just felt like it was such a unique situation where everybody just was happy to be there and happy to encourage each other.”
Cook continued, “Racing with everyone is what I was used to – being the only woman or one of maybe two, and that is very much my comfort. I’m used to it, I like it. And I feel like, honestly, I feel like I can be more of myself and be as completely aggressive as I would naturally be. With the W series, I honestly felt sometimes like we were all very much like a girl’s soccer team. Like we’re all up in each other’s space. You would want it to be cohesive, obviously, to keep that situation positive, but sometimes I did feel like I wasn’t maybe as aggressive with them as I would have been against men. I feel like it’s easier than if a guy is your friend, even on the track to be aggressive with him because he expects it, and you understand like, whereas women are like, ‘But you’re my friend.’”
Thomas says that even though the Kellymoss scholarship is only for one year of competition in the Carrera Cup, she fully expects that Cook will be able to continue with the team in the coming years with a little sponsorship help and an increase in awareness of the trailblazing that Cook has done in the space.
“My hope is that we bring half [of the funding] next year and that Sabré brings half,” Thomas said. “I think that she’s putting herself out there as a spokesperson, and she’ll be able to break half, and we’ll be able to bring half next time.”
She continued, “Sabré and I are fighting for more than just race wins. It’s a battle for inclusion and diversity in all of motorsports.”