Victoria Thomas is a seasoned professional in the racing world – co-owner of the renowned Kelly Moss Racing operation – and a major voice in the sport.
Even with her vast experience at racetracks and years of evaluating driver talent, Thomas came away amazed and impressed from the recent driver shootout and evaluation to select a fulltime female driver for the team’s 2023 Porsche Carrera Cup North America Presented by the Cayman Islands effort.
Three drivers turned laps at the Putnam Park road course in Indiana, endured high-stress physical evaluations and underwent off-track challenges from managing media to discussing technical aspects of the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars with race engineers. All three women made strong cases for the unique chance at a full-season ride in the single-make series sanctioned by IMSA.
Following a difficult decision, Sabre Cook, 28, a Colorado native now living in Indianapolis, was selected to steer a Kelly Moss Porsche next season – marking one of the brightest opportunities of her career and perhaps representing a game-changer for the future of women in racing.
“When it came to making the final decision, Sabre has an incredible amount of experience,’’ Thomas said. “She is definitively an athlete. And with her engineering background, her ability to articulate what’s happening with the car and be able to understand what that means and how to read the data, we feel like it really gives us a leg up.
“And with that, the enthusiasm with the announcement of Sabre is equaled by the enthusiasm that has been picked up by the awareness we’ve raised.’’
Cook, a national and international go-kart champion who stood on the podium competing in the W Series, is also an accomplished mechanical engineer who earned her degree at the acclaimed Colorado School of the Mines. She was selected to the prestigious Infiniti Engineering Academy in 2019, earning the chance to work in an engineering capacity for Infiniti in England. That led to a technical position at the Renault Formula One team before her “driver” instincts convinced her to accept a chance to compete fulltime in the W Series, the European open-wheel single-seater series for female drivers. It only reinforced her desire to be behind the wheel.
“Having the opportunity to run a full season in a series like Porsche Carrera Cup with a top team is an opportunity I’ve never had the blessing to do before,’’ Cook said. “To have such a great program for success is honestly everything I’ve been working towards for a while, and I’m really happy it’s all come together and I’m really excited to see what we can do together.’’
The funding for Cook’s 2023 season includes all 16 races, multiple tests, race entry fees, plus all the must-haves from tires and fuel to the Kelly Moss championship team of engineers and technical experts.
Cook’s impressive credentials and ultimate dedication to the sport were genuinely representative of the talented trio of finalists. In fact, Thomas was so impressed by the work of drivers Loni Unser, 24, of Hailey, Idaho, and Sarah Montgomery, 28, of Lafayette, Louisiana, that she hopes there may be other opportunities with the team for at least one of them in the future.
Thomas said one of the things that impressed her most – beyond driving talent – was the way the trio genuinely supported one another despite the fact they were ultimately competing against each another.
“When one went on track, the others were like, ‘You’ve got this,’” Thomas said. “They truly believe that together they are stronger. It’s such a difference.”
It is certainly a big-time opportunity for the young drivers but, Thomas believes, also for the team. And the sport.
“We chose to invite women who have shown they can compete at the level necessary,’’ Thomas said. “We feel the Kelly Moss pedigree, with 35 national championships under our belt, truly gives the support necessary to break the barrier of the first female-owned-team, female-pro-driver championship in motorsports history.”
Among those who provided input was Lyn St. James, the two-time Rolex 24 At Daytona winner, 1990 class winner at the Twelve Hours of Sebring and 1992 Indianapolis 500 rookie of the year. The Hall of Fame driver, one of the most accomplished women competitors in the sport and longtime proponent of equal opportunity, St. James said she was impressed with not only the women chosen for the evaluation, but the “chance” it represented.
“It’s a great opportunity – single-make, single-driver series and very competitive – so I think it’s a great platform for a driver to show their talent and get a lot of good seat time against a lot of good competition,’’ St. James said. “It’s a great way to have a platform and get great experience and show what you’ve got.’’
IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship driver Katherine Legge, Porsche Carrera Cup driver Riley Dickinson and longtime motorsports journalist Jeremy Shaw helped with evaluations as well. For Thomas, the entire experience exceeded her expectations. And those are very high expectations.
Her big-picture hope is that this launches a new era in the sport, where women are viewed as more viable and valuable components of a race team.
“The most visible part of the team is the driver, so putting a really strong female driver in a seat is important,’’ Thomas said. “And I think we are uniquely qualified to give the technical support to do what it takes to help a woman achieve her goals. And the reason that’s so important is that it’s the most visible role.
“My role this year is to sort of stand on the rooftops and shout that women should be supporting women. There’s been such an incredible response from the industry and the general population. Ultimately, the bigger goal is to just bring more women across the board to this sport so it’s supported by the fan base and sponsors.”
The true mark of success, Thomas concluded, will be when there are women commonly seen in all facets of racing.
“Ultimately,” she said, “what we want is for it not to be a story.’’