18-YEAR-OLD AURORA STRAUS IS YOUR TYPICAL HARVARD-BOUND, MUSICALLY GIFTED RACER ON THE GRID

Monday, September 18, 2017

Accepted into Harvard to pursue degrees in Mechanical Engineering and English literature, Aurora Straus is a talented musician who sung the National Anthem at the 2016 Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The 18-year-old Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge rookie has been quick to pick up just about everything that has ever captured her interest with racing being the sole exception. Undeterred by an eye-opening first outing at Skip Barber’s racing school at 13 years old, her talent and determination eventually cut down her lap times and opened doors in the sports car world.

Straus competed behind the wheel of a Miata in the Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich ranks before moving to the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, a national series one tier below the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, in 2017. She co-drives the No. 18 ModSpace RS1 Porsche Cayman with 25-year-old San Diego native Connor Bloum.

The native of Cold Spring, N.Y., is excited to return to action at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca during the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix featuring AMERICA’S TIRE 250 on Sept. 21-24 (tickets available HERE). Straus took the time to answer questions about her rookie season in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, balancing education and her passions of racing and music, and returning to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

WHAT IS YOUR OUTLOOK HEADING INTO THE CONTINENTAL TIRE MONTEREY GRAND PRIX?

I’m really looking forward to coming back. I spent a lot of time at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. It’s never totally been my track, but Connor [Bloum] really loves it and I’m excited to have a crack at it. I have track time there, which is a huge advantage for me. I haven’t actually had a lot of track time at tracks I’ve been to this year. COTA [Circuit of the Americas] was new to me. I had a little track time at CMP [Canadian Tire Motorsports Park] and VIR [Virginia International Raceway] but not that much. I’m excited to go to familiar territory.

HOW DOES MAZDA RACEWAY LAGUNA SECA COMPARE TO THE OTHER CIRCUITS?

Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is much more of a momentum track, which is good for me. I spent a lot of time racing MX-5 up until this year. Hopefully, it will serve to my strengths. I also love California. By and large, I would consider it Connor’s home track. We are looking for a really good finish. We also think that the Caymans are only second to the Mazdas there in terms of really good corner speeds.

WHAT IS YOUR TAKE THUS FAR ON YOUR ROOKIE SEASON IN THE CONTINENTAL TIRE SPORTSCAR CHALLENGE?

Our season, so far, has been great. It’s been a huge learning experience for me given the fact that it’s my first year in the series. It’s also been a really big opportunity to work with Connor. Whenever we are given a half-decent car, he set the track record whether official or unofficial. We did some testing in COTA, and he immediately went under the fastest time from the year before on his second lap out. You’re lucky to get a co-driver like that. We struggled with engine problems through most of the season, which was evident in our finish at VIR where everything was going great until our motor blew. We are still struggling with that gremlin. As every racer knows, seasons come with ups and downs. The important thing is we have been having a really good time and the car has come home safe and sound from almost every race.

HOW HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO FIND TIME AND BALANCE RACING, EDUCATION, AND MUSIC?

Right now, I’m in the middle of taking a gap year in school and working at a biotech startup called ZappRx in Boston. Funnily enough, I am living in Cambridge right by Harvard Square even though I won’t be attending Harvard until next year. That has been the most effective way for me to balance my work time with school time, racing and music. Next year, I don’t anticipate it being as much of an issue as people think it will be, because college comes with a lot more freedom than high school. Up until this year, whenever I missed school for a race I would have to document all the classes I missed, make up the work religiously, and do extra projects. It’s been a huge process. Now that I am here, I will have more freedom to manage my time as I want. Plus, Boston is a great music town, so I have no doubt that there will be an abundance of opportunity in that regard.

TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR PASSION FOR MUSIC.

I have been singing for as long as I can remember. I started playing the piano when I was 5. Racing was a surprise for me. I never expected to fall in love with it. I was always an adrenaline junkie, but I never pictured my life going down that path. Music has been the complete opposite. I’ve been involved in it for as long as I can recall. I started playing guitar when I was 9, because I needed something more portable than the piano. That took off. I grew up in a tiny town called Cold Spring [N.Y.], which is a half-hour north of the city. Because the town was so small with such a large music scene, I never listened to public radio. I listened to the music right outside my door, and most of that was singer-songwriter folk music. I started writing my own folk music right after I learned to play the guitar at 9 years old. It is my first love. I love racing and want to do it for as long as I can. I know music will always be a part of my life even if it doesn’t become professional. My greatest wish would be to somehow connect racing and music. I actually sang the National Anthem at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca last year which was really amazing.

IS THERE ANY CORRELATION BETWEEN THE MENTAL PREPARATION OF GOING ONSTAGE AND ENTERING THE GRID FOR A RACE?

There definitely is. When I first got into a car when I was 13, I was not anything close to a natural. It was the first thing that I had really fallen in love with that I hadn’t actually been good at off the bat. That was a big learning experience for me. At 13, I didn’t quite know how to encounter that level of adversity. In the middle of the Skip Barber class, I was actually the slowest out of the 30 students there. For months, my biggest issue was trying to treat the car too much like a machine that I had to bend too my will. I only became quick once I started treated it like an instrument. It sounds cheesy, but I have perfect pitch so I can hear specifically what notes are in random sounds like fire sirens or the engine of a car. I went through video of the Mazda MX-5 that I used to drive, and I wrote down and memorized the notes that the engine hit when it got to redline. For example, I know that in third gear in the Miata that I happened to be driving with that differential, gearbox, or whatever given variables, I had to shift at a C-sharp. For three or four months, I was driving at about 70 percent humming the notes that the car had to be at when I shifted. That was how I learned to drive and how I did drive for the first year or so. I did, quite literally, have to treat my car like an instrument before I got quick.

HAS YOUR INTEREST IN PHYSICS AND ENGINEERING PLAYED A PART IN YOUR RACING AS WELL?

It definitely will. I have never necessarily struggled with math or physics, but I never really fell in love with them until I started racing and noticing the correlation between them. I never really considered being an engineer as a potential career opportunity until I learned how to analyze the data from my car after I got out of a testing session. I didn’t realize until halfway through my junior year of calculus that a lot of the equations I was learning and graphs I was analyzing in class were almost down to a T the same type of graphs I had been analyzing since I was 14. I had inadvertently learned how to read derivative graphs when I was in eighth grade just because I had to in order to get faster. 

DO YOU HAVE ANY SPECIFIC RACING GOALS IN THE NEAR OR DISTANT FUTURE?

My biggest goal within the next few years is to get a fully funded ride in WeatherTech. It’s easier said than done, but you never necessarily know when you are going to meet the right person at the right time. I have a huge advantage marketing-wise in the sense that I am a teenager, female, and staying in school. I also care very deeply about getting exposure and being a role model for other girls who are potentially thinking about getting involved in racing or a related subject. My ability to reach out to a demographic that normal racers don’t race out to plays to my advantage, but finding the amount of money that it takes is hard regardless. Right now, I’m focusing on a bunch of different opportunities for next year. Connor and I are probably driving together, and I think we are both open to everything. It really depends on how the next few months pan out.

YOU RECEIVED A GREAT DEAL OF EXPOSURE A COUPLE WEEKS AGO WITH AN ARTICLE ON THE WEB SITE JALOPNIK (“MEET THE 18-YEAR-OLD PORSCHE RACING ACE OUT TO PROVE HER HATERS WRONG”) IN WHICH THE ROLE OF GENDER IN MOTORSPORTS WAS A CENTRAL THEME. WHAT HAS BEEN THE REACTION TO THAT ARTICLE?

I have gotten a lot of mixed reactions. I received a lot of amazing feedback in the sense that I put myself out there and talked about a subject that doesn’t come naturally and people feel a bit awkward bringing up. In a perfect world, I would be treated equally with every other driver, but that’s not how it works. I get added marketing because of my gender, and I also get added pressure. The whole thing is relative. I have also got some tough feedback. Every story is written with a specific goal in mind. Alanis [King, writer] and I, as a unit, wanted to make a point about how women in racing are usually portrayed and how they can be potential role models. There were also some comments on the article about how I don’t necessarily respect my elders and I don’t listen to their advice on how to be quicker on the track. I think some people who have read the article thought I grouped the people whose advice I really value with people who have given me unsolicited, rude advice. It’s not at all true. There have been a whole slew of really, really amazing people who have been nice to me on and off the track who have given me advice that I have really valued and taken to heart over the past few years. They have helped me grow as a human being and a racer. Despite the mixed reviews, I’m super happy with it overall. It got a lot of exposure, and the message was pretty clear.

The Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix featuring AMERICA’S TIRE 250 on Sept. 21-24 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca will feature the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Continental SportsCar Challenge. The primary race for the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is the 2 hour, 40 minute America’s Tire 250 held on Sunday, Sept. 24, and the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge will be highlighted by the 4-hour Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca 240 on Saturday, Sept. 23. The event will also feature the Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich, Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America, and historic IMSA Exhibitions. 

Saturday, Sept. 23, is Military Appreciation Day where active and veteran members of the United States Armed Forces and one guest are admitted free with military I.D. Kids 12 and under are also admitted free of charge.

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