Legge 'underestimated difficulty of return'
20 January 2012
Katherine Legge is finally back in US open-wheel racing - arguably where she truly belongs, despite three seasons in DTM since her last outing for Dale Coyne Racing in Champ Car in 2007.
"It's the kind of tracks they race on," explained Legge. "You can test yourself in every way. And obviously, they have the Indy 500, which is a massive thing to me. I've wanted to do that since the age of seven. It's real racing, it's wheel to wheel and I love being in America."
But getting back to the US certainly hasn't been easy.
"I thought I'd come back and was sure I would get a ride," she told IndyCar.com this week, before admitting: "I didn't realise how difficult it would be ... There have been a lot of people I respect that have given me advice to the contrary because they didn't know it was going to be possible.
"Nobody really expected it of me, but when I set my mind to something I'm like a dog with a bone and don't let go. I laser focus in on that point ... I have a very never-give-up attitude and now here I am."
Legge was the first woman to compete full time in the Champ Car World Series in 2006 and also the first woman to lead a lap in that series, after having previously won three races in the Toyota Atlantic Championship in 2005 - making her the first woman to win a major open-wheel race in North America.
That should have set her up to be the leading female competitor in the sport, but instead that position went to Danica Patrick when Legge dropped out of US racing in the aftermath of the unification of the rival Champ Car and Indy Racing League championships to form the IndyCar Series in 2008.
Instead, Legge returned to Europe and took up seats in DTM racing with Futurecom TME, Abt Lady Power and Team Rosberg, and met fellow driver Peter Terting who is now her fiancé. But IndyCar continued to be an itch that Legge needed to scratch, and in 2011 Legge moved back to the US to try and make it a reality.
"Once I decided that I was going to come back to IndyCar, I had to find a way to make it happen," she told IndyCar.com "I've had a very hard year of work and I had sleepless nights, but it's my dream and I've followed it and I'm very happy it's paying off."
Legge's return to the IZOD IndyCar Series with the backing of primary sponsor TrueCar was finally confirmed last week, with the announcement that she is to drive for Dragon Racing. Now the deal is done, she can finally put to one side all the deal-making she's had to focus on over the last year to make it happen - and concentrate instead on the race track.
"It will take me a few days to get back into it since I haven't been in an open-wheel car for four years," she said. "But all I can do is take out all the unknowns by preparing myself as well as I can and do the best job I can inside the car and out."
Also announced was the surprising identity of her team mate for the season - four-time Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais, himself returning to full-time competition in IndyCar for the first time since 2007. The Frenchman will have the slight advantage over Legge of having run a limited programme on road and street courses in 2011, coincidentally with Legge's old Champ Car team Dale Coyne Racing.
"I am so lucky to have Sebastien as a teammate," said Legge. "There are probably only three or four drivers in IndyCar that I would have loved to have as my teammate and he's definitely one of them ... His experience and talent in developing a car will be a massive advantage for us," she added. "I will try to learn as much from him as I can."
Will Legge - the FIA's female driver ambassador - be filling the role model gap left in the series by the departure of Danica Patrick to NASCAR, and picking up the baton of spearheading the rise of female drivers within the sport? Her sponsor, TrueCar, already runs a Women Empowerment motorsports initiative that Legge describes as coming "from a deep-seated belief and want for the girls to do well" in motor racing.
"There hasn't really been anybody that's been given the opportunity, apart from Danica, who was in really good equipment," said Legge. "We don't want it to be a gimmick. We don't want it to be the 'girl' driver. We want to be competitive race car drivers, taken seriously in what we do.
"The only way we can do that is compete with the guys, and the only way you can compete with the guys is if you're given the opportunity on a level playing field," she stressed. "It should stand as an example that you can do anything you put your mind to and not limited by anything."
As for her personal plans, the arrangements for her wedding to Peter Terting are currently on hold.
"We haven't done anything about the wedding really because I've been so focused on racing," Legge admitted. "I'm not one of those people who won't do everything properly. When I do something, I have to commit to it 110 percent - and I've just been committed to racing.
"Priorities, right?" And as for Terting? "He understands." Of course he does. He's a born competitor from head-to-toe - just like his future wife-to-be has proven herself to be time and again.
"My all-time favourite saying is if you want something badly enough you'll find a way to make it happen," she said, summing up the journey of the past year.