Katherine Legge Is Ready To clarify Her Legacy In Motorsport
Katherine Legge Is Ready To Define Her Legacy In Motorsport
We chat with the British driver ahead of this upcoming weekend’s Rolex 24 endurance race.This weekend, Katherine Legge will be hitting the race track for the Rolex 24, an endurance race held at Daytona International Speedway’s road course. For the second year running, she’ll be racing the Team Hardpoint Porsche, and she’s looking forward to the adventure.
“This one’s a big one. It’s such an epic race,” she said of the Rolex 24.
Once an open-wheel racer, Legge has remained with her switch to sports car and endurance racing for the past several years – and that’s a place Legge desperately wants to be.
“I think that’s got a lot to do with the way [sports car racing is] going. They’re trying to make it more fan friendly,” she said. “Back in the day, you had like six different classes and you didn’t know who was winning. You couldn’t tell who was in what and what was happening and the television coverage wasn’t that great.
“Now we’ve got one massive GT class where we’re going all race against each other, so you can see which person is leading. It’s just really good for the fan. Then it, if there’s people watching it, there’s people sponsoring it. And if there’s people sponsoring it, there’s more people who want to do it. And so it just drives the whole sport forward. At the end of the day, the manufacturers that are involved are developing stuff that you will drive on the roads, right? So it’s just an upward spiral. So it’s really neat to be a part of that and see it progress over the last couple of decades.”
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Welcome to Women in Motorsport Monday, where we share the stories of the badass women who have conquered the racing scene throughout the years.
“I was a very lucky young lady and that I found something that I was passionate about at a young age and that was go-karting,” Legge said in a recent interview with Jalopnik. “I had parents that supported it – especially my dad.
“I was daddy’s little girl. I was an adrenaline junkie. We would travel all around Europe and go to different race tracks. And it was fun, but it also gave me a focus and it gave me a passion and it gave me a purpose.”
After nearly a decade of karting, Legge secured a scholarship to start competing in open-wheel racing, including Formula Three, Formula Renault, and Formula Ford, where she quickly established herself as a promising driver. In 2000, she was the first woman to achieve a pole position in a Zetec race. The following year, she bested Kimi Raikkonen’s lap record and achieved another pole – a feat so impressive that she became the first woman to take home the British Racing Drivers Club’s “Rising Star” award.
Despite her talent, Legge’s career stalled without the funds to support a more robust racing program in Europe. She had to set her sights on a different venue: America.
In order to secure her future, though, Legge had to do something bold. She walked into Cosworth’s UK offices and informed the staff that she wouldn’t be leaving until she met Kevin Kalkhoven, who was one of the owners of the Champ Car World Series at the time. Legge saw an opening, and she aimed to prove her sincerity by staking out his office.
Kalkhoven sent his daughter to speak with Legge, but that conversation didn’t last long. Kalkhoven’s daughter informed him that he needed to speak to her himself. And then he offered her the deal of a lifetime: If she moved to America, she would be guaranteed the first three rounds of the Toyota Atlantic Championship.
“I didn’t particularly like it to start with, I would say,” Legge said of her 2004 move to the United States – something she did at the mere age of 24. “It was so different, and I’d never really been out of Europe. And as you know Europe is a totally different animal.
“But then I went back to Europe to drive for Audi for a few years and I missed the States. I’d grown to love it.”
Legge’s first Toyota Atlantic race was at the iconic Long Beach circuit – a race that she subsequently won to become the first woman to win a developmental open-wheel race in America.
The success showed that this was where she belonged, and Legge went on to take two more victories and two additional podiums during the year. She finished third in points and took that year’s Rising Star award.
Later that year, she earned a test drive in a Formula One car, making her the first woman to get behind the wheel of one since Sarah Fisher in 2002. The next month, she became the first woman to test an A1 Grand Prix car. And at the end of 2005, Legge won RACER Magazine’s Most Promising Road Racer of the Year award – a title she wrested from A. J. Allmendinger and shared with prestigious company like Greg Moore, Kimi Raikkonen, and Jenson Button.
It was no surprise, then, that Legge moved up to Champ Car with the PKV Racing team for 2006. That year, she became the first woman in the series’ history to lead laps. The next year, she moved into the Dale Coyne Racing team, where she secured best finishes of sixth place at two races.
After that, Legge did a brief stint back in Europe in the DTM series, which wasn’t exactly successful. Her best finish was a 12th place, and by her third year with Audi, she was the only driver on the team competing in an outdated car.
It was perhaps no surprise, then, that she turned her eyes back to the IndyCar Series. In 2012, she signed with Dragon Racing alongside Sebastien Bourdais.
That decision, though, was filled with conflict right from the start. Team owner Jay Penske made the executive choice to swap the team’s Lotus engines for Chevrolets – but only managed to secure one Chevy engine lease, leaving Legge and Bourdais to split driving duties. That she left the following year for the United SportsCar Championship’s DeltaWing program was no surprise.
Since then, Legge bounced between series. In 2015, she announced that she would be part of the all-female Grace Autosport Indy 500 team – a plan that fell through when the team wasn’t able to secure a competitive, safe chassis. She competed in two Formula E events before being replaced. She competed in three NASCAR Xfinity Series races, then broke her leg and wrist in a European Le Mans Series test.
But where Legge has truly thrived has been in the sports car scene. Her stint with the Michael Shank Racing Acura team proved successful, bringing her several wins and podiums. And her first year with Team Hardpoint, 2021, was fruitful: the team never finished lower than 12th, and Legge firmly believes that that was only the beginning.
“Now we know the car, we’ve made leaps and bounds forward with the car, the competitiveness of the car and the setup of the car,” she said. “We showed speed last year at some tracks, but we never converted that into results. So, this year we’re really hoping to take another leap and get some podiums and get some results.”
Legge is also looking at the bigger picture: The current, rapid growth of racing in America.
“We’ve been through a couple of [economic] depressions, and racing is a sport at the end of the day, which is driven by fans, television, and sponsors,” she said. “And so it was tough at the end of the 2000s when we went through that recession because the sponsors just weren’t really spending enough money, and then that suffers. Then the fans aren’t watching the racing, they go and watch something else, so that suffers. So it’s been ebbs and flows.”
Her true success, though, has come in the form of her activism. Legge was part of the Women in Motorsport Commission, an FIA organization designed to encourage women to get involved in racing in all aspects, be they drivers, crew members, or communications officers. It’s all part of the larger plan to encourage more women to take part in fields that previously weren’t available to them.
“In general if you look at a hundred years ago, there weren’t women CEOs. There weren’t female presidents or world leaders. So I think it’s evolution, right?” she said. “And it’s just changing and it’s getting more equal, and it’s getting better.”
I chatted with Legge on Friday, Jan. 21, just before the Roar Before the 24. When I asked what she thought would be a realistic goal for her and her team for the Rolex, she laughed and told me, “Ask me this time next week.”
In the qualifying race, she and her team finished 47th out of 60 cars – which isn’t bad for a GTD team. Legge, though, is confident that if she and Team Hardpoint can make it to the end of the race, a top-five in class is within their sight.
“I do think that a podium is well within our grasp if we execute everything perfectly and no mistakes,” she said. “However, I don’t want a top five. I want to win this race so bad.”
I followed that question up with one that many drivers need to think about for a while before answering. I asked Legge what she hopes her legacy in racing will be when she looks back on her career after taking off her helmet for the last time. Legge mulled over the question for a few seconds before she answered.
“Well, I hope that I have helped other young female drivers up through the ranks to take my place,” she said. “And I hope that I’ve helped change the landscape for those drivers. I hope that sports car racing and racing in general has continued to grow and become one of the sports that people watch on the regular, like football.
“I hope so many things to the sport, but I hope that I am remembered for being a good driver and doing my bit.”
Whatever happens during this year’s Rolex 24, Legge has already secured that latter half of her legacy.