Arriving as Radical Cup North America’s first female driver, and one of the youngest competitors on the grid, Aurora Straus is already pushing her competitors, the Radical record books and her striking yellow SR3XX to the limits. Daughter of petrolhead and Monticello Motor Club CEO Ari Straus, racing runs through her genes.
We sat down with her this week to talk about the first time she jumped in a race car, juggling a Harvard education and her season with Radical so far.
Tell us a bit about your racing journey – did you always know your heart belonged on the track?
My journey with racing has actually been pretty untraditional, but I wouldn’t have it any other way! I grew up with a gearhead dad who loved racing and going to Driver Education days, but I was actually on a very different wavelength – I loved school and music and wanted to be a teacher when I grew up!
When I was 13, my dad got me behind the wheel of a car for the first time, with no plans that I would become a race car driver. He wanted me to develop defensive driving skills for future street driving, and I enjoyed these experiences because I got to spend more time with my dad. Everything changed when I went over 100mph for the very first time.
There was something about being a 4’10” teenage girl, and having the responsibility, control and power of a racing car that was completely addicting and all-consuming. It’s really hard to describe racing in a way that does it justice, I just fell in love with everything about it.
How did your racing career progress from that moment?
I am so lucky to have parents who supported me in getting started – not just by enrolling me in a racing school and funding my first races, but also by teaching me the ways of sponsors, proposals and pitching to people.
Without them, I would never have developed the skillset or the confidence to do this long-term.After roughly a year of doing track days through 8th and 9th grade, I started competing in Mazda MX-5 cup for two seasons.
Although they weren’t full seasons I was doing, the Cup is known for being crazy competitive – I was really thrown into the deep end! My first full season of racing was in 2017, when I ran in the Street Turner class of IMSA.
This was a particularly formative racing season for me, but it was also my senior year of high school and I had just gotten into Harvard. Racing was going really well, but it meant that I was constantly missing days at school.
Because of this, I ultimately made the decision to defer Harvard and race full-time in 2018, which was a hard decision for me at the time.
Luckily, it ended up being the right thing to do as 2018 turned out to be a ground-breaking year for me. I became a part of the Richard Mille family and started some other great long-term relationships with other companies such as BMW, Tiffany & Co., Maui Jam while also racing my second full season in Pirelli World Challenge (now SRO).
It was also an especially competitive year for their GT4 series and I finished 2nd overall even though it was my first time in a GT4 – something I’m very proud of.
From 2019 onwards, I’ve been doing partial seasons of GT racing in the US, however, I finally managed to head to college and graduate from Harvard cum laude two months ago, so this year I’m back on the track full-time and so excited to be racing Radicals this year!
Racing can be an all-consuming career – how did you manage to juggle it while also studying for your degree?
Balancing college and racing was really, really hard. I would argue that I was good at being productive, with a lot of early mornings and studying on planes, however the hardest part was the trade-offs that came with doing both at once.
I missed a lot of time at school, so I didn’t have a traditional ‘college’ experience, even if I still made some amazing, lifelong friends. I also had to sacrifice amazing racing opportunities, such as racing in Europe, as it would’ve meant dropping out of school.
I do sometimes regret not taking those opportunities and running with them, but I’m also so proud and grateful to have my degree now!
Why did you decide to race Radicals this year?
I believe that if you’re looking for cost-effective, competitive, professional racing that can also serve as a good entry point into prototypes, it’s hard to beat a Radical.
And what do you think Radical racing is preparing for in terms of your next steps in your career?
There’s a reason that so many young racers go through the program and eventually end up in LMP racing. It’s great racing, and a pretty physically tough, high-downforce car that is a great proving ground.
What were your first impressions of the SR3XX?
The SR3 is an amazing car! My first race in the SR3 was at Watkins Glen last month – and while I’ve been to the Glen many times before for GT racing and love the track, I can honestly say that last month was the most fun I have ever had lapping there. It’s naturally well-balance and responds super well to setup changes. Every time I got out the car I was counting down the minutes until I could get back in – it’s infectiously fun!
And how was the racing?
Radical really does a great job of equalizing the cars. I never felt like any car had a huge advantage over any of the others – it’s truly a spec series, which is something that’s rather rare nowadays.
The second thing I noticed was how nice everyone is. That’s not to say that it wasn’t tough racing – but I was a newcomer to the series and to prototype racing in general, as well as being the first woman, and yet I was genuinely welcomed with open arms.
I remember when I first started racing, really having to fight hard to earn respect when I first joined the pro-racing game, but the Radical paddock represents everything that has changed since then. I even had younger girls (including some of the racers’ daughters!) telling me that they can’t wait to race Radicals like me in the future.
Maybe one day, Radical will be a formal jumping-off point for young girls looking to get into prototype racing – which would make me so happy!
Were you happy with your results at the Glen?
Overall, I was very happy with my weekend. Since the car and the series were both new to me, I had a goal of finishing in the top half of the pack, having clean races, and learning as much as I could. To finish on the podium in all three races and to make history as the first woman to do that in this series, was incredibly cool.
While I’m happy with my performance, I’m looking forward to hopefully nabbing that top spot on the Radical podium next.
What track are you looking forward to most this season?
If I had to pinpoint just one, it would probably be Sonoma Raceway in October. The high-speed, sweeping turns make it perfect for a Radical, so I’m mostly looking forward to experiencing it with some downforce.
Aurora will return in her SR3 for Round 5 of the Blue Marble Radical Cup at Circuit of The Americas, Sept. 16-18.