Ashley Freiberg seals Porsche Sprint Challenge NA title
Rounding out an outstanding season with 7 race wins, 12 podiums and 2 pole positions at her full-time return to racing, Ashley Freiberg secured the 2023 Porsche Sprint Challenge North America title in the 991 class after a second place finish at the Indianapolis season finale.
Ashley Freiberg secured the Porsche Sprint Challenge North America title in the 991 class after a second place finish at the Indianapolis season finale, completing an outstanding season with 7 victories, 12 podiums and two pole positions out of 14 races in what was effectively her first full-time racing campaign since 2015.
Freiberg bounced back from a tricky qualifying to step on the podium in race 1 and, despite a DNF in race 2, she could claim the championship by a 68 point margin thanks to a superb season at the wheel of the #122 MDK Motorsports Porsche 991 GT3 Cup.
Coming off a perfect weekend at Circuit of the Americas - where she had secured pole position and two race wins - Freiberg had an important weekend ahead at the iconic Indianapolis venue, as she would have the chance to write her name among the champions of the Porsche one make series.
Among the 17-car field of the 991 class - which included again both the North American and US West categories - Freiberg progressively improved after each session in practice, completing the first day in third place. An unlucky qualifying, though, left her in eighth overall and fifth in class - forcing the MDK Motorsport driver to a recovery drive during the races.
In uncertain weather on Thursday, Dimitri Dimako took pole position, ahead of US West entry Casey Dennis and Tony Malito. From the fourth row of the grid, Freiberg lined up alongside Kyle Washington for the first race of the weekend, which started dry despite the grey skies.
In a hectic start, Ashley took a cautious approach and avoided contacts, retaining position in class. She would soon start to move up the order clearly displaying better pace than most of the cars ahead.
She grabbed P6 overall and fourth in class, as she navigated through the field: once she had passed McInnes - her closest competitor in the championship - her times significantly got better and started to hunt down Tony Malito's #127 Porsche. Ashley overtook Malito on lap 8 and advanced to third in class soon after.
Freiberg then had to clear the US West entry of Kyle Washington in order to catch up with class rival Charlie Peter: she eventually passed Washington and got within a second of Peter.
As Freiberg was making up ground on Peter, the full course yellow was deployed with 6 minutes to go and the race couldn't eventually be resumed.
Race leader Dimitri Dimako, though, received a penalty for incident responsibility for a previous contact and dropped to eighth - promoting Peter to the winning position and Ashley Freiberg to second place. The championship leader in the 991 class, in fact, managed to maximise points from fifth on the grid, in a highly positive first race that put her in a strong position for the final day of racing of the season.
"Yesterday we had terrible luck in qualifying but I clawed my way back to the front, almost snagging a win before a caution came out with 7 mins to go", Freiberg commented. "I can’t thank my crew enough for giving me an amazing car weekend after weekend, and for all my sponsors for giving me this incredible journey of a season."
With a track still damp in places due to overnight rain, the drivers of the 2023 Porsche Sprint Challenge North America championship were ready to put on a final show on Friday, when titles were assigned. Fifth overall and third in class, Ashley Freiberg entered the final race with a 70 point advantage.
A spin for the #102 of Michael Zuieback on the main straight as the race went green delayed the start, immediately triggering the caution. While positions at the top were initially influenced by the incident, the order was restored to the original grid ahead of the single-file restart on lap 6.
Dimitri Dimako kept the lead and Freiberg battled with Kyle Washington for fourth overall; the latter would drop a wheel on the wet grass and spun on the first lap, dropping to the tail end of the pack. Once ahead, Freiberg immediately closed in on Tony Malito.
Freiberg attacked Malito on lap 11; he initially held off the championship leader, but as she had claimed the inside line at Turn 4, the two made contact and Malito went wide into the gravel. The race was back under caution and Freiberg unfortunately had to pull into the pits with damage.
Dimitri Dimako took a back to back win after a final minute restart, preceding Charlie Peter and Daniel Bloom. With Freiberg's closest rival in seventh place, though, Ashley secured the overall title at her full time return to racing, which truly highlighted the potential of a driver that rarely had opportunities handed to her during her career - but who really knows how to seize them when they do happen.
"In 2013 I had my first opportunity to race in a sportscar, in the Porsche GT3 Cup Series", she wrote. "Immediately I fell into my groove, winning races and leading the championship until, halfway through the season, my sponsorship fell through and I couldn’t complete the year."
"Since then I’ve had a mix of opportunities, lots of partial seasons, and most recently a few years out of the seat all together. It’s been a very long time since I’ve been given an opportunity like this. Being in this industry for some time without personal funding, I know how hard it is to not only race, but to win a race, and let alone put it all together to go for an overall championship."
"And now, here I am, 10 years later and given the opportunity of a lifetime to drive a car in a single-make series again where I am the only driver behind the wheel, and to drive with all my heart. Winning this championship hits really deep in my heart and soul for me. I have so much gratitude pouring out of me, I tear up at the thought of everything and everyone that have led me to this point."
The Shift Up Now driver raced with sponsorship from Yokohama Tire, as part of the "All-In" campaign, aimed at promoting inclusiveness in the sport.
Originally from Illinois, she started karting and advanced to single seaters in 2007, becoming the first woman to step on the podium and win a race in a Skip Barber National race. Between 2008 and 2010, she took 25 race wins and two series titles - before having to put her racing career on hold for funding issues.
Freiberg then ventured into sports car racing and entered the 2013 GT3 Cup Challenge: she became the first woman to win a North American GT3 Cup. Thanks to the BMW North America Scholarship Driver program, she contested the Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge on the IMSA platform, again becoming the first woman to win outright.
She graduated to IMSA in 2016, competing in events such as the Daytona 24H and the Sebring 12H. Freiberg made her debut in Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America in 2017 - and became the first ever woman to stand on the podium in the Lamborghini one make series globally.
She was then back behind the wheel for one-off rounds in IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge in 2018 and 2020, and would then also return to Lamborghini Super Trofeo in 2022 at Road America, where she claimed a class podium at her racing return.
Her success in 2023 is also a testament of the Shift Up Now programme, as the collective has supported US-based female racing drivers fighting for equal chances in the sport.