Friday, 30 July 2010

Katherine Legge



Katherine with her Formula E car (Image from rallystar.net)

After a stratospheric rise, Katherine's racing career seemed to have hit a rut a few years ago. Now, she is well on her way to motor racing stardom.

After an excellent karting apprenticeship, which saw her win club championships and the Scottish Open championship, Katherine began racing cars at nineteen. Her first forays into full-size competition were some rounds of the MGF Cup in 1999. After so many podium finishes in national karting, it was not surprising that she recorded five top-five positions. However, she wasn't really into sportscar racing, and longed for a single-seater drive.

She got her wish the following year in the Avon Junior Formula Ford Championship. She made steady progress, and also made history, as the first woman driver to start a Formula Ford race from pole in the UK.

After Kimi Raikkonen jumped straight from Formula Renault to Formula One, that series had become the place to be. Katherine's goal was to reach F1, so she too followed that route. Her finances for 2001 bought her a drive with Falcon Motorsports in the Formula Renault Winter Series, alongside James Rossiter. She must have impressed a few onlookers, because top-level team Fortec offered her a seat in their team for 2002.

In only the third race of the 2002 season Katherine made even more history by grabbing another pole position. Unfortunately, nerves kicked in and her start was not great, resulting in a coming-together with Danny Watts and an excursion off-track. However, her efforts were recognised by the British Racing Drivers' Club who made her one of their "Rising Stars" that year. Sadly, the injection of cash and encouragement this gave her career could not sustain her for a whole season with a top-line team, and she was replaced mid-term.

After a quiet period, Katherine reappeared in 2003 for some Formula Three races with Malaysian-run SYR Racing. Her best finish was sixteenth, which was no disgrace considering she had less experience than most of the field, and no money for testing. At Rockingham, she made the cover of Motorsport News for all the wrong reasons. She survived a terrifying mid-air multiple roll after misjudging the Rockingham infield course's much-criticised last chicane. The accident, in which Katherine was thankfully not hurt, was a big factor in British F3's decision to drop Rockingham from its schedule.

Her main activity for 2004 was to have been a racing instructor for the ill-judged Formula Woman female-only novice racing series. Following disputes with its management over the dubious selection procedure and media involvement, she distanced herself from the debacle. The publicity generated may well have raised her some much-needed funds to kick-start her own racing career. She raced in some US Formula Renault V6 races and come sixth at the Toronto street course, her first ever street race. This was not a one-off and she came tenth in the championship, despite only running for a part-season. her best overall finish was fifth, at Trois-Rivieres.

Katherine's trip to America really kick-started her career, and in 2005 she moved another rung up the US racing ladder, to the Toyota Atlantic series. She surprised many by winning her first Atlantic outing, at Long Beach. This was a female first for the Atlantic series, and US single-seater racing in general; Katherine Legge was now big news. She did not stop there either, posting two more wins, back to back, at Edmonton and San José, later in the season. After three wins and eight top-five placings, she was third in the championship.

During the 2005-2006 off-season she was much sought-after. She became the first woman since Giovanna Amati in 1992 to drive a Formula One car in anger, when she tested a Minardi at Vallelunga. Unfortunately, the world's press were present when she crashed into a tyre wall, and this did not go unreported. However, she did not let this hold her back in any way and went on to test an A1 GP car and a Rocketsports Champ Car shortly afterwards. After a further two Champ Car tests, it was announced that Katherine would drive for PKW Racing, whose owner had sponsored her during her Toyota Atlantic year.

Katherine then became the first woman to complete a season of Champ Car racing. There are also very few Brits who have managed this either. Her first race at Long Beach gave her a promising eight place, and she even made history by leading the race for a while. In her first year, she had a best finish of sixth at Milwaukee, against such opponents as Justin Wilson, Cristiano da Matta and Sébastian Bourdais. She scored two more top-ten positions at Cleveland and Denver, and was sixteenth overall at the end of the year. She admitted to struggling in qualifying, and this held her back somewhat. An unintended media highlight of her season was a spectacular crash at Road America in September, which she was lucky to walk away from with only bruised legs.

In the off-season, Katherine moved teams to the Coyne operation. Again, she started the season brightly, with a sixth place at Las Vegas, and a tenth at Long Beach. However, after that, her season started to go wrong, with a string of three retirements. She was eleventh at Mont Tremblant, but then suffered a further four DNFs. The twp European rounds at Zolder and Assen gave her an eleventh and twelfth place, but they were her last finishes of the year. She was fifteenth overall.

As well as Champ Car, Katherine drove in her first Daytona 24 Hours in 2007. She was 25th in a Riley-Pontiac MkXI, alongside George Robinson, Paul Dallenbach and Wally Dallenbach Jr.

After this disappointing season, she was on the move once more, back to Europe this time. She had been signed up by the TME Audi team for the DTM, after the demise of Champ Car and the narrowing of Stateside single-seater opportunities it caused. This was despite Katherine once stating in an interview that she was no longer interested in closed-wheel competition. Her car was a 2006-spec Audi A4. It was a difficult year, partly caused by the old car, and partly by inexperience. Her best result was a fifteenth place at the Norisring, and she did not score any points all season. Her team-mate Christjian Albers, did not fare much better.

However, someone at the Abt Sportsline team saw some promise in Katherine’s performances, and they offered her a contract for 2009. Abt is one of the Audi factory teams, and her team-mates were Martin Tomczyk, Tom Kristensen and Mattias Ekstrom. Her debut race, at Hockenheim, was a baptism of fire, and she survived a mistake in qualifying and contact with Ralf Schumacher and Susie Stoddart to finish twelfth. At Lausitz, she only managed ten laps before retiring, which was a disappointment. She recorded another twelfth at the Norisring, despite posting the fastest lap. She had stalled on the grid after qualifying eighth. At Zandvoort, she did not finish again, after more collisions with Stoddart and Schumacher. She was also fined for misdemeanours in qualifying.

The rest of the season did not get any better. In six races, she finished twice, fifteenth at Brands Hatch and sixteenth at Dijon. She ended the season with no championship points.

Although she was not retained by Abt Sportsline, Katherine negotiated a new deal with Team Rosberg for the 2010 DTM. Her car was an Audi A4. Although her finishing record improved - two non-finishes and one non-start at Valencia (due to illness) - her race results did not, and she mostly ranged between fourteenth and sixteenth all season.

At the end of 2010, she did not renew her DTM contract, for reasons never openly discussed. After becoming disillusioned with touring cars, she took a year on the sidelines in 2011, plotting a return to single-seaters. This eventually did happen, in the form of a deal with Dragon Racing for the Indy Racing League in the USA, driving a Lotus-engined Dallara. Her team-mate was ex-Formula One driver, and experienced Indy racer, Sébastien Bourdais. In 2012, she did ten races for the team, in an interrupted season. For the first four rounds, the team used a Lotus engine, which proved to be troublesome and uncompetitive. Katherine's best result was a 18th place, at Long Beach.

After Dragon abandoned the Lotus engine, they did not have sufficient funds to purchase sufficient Chevrolet equipment to run both Katherine and Sébastien. Therefore, Sebastien took part in the road courses, and Katherine in the oval races. She was 22nd at Indianapolis, after starting from 30th, then finished three of her last five races. Her best result was ninth, at Auto Club Speedway, from seventh on the grid. She was 26th overall in the championship. Sébastien Bourdais was one place above her.

Her deal with Dragon was set to carry on in 2013, but internal problems, and major issues with her own sponsor, led to her contract being terminated, despite legal action. Fairly quickly, she picked up a deal with the DeltaWing team, to race in the American Le Mans Series. She and Andy Meyrick were seventh in the LMP1 class, despite only finishing one race, Road America, where they were third. The car was very new and unreliable.


Katherine with the DeltaWing Coupe (Image from www.katherinelegge.com)

Driving for Starworks Motorsport, Katherine was also tenth in a Grand-Am event at Road Atlanta. Mid-season, Schmidt-Peterson gave her a one-race deal for the Indy 500. She was 26th, from 33rd on the grid.

In 2014, she carried on racing the DeltaWing in the United Sports Car Championship. The car was still horrendously unreliable, and it took until August, and the ninth round of the series, for Katherine to get it to the finish. She managed two finishes, at Road America and Road Atlanta, with a best finish of fourth in the Prototype class, at Road Atlanta.

Mid-season, she was announced as one of the drivers for the Formula E electric single-seater championship, driving for the Amlin Aguri team. She did not finish the first race, at Beijing, and was 16th in the second, at Putrajaya. Before the third race, she announced that she was pulling out of the event, although she claimed she would be "back soon", indicating that she has not left the championship.

For 2015, she remained on the DeltaWing team. Reliability for the experimental car was finally improving, although she still only finished four of her nine races in the United Sportscar Championship. Her best Prototype class finish was sixth, at Road America. Her best overall race finish was ninth, achieved at Mosport, with Memo Rojas.

The first three rounds of the 2016 WeatherTech Sportscar (IMSA) Championship ended in more DNFs for Katherine and her DeltaWing team-mates. Katherine, as the main driver, was tenth in the Prototype drivers' standings, with a best finish of fifth in class, achieved at Laguna Seca, Belle Isle and Circuit of the Americas. At the end of the season, she stepped down to a testing role with the team, and joined Michael Shank's sportscar team to race in the 2017 IMSA series.

During 2016, Katherine was also named as the driver for Grace Autosport, an all-female team created for the Indy 500. Unfortunately, the team was unable to acquire a suitable, competitive car, and did not attempt to qualify.

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