Beating this dead horse
Katherine Legge before the INDYCAR season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA, where she finished ninth and might have done better had she not incurred a speeding ticket (Anne Proffit photo)
I hate beating a dead horse but this one I’ll whip well past the timing beams and into the kitty litter. Oh wait, wrong racing series…
I have to admit I’ve admired Katherine Legge since I first met her at Texas Motor Speedway in November of 2004. I’ve told the story a billion times, but here it goes again: she appeared, uninvited at a six-woman Indy Lights test on the high-banked 1.5-mile oval for a possible ride with Kathryn Nunn’s Lights team.
Never having seen an oval before, Briton Legge was still quick and fast from the get-go, listening to everyone and taking the good advice. Just like everyone else on-site, I was impressed then; I still am now.
I watched Katherine as she made her way into American open wheel racing, first in the Toyota Atlantic series where she won three races (including the very high-profile Toyota Long Beach Grand Prix) with Jim and Pam Griffiths’ Polestar Racing.
She moved on to the Champ cars with Kevin Kalkhoven and Dale Coyne, the latter likely a better place to learn than with the former’s team, then and now a bastion of politics. Katherine’s acrobatic Champ Car accident at Road America had everyone aghast; the fact that she attended that night’s Atlantic banquet was just as astonishing (in a short dress and high heels, of course). After a strong performance that day, Legge had been running sixth before that crash on the back straightaway.
Ford Racing promoted breast cancer with Katherine Legge, PKV Racing – look at those pink Bridgestone Potenza racing tires! (Anne Proffit photo)
Eventually she went back to the European theater and joined with Audi’s vaunted DTM team, where the work was. Success in the Champ Car World Series wasn’t coming with a well-funded team and, as a driver, you got to go with the good rides. So she went, was successful but she never stopped wanting to race in American open wheel racing at the top level; she told me she really wanted to come back.
In late 2011 Katherine Legge, who had been hanging out at the IZOD IndyCar Series races throughout the season, trying to find work, found what every good racer yearns for – the right sponsor. TrueCar was emphasizing its Women Empowered program and she was at the right place at the right time. When she told me about it, she said not to say anything until the team was announced. I kept that promise.
The team was Dragon Racing and she’d be paired with four-time CART/Champ Car titleholder Sebastien Bourdais. They’d be racing a Lotus-powered car because that was what was available for a late-entering team. Because of that engine choice (if that’s what you call it), they had zero time in the car leading up to the first race at St Petersburg in late March. Heck, the engines didn’t arrive until late Thursday and practice began Friday morning!
Both Katherine and Seabass took the circumstances with a shrug of the shoulders. What could they do? Nothing, obviously, just drive the car as best they could. With his extensive experience Bourdais was quick from the start, while Legge needed time to learn the car (everyone had new Dallara DW12 cars but most had experience before the first race). And she had to learn the tricky St Pete track.
That the Lotus engine didn’t meet anyone’s expectations was evident and that Bourdais was quick in spite of it was also obvious. Everything went to Seabass and, by the time the engine change-over to Chevrolet and the Indianapolis 500 rolled around, Katherine Legge and her Rookie Orientation Program took a firm second place to Bourdais’ refresher course.
It didn’t get any better in Indy and certainly not afterwards, when the duo were relegated to a single, TrueCar Women Empowered DW12 racecar, with a single, Bourdais-oriented engineering staff, pushed that direction by management. The gory details are not mine to tell at this point in time, but it was pretty obvious to anyone with half a brain.
Fast-forward and now the TrueCar Women Empowered sponsorship belongs to Sebastien Bourdais and Sebastian Saavedra. At least the latter has an interesting hairdo. Jay Penske asserts it was his sponsorship all along (a blatant lie) and that TrueCar wanted to go a different direction. Bourdais climbed on the Dragon bandwagon with his derogatory comments about a person who could run with him in equal equipment and who helped bankroll the team in 2012. We all understand he needs the work, but at the expense of a driver who was clearly able to keep pace with him?
Yeah, I’ll beat this horse to death. Katherine Legge is a damn fine racer and she’s not giving up the good fight to rejoin the IZOD IndyCar Series; she showed last year that she can ride with the big guns, finishing the finale on 2-mile Auto Club Speedway’s oval in ninth (could she give back that speeding penalty in the pits?). For those of you forgetting, she posted lap speeds quicker than all but four drivers at Iowa Speedway in 2012 and she contributes well on the commercial side of things, like finding sponsors.
Legge is, as anyone would be, sorely pissed about being chewed up and spit out by that great pisser Jay Penske, a civil and moralistic person if ever there was one. I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t consent to shake his hand.
By Anne Proffit