It’s a relatively new, virtual world for Grand Junction, Colorado’s Sabré Cook.
Recently, Cook and her 2020 W Series competitors traded in their Formula 3 style race cars for a Logitech 920 electronic racing wheel due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the 2020 season. For now, they’re all spending their Thursdays competing against each other on a virtual level, that being on the iRacing.com Motorsport Simulations race servers for the W Series Esports League.
10 weeks. 10 incredible circuits. A driver line-up like no other.
The #WSeriesEsportsLeague has arrived. 🙌
— W Series (@WSeriesRacing) June 9, 2020
One of the 18 selected drivers on the 2020 W Series roster, and also competing in the Indy Pro 2000 championship this year, Cook is a pretty busy woman in the world of motorsports. On top of her driving ability, Cook also holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering, and worked with Infiniti and Renault Formula 1 during the 2019 season.
Cook doesn’t believe there can be a substitute for the real product, but taking the sim series seriously can be a benefit when she returns to the real track.
“When your sim racing, I feel like because you don’t have the other senses, and you don’t have the feeling, it’s harder, and you have to be even more focused on your visuals and whatever feedback you may be getting from the wheel to really hit your marks, every single lap, over and over again,” she said. “In that way, I think it’s a good mental drill.”
— Sabré Cook (@Sabre_Cook) June 13, 2020
Things have changed for almost everyone in the past few months, living in this COVID–19 pandemic world. In the motorsports world, it’s no different. Some racing series around the world have already made their return, and others are still sitting on the sidelines, possibly already postponed for the rest of the year.
Unfortunately, the relatively newly formed W Series is one of those in the latter category.
Announced in October of 2018, the W Series aims to “change the face of motorsports, quite literally” with an all-female roster. The series selected 18 female drivers (and two reserves) to compete around a handful of venues across Europe for the inaugural 2019 season. The Top 12 in the 2019 standings were locked back into the series for the 2020 season and another eight (six full time, two reserve) were chosen from another pool of hopefuls to fill out the roster.
With the world changed by the COVID–19 pandemic, like many other racing series, the W Series has found a way to stay racing through sim racing. The eSports push when COVID–19 hit was huge, with Formula 1, IndyCar, and NASCAR, among other series all jumping on early in their own way.
The W Series formed their own Esports League in early May, hoping to fill the void until the racing action would return in the real world. Their opening real-world event at the end of the month was originally pushed back, but eventually, the entire season was postponed in early June.
A week after the 2020 season was put on indefinite hold, the first races of the W Series Esports League took place at a virtual Autodromo Nazionale di Monza utilizing the iRacing.com Motorsport Simulations. The entire 18-woman roster was listed to compete week-to-week in 10 straight weeks of competition. Each race week would feature three timed races at the same track.
Among those competing in the W Series full time, as well as in the Esports League, is Cook, the only American driver qualified to compete in the W Series for 2020.
“I was really proud and really happy to make it to the 18 active for last year, and to be one of two Americans that made it,” Cook said about making the series in 2019. “Sadly, I’m the only American going into the next year, but hopefully we’ll see if that changes.”
— Sabré Cook (@Sabre_Cook) September 6, 2019
Facing the challenges of racing on a computer as opposed to the familiarity of real seat time, Cook is trying to keep the competitive edge while also finding a way to succeed and utilize the sim-time for real-time benefits.
“I’ve noticed with sim racing, if you’ve never done it before, that you don’t realize how much your heart rate goes up, and when your stressed out about doing well and focusing, and all you’re doing is sitting there, you don’t have all of the other physical aspects of driving it in real life,” she said. “I think it’s great for your focus and your mental strengths, and just trying something new, just trying to adapt to the game and adapt to whatever the situation is on the sim day.”
Although sim racing is relatively new to Cook, she has been racing for a majority of her life, and has quite a résumé built up over the years. “I started in karting,” Cook said. “My dad used to race Motocross and Supercross professionally, and he and my mom didn’t want my brother and I to race motorcycles, so I got into karting when I was almost eight years old.
“I progressed through the karting ranks, had good success, and then went on to win national championships and world championships. I didn’t progress into cars until I was 22, which is quite late, but I had never had the full sponsorship and the funding to be able to move for that… I started in some SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) stuff, like Spec Racer Fords and FE (Formula Enterprises).”
Moving from karts to cars was a big, challenging leap for Cook, but it was also the leap she needed to get where she is today.
“In 2018, I tried to do a few of the US F4 (FIA Formula 4) and USF2000 races. I did two in F4, and three or four in USF2000,” she said. “Obviously running with a very small budget, it was quite a difficult year, but it was good to kind of start to make that transition, to start on the Road to Indy.”
Cook earned her degree in Mechanical Engineering from the undergraduate program at the Colorado School of Mines in 2017. She participated in the 2018 Infiniti Engineering Academy in the US region, and when she won, she moved overseas to continue her Engineering career, while also continuing to race.
“In 2019, I was living in the (United Kingdom) and working for Infiniti and Renault F1, as well as competing in the W Series last year. Now, we’re in 2020 (laughs), and things have changed quite a lot, just because of the circumstances. W Series is obviously postponed until 2021, and I am trying to race as much as possible in the Indy Pro 2000 championship, which is the second step on the Road to Indy ladder.”
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‼️ ANNOUNCEMENT ‼️Well here is it guys! I will be returning to the Road to Indy with Team Benik, but this time in Indy Pro 2000 for 2020! I’m so excited for this opportunity and thankful to all my sponsorship partners and team for making this happen. I’m pleased to have returning support as well as some new people involved! You can find all the details in the full release on the @rtdmedia_ Website. 👇🏻👇🏻👇🏻👇🏻👇🏻 . . . http://racetechdevelopmentgroup.com/media/sabre-cook-returns-to-road-to-indy-with-team-benik-in-indy-pro-2000/ #TeamBenik #RoadtoIndy #IndyPro2000 #2020season #GonnaSendIt
In the eNASCAR Pro Invitational Series earlier this year, one of the big attractions for fans was that they were able to race at the exact track they would be racing in real life. On the iRacing service, their tracks have all been laser scanned for accuracy, so that pretty much every bump, nook, and cranny were accounted for. That brought another level of realism to the NASCAR drivers and their fans during the eSeries.
For the W Series, unfortunately, with their series taking place in Europe, and with iRacing headquartered in Massachusetts, a good number of the tracks that they raced in 2019 are not available on the service at this time, most likely due to costs to travel and scan, with some of these tracks not as well known. However, the first two events in the W Series Esports League did take place at two tracks that the series would have visited this 2020 season, and realistically, it might have been a decent virtual test for all of these drivers for later in the season, had the season not been postponed.
The third eRace event was three races at the virtual Brands Hatch Circuit, and it was the first track that the series also visited in the real world in the 2019 season. Cook was able to score her best finish in the W Series Esports League to date, a third place podium effort in the second race of the three race event.
The W Series Esports League picked the closest virtual car they felt could replicate the Formula 3 race cars run in the W Series, that being the iRacing model of the Formula Renault 2.0, and for Cook, that was part of some of the differences she felt in her virtual visit to Brands Hatch.
“The track itself, it’s quite good, but there’s certain other track limits you can take advantage of on the iRacing game that you couldn’t in real life,” Cook said. “It’s pretty accurate, sometimes there’s some weird nuances or bumps, but I think it’s more getting the right setup with the car model as well.
“Overall I felt like it was pretty accurate for what it is. It’s hard to say, 100 percent, that this is perfect, because for one, we’re driving cars (on the sim) that aren’t what we drove in real life on Brands Hatch. They’re quite a bit different than the Formula 3 cars that we drive.”
In general, Cook feels that despite the similarities and realism given on the iRacing platform that it’s a different feel than being in the real seat. “There are so many differences. At the end of the day, nothing is going to substitute real seat time, but for the sim stuff, what I think it’s great for is to learn new tracks, it’s good to really focus on minimizing mistakes, and practice increasing your focus time.”
So far through four race events (12 races in total), Cook sits 16th in the Esports League standings. Beitske Visser leads the standings after the fourth triple race event at Interlagos. The next virtual event on the schedule is at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.
Well not a great @WSeriesRacing eSports race for me at @InterlagosTrack– Better qualifying but R1 made a mistake on lap 1 that resulted in contact. R2 and R3 I was crashed into and got heavy damage. P10 in R2 was the highlight but hoped for more. Oh well onto Spa next! #esports pic.twitter.com/npofxThngE
— Sabré Cook (@Sabre_Cook) July 3, 2020
As mentioned before, Cook is quite the busy woman. Even with COVID–19’s effect on the motorsports schedule, she’s still going to be competing on the real track this season, as well as on the virtual one. There will be a little overlap and some missed eRaces, but that’s not such a bad thing considering the circumstances.
The Indy Pro 2000 series kicks off next weekend in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, at Road America, and Cook will be in the field in the No. 37 ride for BNRacing with Team Benik. The team is still hoping to get the needed funding to race the entire season schedule. There will be a few events, due to the schedule and the traveling, that Cook will miss on the Esports side, but when she’s does get to compete in those eRaces, she is taking it as serious as she can.
“Everyone is taking it very, very seriously. They’re spending a lot of time in preparation for each race. I think we’re all taking it so seriously right now that it’s maybe not as fun as it maybe should be,” Cook said with a laugh. “We’re just so competitive. It’s been great so far, and all the girls – we work together and we help each other figure some things out.”
These Esports races are being broadcasted on BBC Digital platforms. Cook says that her goals in the sim seat are just to get better at it as it goes along. “I would like to continue improving my craft as a sim racer. I’ve learned to accept that it’s even harder than real life to meet the goals sometimes because the crashes happen so much more easily in sim racing, it’s so much more unpredictable.”
Cook is also looking to continue her Mechanical Engineering work in 2020, despite moving back to Colorado earlier in the year.
All Photography courtesy of the W Series Media Centre.
Columnist / Reporter / Photographer / Webmaster for TheRacingExperts.com