The coronavirus pandemic has left a trail of destruction not just in countries around the globe, but also in global motor racing. Careers, calendars and team finances have all been adversely affected by the economic consequences of the pandemic. We could have spoken to numerous drivers around the world who have seen their plans fall apart in recent months, but the case of 26-year old Colorado native Sabré Cook is one of the most poignant ones.
Back in February, before the pandemic hit, Cook was looking forward to a packed schedule for 2020. There was the expanded, eight-race calendar for the 2020 W Series, including two events in Mexico and Texas. On top of that, she teamed up with long-time partner Team Benik to run the six Indy Pro 2000 weekends that did not clash with W Series. In other words, she was looking forward to lots of track time to boost her continued development.
Fast forward to early July, and the picture is entirely different. The W Series has been scrapped altogether for 2020, and the series hopes to regroup for 2021 (asked whether she will retain her spot in the field for next year, Cook says she is “not sure” and that “we’ve not been given a definitive answer”). As for Indy Pro 2000, she can confirm she will compete at Road America this weekend and at Mid-Ohio on July 29-30. After that, all bets are off.
“Absolutely, it is because of the financial situation,” she says. “That’s all it ever is. I had sponsorship which should have come through, but the current situation impacted everyone from a financial point of view. So I will have to go and find some more funding to do the rest of the season.” While Cook did manage to retain most of her sponsors, each of them was faced with the choice of letting people go, or find other ways to save money as the pandemic hit. In that context, cutting back on marketing spending is often the preferred choice for companies.
While she has a number of leads, Cook is understandably reluctant to say too much about whether she can find the funding to run more races this year. “Everything is changing day by day, everything is uncertain right now,” she notes. “I do have good conversations, otherwise I wouldn’t be optimistic. But I am definitely realising that nothing is ever certain until I am actually in a car, driving it on a race track.”
Targeting IndyCar by 2023
Some drivers who were scheduled to compete in the now-cancelled Indy Lights have opted to join the Formula Regional Americas, a more affordable series that runs F3 machinery around North America. The winner of the series gets an Indy Lights scholarship for 2021. But for Cook, making that switch was not an option, even though the machinery is fairly similar to what she raced in W Series last year.
“The problem is that they didn’t announce the Lights scholarship until the beginning of the year”, she explains. “And you can’t all of a sudden change your plans, because the search for funding often starts already a year in advance. My sponsors and I already invested in a Pro 2000 car, so a late switch to FR Americas didn’t make much sense.”
Moreover, she prefers to stay on the Road to Indy. Because regardless of the current situation, her long-term plan remains intact for now and she still has her sights set on IndyCar. “Yep, that’s still the plan. Ideally, next year I would do the full season in Indy Pro plus testing in Indy Lights. Then after that, a full season of Indy Lights. And then IndyCar by 2023.”
For this Pro 2000 season, her aim is to secure some top-5 finishes, which would also help to raise interest from potential sponsors. “I know I have improved a lot since I ran USF2000 back in 2018. I am not quite sure where I stack up now because we only ran a few test days, but those tests went well,” Cook says. “And I enjoy the coming tracks. Road America is a lot of fun: a really cool location and there is a special way of interacting with the fans there. I’m not sure how much of that will happen with the current rules in place, but it will be a good experience nevertheless.”
Taking apart the alarm clock
Another potential joker in her pack is her background in engineering, which epitomised in a year-long scholarship with Renault F1 last year. “I was always interested in how things worked from a young age,” she says, proving herself to be the proverbial kid that takes apart the alarm clock. “And I took to math and science pretty young; I was a kid that liked school, so I put a lot of time in it.” A mechanical engineering path in high school was a logical choice, as her karting career also took off around the same time, followed by a bachelor’s degree.
Nevertheless, she downplays the potential benefits to her career as a racing driver. “I don’t think it gives me an advantage to be honest,” she notes. “You don’t have to be an engineer to be a great racing driver, most drivers are not. Obviously it helps me to understand and communicate with my engineers better, but it can also be detrimental if you don’t have a straight focus on racing. So both are great parts of my career, but when I’m in one or the other, I need to focus on the task at hand.”
Right now, that task is Indy Pro 2000 and fingers are crossed here at the F1 Feeder Series editorial offices for Cook to find the additional funding she needs to continue in Pro 2000. Especially in the second half of her 2019 W Series campaign, she drove some strong races and she may very well carry forward that momentum. So keep an eye out for Sabré Cook at Road America this weekend, because she might just spring a surprise or two.