Blog: Alyx Coby - First time to the USA, First Car race & First win!
Growing up in Ireland in a karting family, all I knew was karting. My dad Gary Coby was a very successful Karter and so was my uncle Aaron. I spent every weekend at the kart tracks in Ireland covered in dirt (as you can see) watching my family race and supporting them with my mom and grandparents. It was inevitable that I would get into a kart myself as soon as I was old enough. At the age of six, I would get my first taste of a kart but it would be age eight before I began racing cadets in Ireland. A year later, I became the first girl to win a national final at Cadet level in Ireland in 2015.
I had fallen in love with the sport. The winning feeling was like no other and I searched for that feeling every time I got in the kart. I became the first girl to win a national final in IAME X30 Junior in Ireland and set the lap record for Junior X30 at Watergrasshill, Cork in 2019 and the lap record at Ireland's most prestigious track Mondello Park on the Senior Karting circuit.
Karting paddocks was all I knew and the few small tracks we had in the country. I never really imagined competing regularly outside of Ireland, because I didn't know anyone who did. I also never imagined racing cars in the beginning, because I had never been to a car race or know of anyone who did it. But that all changed when I realised the opportunities that existed, when I could see those that were competing abroad and how my perception of those people would change as soon as I got a taste of International competition.
In 2021, I got to experience the top level of European Karting. It was such an intimidating experience in the beginning because it was all so new and so much more competitive than I was used to. I knew these were all big teams with big budgets and I knew all these drivers had probably been racing in Europe since they were five and six. When I reflect back on the year and some of the performances I had, I now have a totally different perception. It was such a great experience for me because it took me out of my comfort zone, it made me ask more of myself on and off the track. I grew and learned so much because of it and It made me realise that I want to continue competing at the highest level and what I need to do to get there, to become the best racing driver I can be.
I have learned so much in my first year of international competition and it wouldn't have been possible without some very important people. Luckily, my family have always worked so hard to give me as many opportunities with karting as financially possible. I was lucky enough to be picked up by John Campion and selected as one of the drivers of his Irish Motorsports team CJJ Motorsports. I never thought someone would want to support me other than my family, I just never imagined that happening to me. I was so delighted when John brought me into CJJ. He gave me my first International opportunity with CJJ Motorsports and gave me a huge amount of confidence in my abilities.
That opportunity would lead me to work with some more great people including Naomi Panter and Christopher Foster from Navigate Partners and World Cup silver medallist and Olympian, Nicci Daly. They all work so hard behind the scenes for me, helping me in my approach to be a professional athlete on and off the track and helping me build my network in the Motorsport industry by introducing me to the wider world of Motorsport outside of Karting.
In 2021, I got introduced to Paul Sparta. Paul has a very successful GT team in America called Random Vandals Racing who compete in the American Endurance Championship and SRO GT America. Paul had been keeping an eye on my racing and had offered to help out with my career. Having never met me in person but offer to support me was huge. He believed in me, he wanted to see me grow as a driver and he wanted to be part of that progression. He not only supported my European Karting but he also offered to bring me to the states to race his BMW M2 car. A racing car??? COOL!!! Yes please!!! I couldn't believe he was offering me this.
But I have never driven a racing car?? Am I ready for this?? I did have these thoughts and these questions running through my head from time to time. My main concern was I that I had no experience in a racing car and I didn't want to let anyone down including myself. Of course I wanted to drive this beauty.
I was invited over to race in the American Endurance Championship race in February of this year in Road Atlanta. This would be my first time ever racing/testing a sportscar on track and I was determined to make sure I was fully prepared for what was to come.
For this race I was going to be in the car on Saturday and Sunday doing two 90 minute stints on each day. This was going to be the longest I had ever driven for, so I knew I was going to have to train hard to become physically and mentally fit for this challenge, but it helps when you have an Olympic athlete training with you. Nicci put us both through a gruelling 7 week strength and conditioning program with 3 running sessions and two strength sessions per week.
4x1k runs and another two sessions of 3x15 minute runs each week on top of strength training. It was so tough, but every week I felt fitter and stronger for it and I knew I had done as much as I could physically leading into the race.
I had no real testing opportunities other than a Ginetta Junior test in Kirkistown thanks to Morgan Dempsey. It was the only car I could get out in prior to the event so most of my on track training was done virtually. I was fortunate enough to be asked to be an ambassador for Digital Motorsports, an Irish simulator company who supplied me with all the facilities and help I needed to prepare for the race as best I could. I can't explain how important this training was for me and how it prepared me much more than I ever expected a simulator to be able to. It allowed me to learn the track, my braking points, turn in points and gear shifting. The team at Digital Motorsports were so supportive and worked with me every week, building me up to 90 min stints with full race gear and a heater blowing in my face to simulate the exact conditions I would face when I got to the states.
I felt really confident after all my sim training and my physical training that I wasn't even thinking about those previous thoughts of "am I ready for this??" anymore. I felt more than ready, I couldn't wait to get there to meet Paul and the rest of the Random Vandals team.
It really was a trip of firsts for me. First time to America, first ever car race, first time at a race track outside Ireland that wasn't a kart track, first time having team mates in the same car and the first time outside the country without my dad or a family member being with me. I was about to take on the biggest challenge of my life. Just before I left for the states, I was approached in Mondello by the owner of the clothing company Face the Fear. I told him all about my upcoming trip to the states and how big a challenge it was going to be for me. He told me his clothing company was created to help people overcome challenges and face their fears. He loved what I was doing and offered to support me with this challenge. It was amazing again to have more people join my journey and offer their support. I truly believe in this brand and the message it is sending to people. I feel if people can relate to my journey, of overcoming obstacles and facing challenges head on to become the best racing driver I can be then maybe it can inspire other people to be their best versions of themselves and help them to overcome their difficulties and challenges in their own lives.
I had all the support I needed and it was finally time to head to the land of opportunity. I said my goodbyes to my dad at the airport and myself and Nicci headed off for the USA. All I can say for my first impressions of America is that is everything is HUGE!!!! I mean the buildings, the
cars, the cities, the portion sizes!!. Nicci was kind of laughing at me because the buildings I thought were huge weren't actually that big compared to the skyscrapers in other parts of the US, but this was all I knew and they were definitely bigger than the buildings in Kildare!!!
I really just felt like I had been thrown into a completely different world!!
Anyway, I really didn't get over the size of the people, places and things over there at all, but I was excited to get to meet Paul, the team and see the track. Paul picked us up with Arsen and it was so great to finally meet him. I had had so many conversations with Paul on text and zoom so it was so nice to finally meet and get to chat in person. We got to the track and I got to meet the rest of the Radom Vandals team including my team mates Jessica Tracy and Mike Kanisczak.
Everyone on the team was so friendly and made me feel so welcome, I couldn't believe I had only just met these people because they all made me feel like I had known them for much longer.
Our first day on track was Thursday and I got to meet some famous faces that day too. Derek Daly, ex F1 and Indycar driver came to support me and offer some advice throughout the weekend. Derek is great, he's so funny, and he was incredibly supportive. I had never had any interactions with him before so I didn't really know what to expect, but he was so nice and friendly, he really helped me on and off the track.
Bryan Sellers, IMSA Champion and Rolex 24 Hr Daytona winner was my driver coach. Again I had no previous interactions with Bryan, but he is one of the nicest people I have ever met and the best driver coach I have ever had (not that I have had many). He made me feel so comfortable and confident in what I was doing and made everything so easy to understand. It was an honour and pleasure to get to work with someone like Bryan. He is a genius at what he does.
I think its safe to say everyone was a little nervous for me for my first time getting in the car and to be honest, as the time got closer, I was also starting to get nervous but at the same time I was really excited. I had been out for a few passenger laps with team mate Drew, and even though I wasn't driving, it felt like I had been there a million times after all the sim training I had been doing with Digital Motorsports.
My time eventually came and it was absolutely incredible. The car was a dream to drive, 220kph felt like heaven and the track was sensational. The elevation changes and the high speed corners were better than I could ever have imagined it to be. Before I went out, I was told by Derek and Bryan to take it really slow because this was one of the most scary and fast tracks there is and it can be extremely daunting for anyone, never mind someone with no car experience.
After my first run, Derek and Bryan and the whole team were pleasantly surprised to see where my starting point was and it was safe to say I had exceeded expectations. After a going over data and video footage with Bryan it became easier to understand the car and what I needed to improve on. I was delighted with how quickly I adapted to the car and how quickly I could progress. Bryan was extremely happy with the progress I had made and was impressed with how well I did by the end of the day. I was so happy and I just wanted more and more.
On Friday we had a 4 hour practice session and then onto 4 hour qualifying. I was nervous for qualifying but I knew I just needed to think of it as even more practice laps. I pushed myself to put together a couple of laps where I was just improving every lap time. I set my fastest lap so far in Qualifying, which was my goal so I was really happy with that. I was still a little bit off my team mates but they had both been here many times before and driven these cars more than me. Mike (ninja Mike) did a fantastic job to qualify the car on pole for the team. Jessica also set her fastest lap so far in qualifying too so from a team perspective we were extremely happy.
So I had just completed my first laps in a racing car, first time at 220kph, my first ever qualifying and my first ever driver change. Next up was my first race and I could not wait!!
I was a little bit unsure how the stint would go but I had felt physically fine in the car up to that point so I hoped that mentally I would not fatigue. I was standing at the pit wall waiting to make a driver change with Jess, I ran through all the little things in my head to make sure I didn’t mess up in any way. Even though I had practiced all these things in practice I knew that the time when it mattered was in the race and I didn’t want to let my team mates down. I went through the list in my head - visor down, clip in the radio, make sure the belts are tight, master switch on, power on, steering wheel calibration, radio check, radio check, wait for the signal and GO GO GO!!! I nailed it! Could have been a little bit smoother but I remembered all the important elements and it was time to race. I felt instantly comfortable, the whole stint was an absolute blast. I didn't want to get out after 90mins and couldn't believe how quickly it went. I loved it, being around so many cars, making passes and defending off cars. This was real life and I was the driver. I was so used to only ever watching these things happen on tv and now I was the one making them happen!!!
Jessica and Mike also put in stunning stints and we managed to bring the car home in P1. My first race and my first win!!! It was unbelievable!! :)
After the race on Saturday, AER had the the whole paddock come together for a BBQ, everyone was so welcoming especially the other drivers approaching me with advice and complements on my driving. Paul and the Random Vandals supplied the cocktails as in tradition for them. It was such a friendly environment and it was great to meet and talk to so many of the other teams.
Sunday came round quickly and it was another 8 hour race. I was even more excited about this race because I now had the experience of the quick driver changes, entering the pits with pit speed limiter and keeping focused for the whole stint. The experience of Saturday gave me so much more confidence and I was now determined to improve even more. We were starting 4th on the grid. Jessica rocketed off the start hunting down the cars in front including her husband in another car. Half way through the race there was a yellow flag which meant I would have to do my first restart. I was really nervous because I knew I would have to mind the car and not make contact with anyone else, but when it came to going across the line I realised I was in my element. I was in a position to make my way through the grid and this is where my race craft from karting helped. I managed to keep the position during my stint and actually smashed my own personal best time, while my pace was now matching that of my team mate Jess. I had closed the gap to Mike but I was a couple of tenths off his pace by the end. I was lucky enough to be put in the car for the last stint and got to cross the line side by side with my team mate in the M4 to take the flag for my second ever car win!! We finished race two, 1st overall and first in class again. I was so proud of my team mates Jess and Mike and the whole Random Vandals team for two fantastic victories. I was absolutely delighted with my progress and the improvements I made from race 1 to race 2.
The feeling of joy was overwhelming, after putting in so much work leading up to this opportunity and not really knowing where I would be pace wise, I couldn't have expected it to go any better. All the hard work had paid off, and I was delighted with how it all went.
I have to thank Paul, Ron and all the Random Vandals team for believing in me and giving me this opportunity. A lot of people thought I might be out of my depth and that I was in the deep end but it was the best decision I ever made and I have to thank Paul again for his belief in me. It is amazing what we can achieve when we take ourselves out of our comfort zone. This experience has taught me that I am capable of so much more and when we challenge ourselves we can reach new levels.
I’m so excited for what the future might hold and I look forward to the next opportunity whatecer that might be. I cant't wait to see everyone from Random Vandals again and hopefully get the opportunity to compete again in the USA. Its safe to say I will never forget my first trip to the United States!
Thank you and I hope you will continue to follow my blog.
Photo Credit : Marc Quinlivan, Rudy Archuleta, Marta Rovatti Studihrad, Face the Fear