The last time Sarah Cattaneo made headlines, she was setting a course to be Grand-Am’s first female champion. The Scottsdale, Ariz. native raced in the Continental Tire Sports Challenge at the EMCO Gears Classic, and left a mark on the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course with her charisma and drive. Now, fresh out of her first race of the season, she’s tackling 2012 at full speed.
Cattaneo is a Grand-Am girl. This will be her fourth season, and her third full season.
“When we finished our first race at the end of January, we didn’t do that well,” Cattaneo said. “I’m with a new team this year and a new car. The team got the car right before the race and there wasn’t a lot of time for the team to do everything they wanted to do with the car, but we finished! All we wanted to do was finish, given the circumstances.”
Cattaneo was born to come up through the racing ranks. First tasting the sport as a toddler, her father raced in the amateur SCCA circuit. She doesn’t know what it feels like to be a stranger to the track – “not by any means.”
“When I got a little older, my dad stopped racing and focused on our family, but I’ve always been into cars,” she said. “I was always around cars growing up, and Grand Am used to come to Phoenix, so we would go to that every year. It was really just a matter of time before I started racing.”
When Cattaneo was in college, her father gave her a Christmas present which began with him asking, “Hey, why don’t you go to Bondurant School of High Performance Driving?” It was her first time going that fast in a car and learning how to drive like the pros.
After four days of classes at the school, Cattaneo knew she had found her passion. Though she was working and going to college, she still found herself with free time to occupy.
“I became really good friends with my instructor, and as it turned out, he raced locally,” she said. “He invited me out to the track just to hang out and see what real racing was like, so I took my dad with me. As it turned out, it was the same crowd that he used to race. He knew everybody.”
The Cattaneos bought the Mini Cooper that Sarah still drives, and the rest is becoming history. She never thought twice about it, choosing instead to live by the motto, “Never give up.
“Once you have a helmet on, everyone’s on equal ground out there,” she said.
Cattaneo’s next race takes off in Birmingham, Al, at Barber Motorsports Park near the end of March. With January as a test run and a few months to get used to her new team, she’s focusing on what makes an excellent team. She may employ a pair of lucky driving gloves from time to time, but she knows that communication and a good attitude can make or break a race.
“The team comaraderie is super important with any team,” she said. “Getting to know them is one of the most important parts of doing this. They do all your car’s changes and you have to make sure you get along. The mechanics, the engineer – you all have to mesh well. I met everyone before signing with this team, so I knew that all of our personalities worked together. That’s the first thing I look for – knowing they’re a good fit.”
So what would be Cattaneo’s dream team? It could very well be the one she’s in now, but there is one key element that catches her eye.
“Ambition,” she said. “A really great team always wants to do better at the next race, even if they won. They always look to see how they could make it better. This is a sport where you really need to look for that extra step and take it., because it makes the car better, the driver better and the entire team better.”
Entering the 2012 season, Grand-Am had better get ready, because Cattaneo’s aiming high.