The automotive world is an expansive one. It’s one that encompasses many genres of vehicles and activities with one shared aspect that spans them all – passion. This month’s Leading Lady knows all about this, having grown up with a love for the industry ingrained in her family, which has led to her her own automotive passion and dedication to her racing career.
Michele Abbate is one of the youngest Leading Ladies we’ve featured to date, but don’t let her youthfulness be confused for inexperience. She was the first female to win the MotoIQ Pacific Tuner Car Championship (in 2012), the 2015 SCCA US Majors Tour Western Division Champion for the STU Class, the 2015 Cal Club Driver of the Year, and the driver responsible for bringing Edelbrock their first road racing win just last year.
Growing Up a Gearhead
“Cars have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, but not how you would expect,” Michele recently told us. “I have an older brother by two years, and my dad and him did all things motorsports together. So, it wasn’t that racing was something I was doing, but I was more of a spectator to my brother and family growing up.”
Starting her own automotive journey in karting at the hobby level after watching her brother compete, she then moved up to autocross competition in 2004. At the tender age of 16, she was using her daily driver to compete. In 2007, Michele took her autocrossing up a notch, competing for the first time on a national level. She took a third-place finish behind two national champion drivers at that event.
In 2009, Michele stretched her racing legs a bit more, moving up to take on road racing events and Time Attack competitions. Her racing career led her to the majors the following year.
Michele quickly moved from a dabbling racer to a bonafide sponsored race car driver in late 2010, when Crawford Performance selected her to be part of their Scion/Toyota racing program for the following season. To make sure she had the best opportunity to succeed and dedicate as much time to racing as she wanted, Michele rushed to graduate from college with her Bachelor’s degree in 2010, taking an impressive 45 credit-hours in a single year so she could finish by January of 2011.
Michele raced with much success for Scion Racing/Toyota from 2011, until eventually starting her own team in 2015.
Current Race Program
Fully immersed in racing and all aspects that go along with maintaining her own race cars and team, now a days you’ll find Michele either in the gym training, on an automotive circuit training or competing, or wrenching away on the many race-driven projects in her personal stable of her aptly named GRR Racing team.
“Currently, my race program consists of a few different cars,” Michele explained. “There is the Scion FRS that is powered by our Edelbrock E-Force Supercharger kit, we also have a street application with the same supercharger, which is actually a Subaru BRZ. In addition, I have my INEX 600 Legends car, which has kind of taken a back seat, and lastly, the latest 2017 GT1 car that is being built by Craig Raudman Racing and supported by team owner and driver, Tim Adolphson. Tim has been a major supporter, and has helped me as a driver for about 2 years. We are both very excited to run our sister cars in SCCA’s GT1 class.”
This year is already shaping up to be a big one for Michele. In addition to becoming a part of the two-car GT1 race program, she also took on the Bathurst 6 Hour race in April, where she finished in eighth-place in the Production D class.
She will also compete with Pedders Racing at Mount Panorama in Australia for the first time in her career, an automotive bucket list item she’s had for many years. And, she even has her sights set on making her SCCA Trans Am Series debut.
[Writer’s Note: At the time of publication, Michele was well into her race season. In rounds one and two of the Western Conference Series in January, she took home a third and a fourth-place finish in her STU car racing in the GT1 class. In rounds three and four in March, she took home two fourth-place finishes in the GT1 class, also racing these rounds in her STU class car since her GT1 car is still being built. This puts her currently in third place in a field of eight drivers.]
Making It On Her Own
“The most important thing that I like people to know about myself is, I didn’t have everything handed to me. The reason why I like people to know this, is because every person that wants to race or drive and isn’t doing it tells me it’s because they ‘can’t’ do it,” Michele explained to us. “If you want to do it, find a way. Sacrifices of all kinds may have to happen, but if it’s truly something you WANT to do, find a way to make it happen!”
Along with sacrifice, it takes dedication and hard work. Michele attributes her success to having an amazing group of people behind her, cheering her on and supporting her in her goals, including her husband and crew chief, Anthony Philleo.
“Having him prep my car and help me on and off the track couldn’t be any better, because there aren’t many other people I trust with my life. And with him, I don’t have to ever worry about a thing,” Michele relished. “I know he wants the best for me, and us, and when we win, we both share it together. I am so very fortunate and grateful to have him in my life, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without his support over the last 11 years! He has seen me work my way up from autocross to pro racing — pretty much the greatest life experience to have with my soul mate!”
“I feel that I’ve faced the same obstacles of any and all drivers,” Michele reflected. “Financial support is the number one focus when it comes to racing. I am grateful for the partners that I do have, and for those that have stood behind my programs for years. The struggle will always be there, but my dad always told me,’Where there’s a will there’s a way,’ and I live by that. You get out of it what you put into it!”
Thoughts On Being A Leading Lady
While Michele continues to make a name for herself in the male-dominated racing industry, her gender has never really been much of a trepidation when it came to her goals.
“I was so in love with the idea of racing and being a part of the automotive industry, I was too busy to waste my time on any negativity, and really, the support was pretty amazing,” Michele explained when asked if she had any trepidations going into the industry as a female. “I have always focused on having a positive mindset and working hard to get where I want to be.”
“I hope to inspire other women to get involved,” she continued. “From engineers to other drivers, and all of the in-between. This industry is getting more and more women involved, and things couldn’t be anymore more rewarding than that! As for me personally, I’m just another driver out there trying to win races.”
So what advice does Michele have to say to anyone wanting to get into the industry – whether they be male or female? We think she summed it up nicely, by saying, “The best advice is to follow what you love, whatever that may be. It’s actually easier than you think if you stay focused, at least by my experience. Stick with those who support you and don’t waste your time on those who don’t. You can do anything you put your mind to, just remember to be patient, persistent, and passionate!”