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"Where there’s a will, there’s a way" - a chat with Shea Holbrook

Exclusive interview with American W-Series driver Shea Holbrook, as the series enters its second half this weekend at Norisring.

With W-Series approaching its fourth round, some of its inaugural season's frontrunners have experienced some increasing popularity. Today we get to know a bit better Shea Holbrook, one of the two American racers on the grid.

I had heard of the Florida native from her Pirelli World Challenge days, but she definitely caught my (and the world's) attention when she qualified for the inaugural season of the all-female championship W-Series. As the selection progressed, I knew some of the drivers had big single-seater experiences and some others came from very different backgrounds. When the girls hit the track, I was increasingly curious to discover more about a couple of names that had honestly surprised me. Among them it was Shea Holbrook.

I knew she had previously won in Long Beach and done well in touring cars, but here she had to compete against drivers with Formula 3, GP3 and World Series by Renault written on their CVs. Hockenheim was all about learning. In Zolder she managed to finish a convincing P12 and quickly made progresses in race pace.

We had the chance to talk to her during the last W-Series round in Italy.

Shea is a 29-year old, well-spoken young woman with immense dedication and work ethic. You can grasp the passion she has for this sport from her words, but the most striking detail that stood out to me was her honesty.

I have certainly met many racing drivers in the past; they have big egos. Her attitude was refreshing, and I was pleased she spoke without that formal "press-release" mask that today's motorsport environment sometimes forces on young drivers. It might be an American thing.

Somehow, Shea Holbrook embodies the W-Series virtues.

She's a woman that has fought her way to the top but is still massively aware that this is going to be a learning experience.

She's embracing the opportunity this series provided her and is taking every chances to improve, knowing that at the end of the season she'll be a better driver.

“It’s easy to say things with hard to do things.”

Shea: My name’s Shea Holbrook, I come from the United States. My background is primarily in touring cars, and in the past 2 years I got a little bit into GT, so the single seater chassis is kinda new to me. Nine years ago I did a bit of “beginner” single-seater stuff, so to have the opportunity to be a part of the W-Series and get into the F3 was a learning curve and has still been a little bit of a learning curve but I do really feel confident in my abilities.

I’m actually quite proud of my performance [in Misano] because we struggled in FP1 and FP2 and then we definitely struggled in Quali. I felt like I personally left a lot out there in Quali. We did also find a little bit of a brake issue with the car that certainly wasn’t helping me, so…

You know, as a driver you always want to put the blame on something else, right? At least I can say that some of that was car [she laughs]. But ultimately a lot of that was me, and what I was leaving out on the table.

It’s easy to say things with hard to do things.

So when you’re competing against people like Alice Powell and Jamie Chadwick, you know, drivers who have quite a lot of experience of single-seaters compared to others, it’s hard to mentally allow yourself to say “maybe you’re not quite at the level that Jamie Chadwick is right now, but you have the potential to be”. You have to be realistic with yourself, but you also have goals set.

Going into the race our goal set was to be super consistent. Minimum mistakes, if no mistakes. And that’s what we did. We were very consistent, we progressively got faster, minimum mistakes: that is what ultimately provided us a good performance. Although the result was kinda shit, I mean, honestly. But the performance was good for my crew, for myself and so I’m going to walk away like: “Ok, I got my chin high again", because I kind of left yesterday with my chin a little bit low.

Moving forward, I think there’s a couple of things I need for sure to work on. I keep getting smoked in the starts, I’m really disappointed with the traction and what I’m doing at the start of the race, because I pretty much lost a position almost every time.

And then the restarts: you know, in my opinion the girls are kinda jumping the restarts and I’m not. In the States you get in big trouble for jumping the restarts, you get big time penalties. So I learned that if everybody’s doing it, you don’t get in trouble and I should be doing it! I’ll note that, so that I don’t screw up restarts, because I think that if I was better at the restart [in Misano] I would have been potentially fighting for another position, because the girl in front of me was more inconsistent than I was. Sometimes she was faster, but sometimes she was four tenths slower on a lap when I was consistent.

So in hindsight, of course you focus on the crap you wish you didn’t do, but overall I’m pretty pleased with the overall performance, and hopefully the performance start turning in the result that I desire.

Racers: You drove the F3 Americas car in the first races. Is it a totally different car from this one? [Shea announced earlier this week that she will complete the F3 Americas season with Momentum Motorsports]

S: It is so different! I did the first two weekends in F3 Americas, I’m actually missing the next one [Pittsburgh] but I’m doing the last three. The car is totally different. The way in which you drive the car is the same, but the chassis, the motor, the weights, the power-weight distribution and all that is a bit different. I would say that the US car in a way feels easier for you. It has got 30 more horse-power so honestly you can get away with a little bit more, just because of that. It’s easier in the sense that also I can do whatever I want with setup. I don’t have the limitation of setup that we have with W-Series.

I love the Tatuus chassis, I think it’s a really great car. It’s kinda hard for me to go back and forth because the feeling of everything is a little different but no matter what, being in a single seater will always benefit me for my progress in general as a driver.

What I do like about this [Tatuus] though, is it’s progressive. You kinda know when things are happening before and some of this is because of setup. The positives of the set-setups is that theoretically everybody should have the same thing, and then you have the ability to typically change the front wing or the rear bar.

Although, that setup might not favor your driving style. And so if that’s the case you just have to find a way to drive around it. But to teach yourself after years and years how to drive around something like that could be kinda difficult.

Frankly, for me when people ask: “What do you think it’d be better for your driving style”…To be totally honest, I don’t really know! Because I don’t come from single seaters. So I’m not really biased to one setup versus the other. I’m just driving whatever I can to my potential.

When I go to America to race, I actually ask them to essentially set the car up like the W-Series car. And they say:“well, you wanna free it up a little bit…” and I’m like:“I’d rather drive it as similar as I can to the W-Series car”, because that’s what I’m used to.

But I am enjoying being able to do both, W-Series and F3 Americas, I’m really fortunate because if I wouldn’t have had this opportunity, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been racing this year.

R: Where do you see yourself at the end of the championship?

S: At the end of the championship my goal is to run in the top 10. I have a lot of work still, finishing P16 is not really going to help me in the championship, but that’s still my goal.

There’s still time, there’s still things I could change, so at the end of the season being in the top 10 is really where I’d like to see myself.

I’m a big believer that everything you do, in sports, in business, in life…if you want to become really good at something you need two years running at it. You need two seasons.

My next year's goal would be to return and qualify for the W-Series and be a contender for the top 5. That would be my ultimate goal. I want to stay in single-seaters, this is the first time that I’ve been able to focus on something like this, I’m enjoying it and I think that however my career continues, even if I move back to GTs or touring cars or whatever, it can always benefit me. So I hope that I’m good enough to continue down that path. And if I’m not, then, I don’t know what I’m gonna do!

“I’m a big believer that everything you do, in sports, in business, in life…if you want to become really good at something you need two years running at it.”

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