Of all the developmental series, the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge presented by Yokohoma may have the next breakout female racer in Ashley Freiberg, who sits atop of the series' points standings tied in a heated battle with Madison Snow.
Freiberg's time at the top may come as a surprise given it is her rookie season competing in sports cars, after bolting from IndyCar's Mazda Road to Indy program. So far this season, she has four top-five finishes in GT3 including earning her first podium result with a second-place result at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca back in May.
The 21-year-old started racing when she was 13, going on to amass five national karting championships. She then became the first woman in history to win an overall Skip Barber Racing Series championship with 25 wins.
It had appeared IndyCar would be Freiberg's next target. Following her 2010 Skip Barber championship and Coach's Choice Award as the best all-around driver in the series, Freiberg started in a one-off Star Mazda Race, placing an impressive fifth. But she then spent much of 2011 sidelined by lack of funding before being picked up by TrueCar to compete in Star Mazda in 2012. During her rookie season in Star Mazda, Freiberg placed 11th in series points with a best finish of sixth on the streets of Baltimore. We caught up with her in advance of her next race at Watkins Glen this weekend.
With your second-place finish at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, you are now tied for the championship points lead in IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge presented by Yokohoma. Where's your head at?
AF: Right now I am focused on the job; which is to take each race as they go, do as good a job as I can, and to stay open-minded and continue learning each time I'm in the car. We are only four races into the season, and I know that there are still improvements to be made to the car and myself. I am just going to continue to put my head down and focus on what needs to be done.
You are a rookie in the GT3 series and sports cars for that matter. How has the transition from open-wheel been?
AF: I would say that my transition into sports car racing has been better than expected. In my previous experience in open-wheel racing, I have driven many different types of open-wheel cars, road courses, street courses, ovals and also have driven in the rain, which have all forced me to change things in my driving to figure out what works. The same basic rule applies to all of these scenarios; you have to stay adaptable, open-minded, and know that there is not a “set” way to drive something fast. To me the Porsche is simply a new factor in the game; another racecar to learn.
You had a respectable season in Star Mazda in 2012, so why the switch to sports cars and not another year in Pro Mazda or Indy Lights?
AF: As a racer who does not have personal funding, I go where I can make opportunities for myself. Obviously for most of my career I have been pursuing open-wheel racing, but I had a great opportunity to race sports cars this year. When opportunities like this come, you grab them and make the most of them.
You were part of the original TrueCar cast of sponsored drivers. How do you see the program evolving from here?
AF: Technically it isn't my job to say where the TrueCar program will evolve to in the future; it is really up to them. All I can do is deliver for them both on and off the track and be the best brand ambassador I can be.
Are you where you expected to be at this point in your racing career?
AF: Careers are like life in that they have their highs and they have their lows. After winning two Skip Barber Championships in 2010, I found myself out of a seat and didn't race for all of 2011. As driver in development, it has been hard to have a set path or timeline due to the never-ending quest to find sponsorships and keep myself in the seat. With that being said, I have to say that I am very thankful and excited to be where I am today driving a Porsche in the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge.
Speaking of Skip Barber, you have several race wins at Watkins Glen, the site of your race this weekend. What are your expectations heading into your return to the Glen?
AF: My expectation at every event is really simple: I will show up having prepared myself as well as I'm able and work hard with the team to have as successful a weekend as I can.
You have five more race weekends after Watkins Glen. Which of them are you most looking forward to?
AF: I am really looking forward to racing at Baltimore. I absolutely fell in love with street courses last year in Star Mazda, and actually had my best Star Mazda finish of sixth there. Mosport and Circuit of The Americas will be quite fun also because I have never been to either track, and I hear great things about both so I am looking forward to learning them!
After this season, what's next? What is your goal?
AF: I am excited about the merging of Grand-Am and ALMS, and I really want to be a part of it. I think combining the two series will only make the level of competition higher, and I want to be where competition is tough. My goal is to be the best race car driver I can be, and racing in United Sports Car Racing is where I can achieve that goal.