With the Lone Star Le Mans competition continuing until Saturday (September 19), we sat down with two leading women in racecar driving, Christina Nielsen and Ashley Freiberg, to talk about why endurance racing is a sport, and how it takes more than one person to win a race.
Circuit of the Americas comes alive this weekend with Lone Star Le Mans. In this Texas twist on endurance driving, the object is to complete as many laps as possible in the time given, which means the featured cars will be built for speed and durability. Also competing in the race are Christina Nielsen and Ashley Freiberg, two of the few women who are in the business of racecar driving.
Denmark native Nielsen drives for TRG-AMR (Aston Martin/Porsche) in the six-hour TUDOR race, while American-born Freiberg is competing for BMW North America in the shorter Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge. Here’s what we learned as they talked about the need for a collaborative team, the physicality of the sport, and their hopes of getting more girls behind the wheel of fast cars.
1. Racing Isn't a One-Person Job
There are two drivers per car, but there are also the engineers, the mechanics, the fuel guys, and not to mention the members in hospitality and marketing. Freiberg estimates her team to be about eight, while Nielsen puts hers at over 20. As Freiberg says, “That’s the thing with racing—in terms of marketing, they tend to focus on the drivers, but in reality, it’s a team sport.”
Ashley Freiberg, who placed second, poses with the other winners at Watkins Glen International in the Continental Tires 150 race.
2. Don't Tell Them Driving Isn't a Sport
Both Freiberg and Nielsen have rigorous training regimens. Nielsen explains, “It’s a lot of core, a lot of shoulders, back, it’s a lot of muscles that people wouldn’t normally use.” She notes where she is sore after a race and works with a personal trainer to improve, practicing to the extent that she has a subconscious “race mode,” in which she blinks less so she doesn’t lose valuable vision time. Freiberg also hits the gym hard, but mixes it up with rock climbing and competitive cyclo-cross to hone her reaction times while being physically challenged.
3. Sometimes, It Runs in the Family
Nielsen’s father, Lars-Erik Nielsen, is also a racecar driver, though he didn’t introduce her to the sport: “In some ways, I’m kind of happy because I discovered it on my own, and I can tell people, ‘I’m not doing this because of my father, I’m doing this because I want to, because I love it.’ But for sure he’s been my greatest supporter since Day 1, so I think he's proud of me. I know he is.” In fact, he will be traveling from Denmark to watch the race, as his daughter currently leads the GT Daytona class point standings.
4. It All Started Getting Behind the Wheel
Both ladies got a dreamy look in their eyes when describing the first time they sat in the driver’s seat. Freiberg first got in a go-kart at the tender age of 13 and says, “It was instant passion.” (She says kids now start as young as 3 years old!) She stepped into a car when she was 15, even though she was in the minority: “I didn’t even think about trying it because I didn’t see girls out there. And then I saw Danica Patrick winning the Indy 500, leading it, and I was like, that could be me out there.”
Ashley Freiberg's BMW racecar.
5. Nielsen’s Team Has a Furry Mascot
Lucy, a service dog for a team member, travels to all the races with TRG-AMR, because everything’s better with dogs!
6. Both Women Hope to Inspire More Girls to Join the Sport
Freiberg and Nielsen hope their successes will prove to the world (and aspiring girls) that they can definitely compete with the boys—and win a few competitions along the way. Nielsen warns that though racing is not for the faint of heart, it's the reality of being focused and determined. "It's not just for men, we can do it if we want to." She hopes to be a positive spokeperson for those looking to get in, though they need to be committed all the way. "I think it's very important that we have successful, strong role models in racing who can lead the way for these young girls... so there's an open door, there's a hand reaching out, but don't take the hand unless you want it because this is not a world that you go into half-hearted, you do it with your entire heart—you do it full power."