Sabré Cook ready for new W Series season
"I felt like I jumped right back in and it felt pretty good right away." – We caught up with Sabré Cook, the only American on the 2021 W Series grid, as she explained her main area of focus ahead of the first round of the season.
When Sabré Cook was announced as part of the inaugural W Series championship in 2019, she was probably one of the dark horses of the first season.
Unlike some of her colleagues, Cook didn't have prior experience of the big formula cars that had put them under the international spotlight, and entered the season opener at Hockenheim with some Formula 4 US races under her belt.
One of the two Americans on the grid, it only took Cook a few rounds to break into the top ten, rubbing shoulders with highly-ranked drivers. At Misano, the then-25 year old from Colorado was protagonist of a remarkable recovery and finished eighth, scoring her first points of the season. From then on, Cook found confidence and became a regular point scorer: after a top-3 in practice at Norisring – and a seventh place in the race – she stepped on the podium in the Assen reverse-grid race.
The ninth place finish at the Brands Hatch season finale gave Cook the automatic entry to the 2020 season – which became 2021. In the W Series' sophomore year, Sabré will remain the only driver to fly the American flag, but will get the chance to finally race on home soil, as the series will hold its first races overseas.
Since her last race in the Tatuus F3 in 2019, Cook was among the drivers that had to rely on the all-female championship's collective test in order to get re-acclimated with the car.
But, mind you, the young American has had a good amount of track time in a wide variety of racecars: from a partial campaign in IndyPro 2000, to GT cars, a one-off in the very competitive Mazda MX-5 Cup and recent appearances in the North American's Porsche Carrera Cup – experiences that are surely contributing to further develop the driver-engineer's skill set.
"My goal for this test was to enjoy it and to get reacquainted with the car. Specifically, to get better at getting up to speed more quickly".
A mechanical engineer that has worked within a F1 team as part of the Infiniti Engineering Academy, Cook clearly has a very analytical approach when it comes to preparation.
The 5-day collective test at Anglesey, north of Wales, was thus a crucial opportunity for Sabré to get to know the new technical team behind W Series.
"The test was great, it was good to be back in the car again and just get to meet all of the new engineers and mechanics, and just learn how the new team structure is going to run" – she told us. "That was great, and it was good to also see some old faces that were there in 2019 and just see how much things have improved."
Among the new features, it is believed that, unlike in the inaugural season, drivers will retain a consistent livery design, which will surely help the fans of the series – as well as the new audience benefitting from the increased visibility of the F1 platform – to easily recognize its protagonists.
Just like in its 2019 pre-season test at Lausitzring, W Series elected not to release lap times and data from the Anglesey test. A strategy that, arguably, gives the drivers the opportunity to get back into the rhythm with less outside pressure, as every driver concentrates on a more personal area of focus.
"My goal for this test was to enjoy it and to get reacquainted with the car." – Sabré explained. "Specifically, to get better at getting up to speed more quickly: I have been focusing on improving my qualifying - and so that was my goal. Then, it was about learning the good takeaways and try to improve on that mentally or physically through these next few weeks before the first race."
The Anglesey test marked the first time Cook was back in a F3 car since almost two years, but the feelings were quickly back.
"I felt like I jumped right back in and it felt pretty good right away. Obviously there are always little nuances that are different from one car to the next, but it was just about getting used to some little changes that were made in the setup since 2019, but overall I felt like the majority of us jumped in and were quite well adapted back to the car".
Despite focusing on their own programs, we asked Sabré if it is common practice for drivers, as competitive people, to have a look at the others' performances: "I guess it always varies, depending on who's on what age of tyres at the time, so you always have to keep that in perspective, but for tests like that I guess it's mostly about looking at the overall trends of what you need to improve" – she emphasized.
"Like, I need to fix this sort of technique in slow corners and this sort of technique in fast corners, and just find an overall trend. In doing so, you try to fix or optimize those before we start the season."
Surely, one of the main targets of last month's test was also to try to level the playing field as much as possible ahead of the first race of the season, as the 18 confirmed drivers – plus three invited ones – all had different opportunities in 2020.
"I think that was one of the main objectives for W Series, to let everyone get that time to get reacquainted with the cars and feel comfortable going into the first races", Sabré said.
"I think that was their main goal, just to make sure that we were ready and prepared just like every other series that does lots of pre-season testing".
"Everyone of us has been working pretty hard over the last year and a half now, since the end of the 2019 season".
Featuring some interesting undulations, a good mix of technical corners and old-style runoff areas – often characteristics of the North American racetracks that Sabré is familiar with.
"Definitely Anglesey can be similar to some of the tracks here in the US, with the elevation changes and not much runoff, so for me that was a little normal." – she told us.
"But, in regards to the tracks that we'll be visiting for the rest of the season, I think it's quite different." – she pointed out. "Maybe, with the old asphalt and less runoff it might be similar to Zandvoort in a way, but it's such a different layout, as Anglesey doesn't have those really long straightaways."
With Formula 1 being forced to change its calendar in due course following new travel restrictions, W Series also reacted and announced a change in its schedule a little over a month before the start of the season – which was initially planned to get underway at the French Grand Prix at Circuit Paul Ricard.
Now, for the first time – if we do not consider the non-championship experiment at Assen – W Series will contest a double-header, kicking off its highly-anticipated second season at the Red Bull Ring, Austria.
"It's a bit unfortunate I guess that we don't get to go to Paul Ricard because I was looking forward to going to that track for the first time and experiencing it, but it definitely makes sense for W Series to do the first two back-to-back races at Red Bull Ring." – Cook noted.
"It just makes it easier logistic-wise, so I completely understand why they've done it."
"Obviously, with all the Covid restrictions and traveling it makes it a little bit easier in that respect as well, so it's one less different country that we have to deal with."
"I'm also excited - in a way it is a positive, because then it's one less new track I have to learn and it's a chance for me to continue to improve on one circuit over the first two races, so it might end up being quite a blessing in disguise."
As Cook said, it does make sense for W Series to opt for a more agile logistic solution, especially after a scrapped season due to unfeasible international travels for drivers coming from 12 different countries – many outside the European bloc. Among them, Tasmin Pepper saw her chances of joining her colleagues at the UK test and at the first races vanishing when her country was put on the red list.
While travelling in the era of Covid remains challenging and requires some extra effort and paperwork, protocols now are starting to become a bit more ingrained in our everyday lives and W Series has been working non-stop to ensure the smooth running of the upcoming season for all drivers.
"I've traveled quite a lot with the whole Covid situation and restrictions, so I'm kinda used to it now." – Sabré added, describing the process that has become routine for everyone in the sport in the latest months.
"You check out what the latest updates are on the government websites and you get a test before you go - and then you have to make sure you fill out the proper track and trace forms. You get a test once you arrive - and then in the UK you have to do the second day test, as well as the eight-day test as you're quarantining for ten days. If you're an athlete you're allowed to train, obviously only in the place that you're quarantining - which is the hotel."
"I don't want to say that it's straightforward, because it's always still changing, but W Series has hired people that are full-time in charge of making sure that all those regulations are taken care of, so they made sure that we knew exactly what we needed to be doing and provided us with the proper testing and paperwork throughout the whole process."
For Sabré Cook, who has often identified IndyCar as her main career goal, this will be a very important season: if she can continue to build on the 2019 momentum, it's no stretch of the imagination to expect her to be a constant point-scorer with potential top-five appearances.
The rise of a female-forward reality at the top of North American open-wheel racing is certainly very exciting for women with IndyCar ambitions. "It's huge for women in motorsport and especially women in IndyCar." – Cook had told us in a previous chat. "We never had a female team owner come in and support an effort like this".
Hopefully, a solid season in F3 machinery – without the uncertainty of a backing that she often lacked in the past – might indeed gain Cook that crucial opportunity to give new impetus to her career on home soil.
"I felt like I jumped right back in and it felt pretty good right away."