By Tim Richardson
The Baltimore Grand Prix will feature a number of storylines during the three days of racing throughout downtown. Although the spotlight will be on the IZOD IndyCar race on Sept. 2, an intriguing story of the weekend involves Ashley Freiberg. The 20-year-old will race in the Star Mazda Series events on Sept. 1 and Sept. 2.
Freiberg did not compete in the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix, but she attended the event and said Baltimore was impressive.
"My fondest memory was definitely how enthusiastic and amazing the crowd turnout was," Freiberg said. "I have never been to a race weekend that was as packed with fans as this race was, and I have to say it was very cool to have that energy surrounding the weekend."
A year later, Freiberg will be part of creating that energy as her TrueCar Racing team competes in the Labor Day weekend event. The Star Mazda Series is part of the Road to Indy program, a ladder system designed to help drivers progress from the USF2000 National Championship to Star Mazda and then to Indy Lights before making the step to the IZOD IndyCar Series. Both the USF2000 National Championship and the Star Mazda Championship include road courses and ovals -- similar to the IndyCar Series -- to help drivers hone their skills as they progress through the system. The Grand Prix of Baltimore will feature Rounds 13 and 14 of the Star Mazda Championship.
Freiberg is competing as a member of TrueCar Racing and its "Women Empowered" initiative. TrueCar is empowering women that aspire to become championship drivers by providing full sponsorship support, professional coaching and training, marketing exposure and top-tier racing opportunities throughout the United States. Freiberg joined the initiative in December 2011.
"I have always loved being a role model for girls and women of all ages," Freiberg said. "So to become a part of something I already believe in and support was a perfect fit for me. What is really cool about the Women Empowered initiative is not that we are screaming feminism in everyone's face, but rather that we are showing that we are equal to men in many ways … that we can compete against them equally and do just as good of a job as the best of them."
According to its Web site, the TrueCar Racing "Women Empowered" initiative is unique in that no other company has actively pursued supporting an all-female race team encompassing various series. In this respect, TrueCar is paving the way and raising awareness of women as viable competitors in a male-dominated sport.
The team is composed of six competitive and motivated female athletes. It is now open to being challenged -- and challenge they will, with the TrueCar Racing Team drivers' eyes all firmly set at becoming the first female drivers to win major races and championships.
Katherine Legge, who is currently in the IndyCar Series, is one of the six female drivers competing as part of the TrueCar initiative. TrueCar Inc. is an online automotive information and communications platform focused on creating a better car-buying experience for dealers and consumers.
Freiberg started racing go-karts when she was 13, and spent time developing the basics of her driving. During her second year of competition, Freiberg won her first national championship, an accomplishment that made her decide to move into formula cars in the Skip Barber Racing Series.
She kept her karting seat for a few more years before moving completely out of karts to run the regional and national series of Skip Barber full-time. Freiberg said her first competitive sponsor was Akzo Nobel, a global paints and coatings company, which produces specialty chemicals. The company paid $2,800 to cover her racing suit and helmet.
In 2010, she won 25 Skip Barber races, including two championships and one national race. To expand on her driving skills, she also raced in a few Skip Barber MX-5 Cup races and won four out of the six she entered. Because the next step was moving to the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear, Freiberg decided to run in one of the races at the Autobahn Country Club. She finished fifth in a field of 23.
Racing is an expensive sport. Following the 2010 season, Freiberg found herself without any funding.
"I spent 2011 making phone calls, writing emails, going to meetings and going to racetracks searching to find a way to get back into the seat," she said. "At the end of 2011, I was called back by TrueCar and earned a fully funded ride in the Star Mazda Championship for 2012."
This year, Freiberg competed in 10 race weekends, running in 18 total races. She said the cost of a full season depended on the number of people on a crew, how many test days a driver runs, etc., so the pricing fluctuates, with the average cost falling around $500,000 annually. Freiberg's crew consists of an engineer, mechanic, truck driver and her team owner.
Freiberg said she did face challenges outside of funding, competing in a male dominated sport.
"I would have to say the biggest challenge is not really ever having a legitimate chance to be the underdog," Freiberg said. "Being a woman definitely has put more of a spotlight on me than most of the other drivers I race against. Sometimes it can be a great thing. Other times, it can be not so great. I can tell you that it has toughened me up in a lot of ways, though."
She also said she hoped TrueCar Racing's women's empowerment initiative and her involvement would lead to other female drivers competing in open-wheel racing.
"My advice to young girls thinking about competing is to work hard, be strong, be you and have fun," Freiberg said. "There will be pressures coming at you in all different angles, and you just have to find a way to block them out and do the job you came there to do.
"Without doing these four things, unless you are the one out of a million with supernatural talent, it will be challenging to be successful."
Freiberg's advice comes from experience.
She said she couldn't recall the exact number of races she has been in and awards she has won. But she said her biggest achievements included her five national karting championships, two Skip Barber Series Championships, the Skip Barber National Series win, four Skip Barber MX-5 Cup wins, being honored with the 2010 Best All-Around Driver Award in Skip Barber and being nominated as a Team USA Scholarship candidate. Because most of her winnings from these races went to her teams, Freiberg estimated that she earned approximately $5,000 from these accomplishments.
Freiberg said her ultimate goal was to become an IZOD IndyCar Series Champion.
"I guess it is the drive I have to always want to better myself," Freiberg said. "I would label myself the nerd of racing because I love to get completely absorbed in every aspect of it and I am always learning something new, whether it is about the car, my driving, the tracks. … I can never be satisfied with what I already know.
"I just love every single bit of driving the car, and the way it feels when I drive a corner really well or make a good pass. I can't really say specifically when the moment was when I decided I wanted to make a career out of racing. I think that it was sort of a domino effect of things. I got into racing because I simply loved to drive, and I loved driving well even more, and as a result of that, I have always pushed myself to be as good as I could be.
"Any success that I have had has happened as a result of that desire, and has also shown to myself that if I really commit myself and work hard at something, I could achieve it."
Posted Aug. 31, 2012