6 April 2017

Apple engineer does the right thing, trades her minivan for Mustangs

Nicole Jacque likes driving fast. But only behind the wheel of a Ford Mustang. Her single-minded passion for powerful ponies knows no bounds. She owns five: a 2000 Mustang GT convertible, 2011 Shelby GT500 convertible, 2012 Boss 302 Laguna Seca, 2005 Mustang Spec race car, and 2011 Mustang Touring 2 race car. The last two are prepped for SCCA club racing.

Now 37, Jacque grew up in Wisconsin, where winters are long and cars are rusty. “I thought cars were cool,” she said, “but I didn’t have many opportunities to appreciate them.”

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, she went to work for Apple Inc. as an engineer and moved to California.

“I ditched the hand-me-down minivan I drove to the coast and bought a blue 2004 Mustang GT convertible. I had a thing for blue Mustang convertibles. I soon discovered Highway 1 and drove all over.”

When a coworker took her for a ride at a Sonoma Raceway track day, she realized it was time to graduate from the Pacific Coast Highway. Jacque immediately made plans to attend a track day at Laguna Seca. By this time, she had acquired the Shelby GT500, but ragtops are not meant for serious performance driving, so she rented a Mustang race car. At the rent-a-racer’s wheel, she learned that pleasure hid in the apex of a curve.

“By the end of the day, I was hooked and decided I needed a car that would shine on a road course. The Boss 302 Laguna Seca, a turnkey track car, seemed perfect. But Ford only made 750 and most were snapped up before they arrived at dealerships. At least that’s what I thought.”

When she took her Shelby to a dealer for maintenance, she was surprised to find a Boss 302 in the showroom. She bought it on the spot.

Soon Jacque and her Boss 302 were local track regulars. But her hunger for power and performance was far from sated. Track days are controlled events with rules about passing. Jacque wanted to let it all hang out.

“I’m very competitive,” she said. “Track days are not competitive events. I started to think about racing.”

Actually, she did more than that. She went to SCCA drivers’ school and rented a Spec Mustang race car. Spec cars aren’t nearly as powerful as her Boss 302. They’re limited to 315 hp and weigh 3,300 pounds. But with CorteX suspension, slicks, upgraded brakes, and a wing, they perform. They’re good learning cars because they don’t make enough horsepower to compensate for bad driving.

Jacque drove her first race in 2013 and finished third. She bought the car, won a couple of races the next year and set a track record on the 5-mile course at Thunderhill Raceway Park near Willows, Calif.

She wanted more. So she stepped up from Spec and bought a T2 Mustang. Now her T2 race car lives on the East Coast and her Spec racer resides on the West Coast.

Jacque flew to East Coast races in 2016 and recorded solid finishes at Homestead Miami, Mid-Ohio, and Watkins Glen. But at Sebring, she slid through someone’s oil and struck a wall. Phoenix American Motorsports of Phoenixville, Pa., rebuilt her car, and now maintains it and crews for her at SCCA events. At the SCCA Runoffs at Mid-Ohio in late September, Jacque started 18th and finished 14th.

The new year seems to have energized the young pony lover. At Homestead Miami Speedway’s Palm Tree Winter Majors in January, Jacque qualified third overall and finished fourth in both T2 races, despite being spun on the first lap of the first race and having to scramble back up the field. At Sebring’s Hoosier SCCA Super Tour event, she survived a dogfight in a very crowded field and finished 10th in class.

“I had fun passing people,” she said. “The car ran smoothly at both events and is still in great shape! So how soon can I go racing again?”

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