In Issue 27, we introduced Ashley Freiberg to the national cyclocross audience. In her first season last year, she was already fighting her way to the podium in the 3/4 fields despite not having many base miles in her legs. Her secret? She’s a renowned race car driver who has spent a career analyzing corners, and applied her knowledge to the cyclocross course. This weekend, she was able to compete in the events at the Sebring 12 hour in her BMW, racing for IHG Rewards Club and Continental Tires: Peaking at fourth place but eventually crossing the line with a solid eighth.
She’s a woman who has been moving through the ranks of a male-dominated sport despite having to constantly struggle for funding even with an impressive track record. We caught up with her last Fall to talk about the overlaps in the sports and choosing the best racing lines. To see the full interview, as well as that of rally car racer Carl Decker, be sure to see our full Quick and Dirty articles in Issue 27 (also available instantly on here and on iTunes).
Cyclocross Magazine: In the public eye, you have a bigger reputation as a race car driver. Can you walk us through your history of being involved with the track?
Ashley Freiberg: I started racing when I was 13 years old in a go kart. This wasn’t your average go kart you see at a golf course, this was one that could go over 100 mph. On the go kart I won the national championships, then I began racing the open wheel cars because I wanted to do Indy car racing at the time. In my second year of karting I won a few national championships, and then from there I moved up to racing open wheel cars in the Skip Barber Racing Series when I was 15.
I became the first woman in history to win an overall Skip Barber Series Championship, the first woman to win a Skip Barber MX-5 Cup race, as well as a Skip Barber National Series race. I was also the first driver to be awarded the prestigious Coach’s Choice Award as best all-around driver in the series.
Last year I made the move over to sports car racing and raced a Porsche GT3 Cup car, where I won a race at Watkins Glen [another first for a woman] and was leading the championship until a loss of sponsorship forced me to sit out for the rest of the season, this year I raced a BMW in the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge. I won the first race at Daytona [yet another woman’s first], but only raced a few events afterward due to lack of funds.
Raising money for sponsorships has always been a known challenge, though. You have to raise millions of dollars to drive race cars, which can be tough, but it’s all about being at the right place at the right time, but you have to keep your face at the track and put in the hard work. You get a lot of no’s.
Cyclocross Magazine: What do you most enjoy about being behind the wheel of a powerful machine?
Ashley Freiberg: I just love to drive, and be on the limits to get corners right. I’m super nerdy in that I like to get into the physics and technical side of racing. Getting one corner perfect is just so satisfying.
On the track, you have to have 110% focus. A mistake that costs you a tenth or a hundredth of a second can have some major impacts on the rest of your race.
Cyclocross Magazine: Of all the kinds of cycling disciplines out there, what got you into cyclocross in the first place?
Ashley Freiberg: My driving coach, Mike Zimicki, likes to race cyclocross and he brought me to the races [to spectate] for the last couple of years. He thinks the sport is not only great for aerobic conditioning but practice on cornering, too. I had never really been super into cycling, so when I saw this I thought, This is awesome, but I’d get my butt kicked.
Last year we went to a race in Northampton [Cycle-Smart International] and I found myself analyzing the riders’ lines and seeing what looked good. That’s the stuff I get into, the technical stuff. It was the only race I went to see last year and I got hooked.
Cyclocross Magazine: When you finally started participating in races this season, how did you feel about your riding?
Ashley Freiberg: I thought I needed to get a lot stronger (laughs). I was able to adapt to the cornering aspect, and could pass some girls, but on the straightaways they would pass me back and then some. More than anything that made me laugh, but it makes me motivated to train a lot more for next season because I’m realizing I could be decent at this if I acquired more strength.
Cyclocross Magazine: What has been your favorite course?
Ashley Freiberg: Providence [the KMC Cyclo-cross Festival]. It makes you think. It keeps you on your toes. That first day it wasn’t chewed up yet, and the second day the course was full of grippy mud. I just loved the way the course flowed in the different conditions. There were some fun interconnected corners in the hills, and other technical features I really liked.
Cyclocross Magazine: Do you find any overlap between steering a car on the track and a bike on a cyclocross course?
Ashley Freiberg: Tons, and that’s really the main reason I’m doing cyclocross. It’s really good training for me. I can’t just take my car and go on a track like I can take my bike and go cross racing. One practice day in my car is so expensive, so for me, this is really great. It gets me race starts, forces me to deal with traffic, and pushes me to think and stay calm in physically challenging situations. A race start is a race start: the adrenaline, the preparation, the pre-laps where you think about figuring out the line, strategy, where you’ll see stack-up during the race etc. So much overlap, even with setup stuff like tire pressures
Cyclocross Magazine: Can you walk us through what is going on in your head during a pre-ride when you’re approaching corners?
Ashley Freiberg: I look at the corners and start to figure out the line that will allow me to carry speed and keep my momentum. That means not turning in early and pinching the exit, as well as seeing how the terrain affects the line and grip available.
Like I said earlier, I look for places where stack-ups might happen near the start. If there’s a long straightaway that goes into a hairpin, that’s an obvious spot. On the pre-ride, I will try alternative lines and see if it’s grippy enough to get around stopped or bunched up riders.
Cyclocross Magazine: What’s the biggest difference from steering a bike and a performance car?
Ashley Freiberg: It is actually quite different in that in a race car you are very busy. Throughout one corner alone I am making tons of tiny adjustments (with hands and feet) because the car is sliding around so much. A bike slides a bit as well but is definitely more stable when exiting a corner because you don’t have 450hp pushing you around!
Still, in terms of technique, it’s very similar. Any time you turn the wheel in a car or on a bicycle, you are losing or scrubbing speed. With that in mind, you can use cornering as part of your slowing and therefore don’t have to just rely on braking. As you lose speed, you can continue to decrease your radius and keep turning in. The basics of both are very similar.