Erin Vogel gears up for second half of GTWC America with newfound confidence
"The confidence is coming back after the last race and I kinda know what work is ahead of us." – Erin Vogel is ready to tackle the second half of the GT World Challenge America season, following a class podium at the previous round at Watkins Glen. We had a chat with the RealTime Racing driver during the summer break.
This weekend, Erin Vogel will head to Road America, fifth race meeting of the 2022 GT World Challenge America, to start the second half of the season – her second in the championship and in GT3 competitions.
Vogel, who shares the #43 RealTime Racing Acura NSX GT3 Evo with long-time teammate Michael Cooper, is aiming to build momentum after scoring her first ProAm podium of the year last time out at Watkins Glen, which showed really promising signs after a challenging start of the season.
"It was great to be back on the podium, it felt really good for the whole team" – she told us during the summer break. "It was a long time coming, everyone's worked really hard."
Vogel and Cooper moved to the Acura NSX platform in 2022, having raced the Mercedes AMG GT3 in their debut season in GT World Challenge America. At only her second year in SRO America, Erin immediately felt at ease in GT3 machinery, after a learning-oriented campaign in GT4 America at the wheel of the McLaren 570S GT4 in the 2020 SprintX series.
This year, the period of acclimatization to the new vehicle required s a few more race weekends – but the RealTime Racing duo now seem to have found the right path.
"We struggled a little in the first half of the season, just finding overall pace and overall grip with the car", Vogel explained. "The car had some updates for 2022, so it's been a bit of a different car than the NSX was in the past. It's not wildly different, but we just had to find our pace."
"I think we were trying things that were a little outside the box compared to what people have done with the NSX in the past – and I think we've decided at this point that's maybe not the direction that we need to keep pursuing. We're coming back towards the setup that's more what people have run in the past."
The approach seems to be paying off, as Watkins Glen was definitely a step in the right direction – not only in the podium-scoring Race 1, but also in the second race, when Vogel was able to run her best laps despite a small issue in the driver change.
"We definitely still have work to do", she continued, "but we're all looking forward to the second half of the season where I think we hopefully start to see some better results."
She would describe the Watkins Glen weekend as their best one to date this year, with the setup changes before Sunday's race bringing some good feelings for the upcoming races, as well as her charge through the field on Saturday that resulted in the podium finish.
"We had an issue with the belts in our driver change; I ended up having a belt not as tight as I would have liked" – she recalled. "Because of that, I ended up driving around more or less by myself for the whole stint, but I got some really good race laps."
"But I think that as far as my racecraft goes, I was very happy about my stint on Saturday's race at Watkins Glen: I was right there with other cars. I was able to avoid some cars spinning in front of us and just stayed focused. I continued to chip away at the other drivers around and made some progress. That's the Erin Vogel Racing that people are used to seeing, and I thought she was there a little bit more this time", she said jokingly.
While the change to the Acura platform revealed to be a bit more challenging than expected at the beginning, Vogel is now really enjoying her time in NSX GT3 Evo:
"The mid-engine platform is fantastic and I'm enjoying being back in a mid-engine car as I think it's more familiar to me personally" – she said.
"The NSX is almost an electronic driving experience. It's definitely something that I had to drive a little differently at the beginning and you get a lot of feedback through the steering wheel – because it's very electronically boosted" – Vogel explained. "It's a bit like driving on a simulator, in the sense that you're using more visual cues."
With simulators now a common training tool for racing drivers, Erin Vogel described how her use of the sim mostly focuses on the mental side rather than purely car behaviour.
"I do find for myself – and maybe it's a weakness of mine – that if I spend too much time on the simulator with what I think the car is going to be like, I end up getting to the racetrack and it's not the same. At that point I'm re-learning stuff", she explained.
"[The sim] it's good to refresh my memory for overall course configurations, and roughly where you want to go on the gas and on the brakes. I find that it's good for mental training – just forgetting yourself in the zone and trying to stay in it even when you make a mistake or something like that" – she continued.
"Actually I'm just spending more time driving other tracks just to be driving, rather than just focusing on where I'm headed next."
Next up on the calendar is going to be RealTime Racing's home round at Road America, another iconic North American circuit that gave the team from Saukville – 30 minutes away from the Wisconsin's famous racing venue – its 100th victory in 2019.
Vogel is confident that the progress made with understanding the car will bring more opportunities in the final three rounds.
"I think that with what we had going on with the setup with the car in the early part of the season, I felt like I lost a little of my confidence in my ability to read the car and adapt to it, but I definitely feel that I got that back in the last race weekend" – she stated.
"The confidence is coming back after the last race and I kinda know what work is ahead of us."
In only her second season of GT3 racing, Erin Vogel's progression at this level of sports car racing has been nothing short of impressive. With three class podiums in 2021 – and the historic ProAm victory at VIR, which wrote Vogel's name in the history books as the first ever woman to win in GT3 in SRO – her story was undeniably an inspiring one.
"I certainly hoped that there would be things like that achieved" – she told us, as we discussed the impact of such records. "Obviously I enjoy those moments myself, but I think as a female driver, I always wanted to do well to be visible to other girls – and even boys", she added. "Just to normalize it as much as I can a bit more, to make it not such an historic event."
"That was always the goal: go out there and show that we, as female drivers, can be equally competitive and we can be on the podium as well. I was really happy to do that, and I was happy Taylor [Hagler] did so much last season, as well as Ashton [Harrison] this season", Vogel continued, mentioning her colleagues that all managed to win races and score podiums in GT World Challenge America in the past couple of years. "I'm glad that those of us who are out there are able to show that it doesn't matter what your gender is, you can be a great competitor."
Less than a month ago, the all-female team Iron Dames clinched an historic victory at the 24 Hours of Spa – the biggest GT3 race in the world – further highlighting the potential of properly-supported women in sports car racing.
"I would love to see something like Iron Dames happen here [in the US]" – Vogel told us.
"I talked about it with some of the other American female racing drivers, I think it would take some interest from someone with the ability to pull a full season program. We even talked about if we could get funding to do something like Daytona: how fantastic that would be to have an all-female effort."
"We have some great female engineers and mechanics – it would be really fun to assemble a team like that", she continued. "I would love to see that happen and I don't think we're lacking the talent here in the US."
Vogel is a real supporter of the entire movement of women in motorsport and, in her future ambitions, she could see herself working on a program to help young up-and-coming drivers. In the short term, though, Erin is committed to continue her remarkable development in GT racing one step at a time. Starting from the three remaining rounds of the 2022 season.
"I really enjoy Road America, which is next on the calendar" – she commented. "The track is very fun to drive and we've not had great luck there in the past so it would be great to have some luck there."
"Honestly, everything that is left on our schedule is good: Sebring is a funky track but it's good racing and I enjoy it a lot; Indy is just fun because it's the Intercontinental GT Challenge and we get to do the longer race. We do have a great calendar to finish out the year."
With four top-five finishes and a class podium, Erin Vogel and Michael Cooper are currently sixth in the drivers' standings, with two double headers and the double-point Indianapolis 8 Hours to go.