24-year old Ashley Freiberg has only been racing in sports cars for a little over two years. However, in that time, she’s impressed a lot of people. In her first career start in the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge at Daytona in 2014, she shared the overall victory with Shelby Blackstock after the winning entry from Turner Motorsport was disqualified due to a technical infraction.
From there, Freiberg has put up a steady stream of decent results, which has brought the young Vermont native a fair amount of attention. That attention, plus backing from IHG Rewards Club and BMW North America, sees Freiberg make the move up to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship on a full-time basis in 2016.
Prior to her race debut, Freiberg sat down with our own Phil Allaway to discuss her upcoming 2016 season, her time with Fall-Line Motorsports and what she expects this season.
Phil Allaway, Frontstretch.com: This is going to be your debut in the [IMSA] WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Just looking at the smile on your face tells me that you’re really excited about it.
Ashley Freiberg, No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3: Yeah, I’m super excited. I’ve been trying to break into this side of the paddock for a long time. I’ve spent a couple of years over in the Continental paddock working on sponsorship and trying to prove myself so that I could show that I was capable of racing over here.
I’m just super excited to be here. I obviously wouldn’t be here without my supporters IHG Rewards Club and BMW North America. They are really the reason why I’m here.
Allaway: Your sponsors basically arranged for the ride for you? Or, were you able to be recruited by Turner Motorsport via your strengths as a driver?
Freiberg: It’s kind of a combination of both. I think I definitely proved myself in the Continental [Tire SportsCar Challenge], winning a couple of races and showing that I’m pretty competitive and that I work hard.
Therefore, IHG Rewards Club and BMW North America really wanted to continue that relationship with me because they want the best of the best. It just worked out for the benefit of all of us.
Allaway: This is going to be a split schedule for you. Three races in the No. 96 BMW for Turner Motorsport and eight in the No. 88 for Starworks Motorsport. The PC chassis is a completely different car. Have you been able to test the car yet?
Freiberg: I have been able to test the PC car a little bit. I loved it. I come from an open wheel racing background, so it brought back some good memories from back then. I’m excited to race that car too.
Allaway: The whole open-wheel experience (karting, etc.) came right back to you once you got in the PC car?
Freiberg: Not exactly karting. I drove open wheeled race cars as well. I drove in the Skip Barber Racing Series, which is a formula car. I also raced in the Pro Mazda Series as well, which is two levels below [the Verizon IndyCar Series].
Allaway: [The Pro Mazda Series] cars are pretty fast cars with roughly 300 horsepower engines, right?
Freiberg: Yeah, they’re pretty fast cars. I’d say they’re equally as fast as a PC car. The PC car is just a lot heavier. Driving-wise, it was quite similar to me. It should be good.
Allaway: It’s going to take a little getting used to having to switch back and forth between the two cars. How do you have to adjust your driving style to compensate?
Freiberg: It’s not as big of a difference as some would think. To be able to drive a race car fast, you have to use [the basic techniques]. You have to look through the corner, make sure your eyes are up, and make sure you’re smooth.
The only other thing I have to think about is, “What does this car like in order to be driven fast?” The PC car will have a lot more downforce than what I’m driving now, so I’ll have to adjust my driving in that sense.
I think I’ve been lucky in that I’ve driven different types of cars throughout my whole career, so the transition is not super difficult.
Allaway: There is a test scheduled for February 20th to test potential rule changes for the PC cars with the aim of debuting it at Sebring. You’re debuting at Long Beach, so you might be debuting in a different beast as compared to what you tested.
Freiberg: Yes, the plan is to hopefully get in the car before Long Beach. I’d like to try to get in the car at that Sebring test so that I can get a feel for everything. The test that I did have in the PC car was pretty limited, so even though I did drive it, I don’t have a ton of experience behind the wheel of that car.[At] Long Beach, we have like no track time. I’m also going to have to share that session with my co-driver [Mark Kvamme]. That’s why getting in the car before that race weekend will be key. Hopefully, I do.
Allaway: For the past two years, you’ve been with Fall-Line Motorsports driving their BMW M3. It was an up-and-down experience that started off with a win on debut with Blackstock at Daytona. How would you describe how you grew as a racer over those two years?
Freiberg: Oh man, that was a huge learning experience for me. Those cars are pretty challenging to drive, I have to say.
Just because of how old the car was in that series and how many races and championships it had won, we didn’t really have Balance of Performance in our favor. So, it was a big battle with not having the strongest car in the field consistently every race weekend.
That’s why we would get so excited when it would rain because finally, driver skill would come into play, car setup comes into play versus the restrictions that we had on the car. I think it made me a lot stronger mentally to be able to realize, “This is the car I have, this is as good as it’s going to be [and] I just have to go with the flow.” Hopefully, we’ll get lucky and our pit strategy will get us towards the front.
That’s what happened last year at [Road Atlanta]. It rained and I was like “Thank you!” Same thing at Watkins Glen. It started raining and unfortunately, we had the red flag. Without that red flag, I think we had a good shot at winning.
It was an interesting year and I think it made me much stronger mentally, for sure.
Allaway: Last year when you were teaming with Trent Hindman, you were mainly starting races. Do you find it easier to start or finish events?
Freiberg: Honestly, I look at both jobs the same. A lot of people think that the finishing driver is the stronger driver, but you have to do your job well whether you’re starting or finishing. I never viewed it any differently. I just put in as much work as I can.
Allaway: During your time at Fall-Line Motorsports, you had a lot of success at some tracks, but not so much at places like Lime Rock, which amounts to a home track for you. 2014 saw you sit out due to sponsor issues, while last year saw you get wrecked. Do you feel any more pressure to perform when racing close to home?
Freiberg: I don’t, personally. Every time I come to the track, I view my job as the same. I don’t feel any more pressure anywhere, anytime.
It was a bummer to not be able to race at Lime Rock [in 2014]. At the time, I was third in the championship and just didn’t have sponsorship to go forward. Getting punted [last year] was very frustrating because…it’s just not very smart.
Allaway: Especially on the first lap.
Freiberg: It was a hard hit. The car was destroyed.
But that’s what made Road America so great. Between that race and Road America, there was a week break. My team literally cut the whole front of the car off and welded it back together. In the race, we finished third. That was a good team effort there.
Allaway: Overall, it was a taxing season, but you finished it with the win at Road Atlanta in the terrible conditions. The start saw a toss-up decision in regards to tires.
Freiberg: I started on slicks. The radar showed that the [track] was going to dry up and we were watching sessions before and a dry line was developing. Because of that, we said that we’d go with slicks so that when it dried, we’d have the advantage.
Then, it started raining harder. So, I pitted [for wets] and the crew sent me out right in front of the leader. I was about to get lapped and I held [Jade Buford] off for quite a few laps. Luckily, a yellow came out and I think I was 22nd at the time? I drove us up to first from there.
Allaway: Given your split schedule, it’s going to be impossible to run for a championship here in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship this year. Regardless of that fact, what kind of goals do you have for this season?
Freiberg: Honestly, I would love to win some races. Since I don’t have a shot at any driver championships, I’m aiming to do as well as I possibly can, get on the podium and win some races.
Allaway: Are you going to compete in any Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge races this year?
Freiberg: I don’t know yet. I did test the MINI at the Roar [Before the 24]. [LAP Motorsports] was trying to get me in the car for the whole season, actually. But, sponsorship…
I’d love to do that program. It’s pretty cool. Just got to put the money together.
During the Rolex 24 weekend, Freiberg also received some great news. The day after we sat down with Freiberg, the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission (WIMC) announced that Freiberg would be the first North American racer to receive support from the international organization.
In a press release, Freiberg was overjoyed at the international recognition of her skills as a racer.
“I am so incredibly excited and honored to represent the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission. I have always pushed through my own brand to encourage people to follow their passion and to get involved in whatever they dream of,” Freiberg stated. “Women have proven, in all forms of motorsport, that they can do their job as well as anyone, and after all the car doesn’t know what gender I am. It is fantastic for me to spread that message with an organization of this caliber alongside some of my own heroes like Michele Mouton (WIMC President and former World Rally Championship runner-up). I look forward to helping more women get involved in motorsport, whether it be driving, engineering, or as a mechanic. If I can help to change the mindset that women can be successful in motorsports, then I will have achieved something worthwhile.”
More details on Freiberg’s program with the WIMC will be released at a later date.
For Freiberg, the announcement of support from the WIMC may have been the highlight of her Rolex 24 weekend. Wet qualifying saw Freiberg’s teammate Jens Klingmann qualify the No. 96 BMW M6 GT3 16th in class. However, their times were stripped after the session due to a boost control issue.
As a result of the penalty, the No. 96 started dead last (54th). During the race, the team ran into a number of problems, including damage to the left front corner that resulted in a long stay in the garage. Eventually, the team returned to the race and finished 17th in GT-Daytona, 72 laps off the pace.
Freiberg is scheduled to return to Turner Motorsport’s No. 96 at Sebring next month. Her debut with Starworks Motorsport will be in April on the streets of Long Beach, Calif.
In addition, if you live in New York, Freiberg is amongst a number of IMSA drivers that appear in an anti-texting PSA that is currently running on TV. We’ll have a little more with Ashley in “Off the Wall” later this week.