Accomplishing incredible tasks and persevering through adversity is nothing new for Sabre Cook.
Already holding a college degree in mechanical engineering, the 24-year-old from Grand Junction, Colorado, is a rookie in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda, the first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy. She’ll be driving the No. 31 Team Benik Mazda/Tatuus USF-17 in this weekend’s doubleheader races at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, that support the main event for the Verizon IndyCar Series, the KOHLER Grand Prix.
Cook has remained resolute in rising through the karting ranks to reach USF2000, while at the same time earning her bachelor’s degree from the Colorado School of Mines. Both have come in male-dominated settings, but she takes it in stride.
“It’s not much different from karting or from being at an engineering school,” said Cook, one of two women racing in USF2000 this year along with Team Pelfrey’s Bruna Tomaselli. “It’s normal, but I don’t think I need to be treated any different.”
Growing up, Cook had an amazing trio of racing heroes in Ayrton Senna, Lyn St. James and Alex Zanardi. Each had a different impact on her.
“I mean, everyone loves Senna,” she said of the three-time Formula One champion who died in a 1994 crash. “I feel like it’s a typical answer, but I just really loved his passion that he had. I connected with that so much. The wisdom he had of ‘you always have to keep looking ahead’ and his whole mentality and philosophy of racing, I believe is above and beyond anyone else.
“Lyn St. James actually mentored me for a little bit a few years ago,” Cook said of the retired Indy car and sports car pioneer. “She helped put me on the right path for success in a lot of ways and just helped me learn. She taught me to learn how I learn. That helps me maximize the small amount of time you get testing in cars.”
Zanardi, the two-time Indy car champion who hasn’t slowed since losing both legs in a 2001 crash, has inspired Cook – and thousands of others – with his continued positive attitude and drive.
“With Alex Zanardi and what he overcame and his perseverance after his crash is amazing,” Cook said. “His boldness and the passes he would make, like ‘The Pass’ at Laguna Seca (at the track’s famous corkscrew in 1996), especially after driving that track and seeing that corner, made me think he’s bold.”
Cook took a different route to where she is now compared to many others she races against in USF2000.
“I’m older than most of the other drivers, for one,” she said. “I started racing karts and have been racing for about 13 years now. I started racing in the national kart series a little bit late, but had a lot of success there.”
Lacking funding to make the jump to cars sooner, Cook stayed in karting and continued to thrive. She also studied engineering, specifically computational fluid dynamics (CFD) that has become an integral part of race car design and development. Listening to Cook explain CFD can make one’s head spin.
“You take the equations you would learn in fluid mechanics (the study of fluids and how they move), and you translate that into a program and have the computer do all of the iterations for you. That would be way too much work to do by hand,” Cook explained with a laugh.
“You implement an artificial intelligence system. You can use existing systems or develop one. It takes all of those equations together and then you chose what flow you have to solve the way the fluid flows around a geometry you create.”
“You see it in race car engineering magazines. That’s what they do instead of wind tunnel testing, which saves money.”
Cook earned her degree in December and sees the benefits of the education to her racing career.
“It allows me to communicate better with our engineers. It’s nice to be able to talk about specifics and learn about things on the side,” she said.
“Having that background helps me understand why we make the changes to the car that we do and the logic behind the setups we do. It even gives me a chance to suggest a direction we could go with something as well.”
Cook’s best finish in four races this season – she didn’t compete in the oval event at Lucas Oil Raceway on May 25 – was 14th place in the second race of the INDYCAR Grand Prix weekend on May 12 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
She was among 25 drivers to compete in a two-day test last week at Road America and believes it can be a springboard to stronger results.
“Since the Indy GP weekend, I've been putting in more time and working harder on my weaknesses than ever before," explained Cook. "I think the Road America test was a very positive step forward to reflect that. I'm blessed to have such an amazing support system around me in both my life and in my team. I'm sure if we keep chipping away at it, the results will come."
USF2000 has a single 30-minute practice session Friday morning on the 4.014-mile permanent road course prior to afternoon qualifying sessions for both races. Race 1 rolls off at 2:10 p.m. ET Saturday, with Race 2 starting at 9 a.m. Sunday. Both races will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.
Kyle Kirkwood, winner of three of the first five races in 2018, takes a 59-point lead over Alex Baron into the weekend.