Katherine Legge is coming back to America with whole a new perspective on racing.
At age 31, the newest IndyCar rookie insists she’s older, wiser and no longer concerned about the continual comparisons to one-time rival Danica Patrick. She’s learned how to deal with backroom politics and understands she must follow her passion.
Yes, three years after returning to her native Europe for a disappointing job racing touring cars, Legge is ready to compete again in open-wheel cars.
”It’s the kind of tracks they race on, the street courses, the road courses, the ovals, the airport courses, it’s everything. You can test yourself in every way,” Legge said Monday after Dragon Racing announced she would drive the No. 6 TrueCar entry in 2012. ”And, obviously, they have the Indy 500, which is a massive thing to me. I’ve wanted to do that since I was age 7. It’s real racing, it’s wheel-to-wheel, and I love being in America.”
The move had been rumored for more than a month, but the British native and her team couldn’t confirm anything until the final details were worked out.
Legge signed a two-year deal with a one-year option and will become a teammate of four-time Champ Car World Series winner Sebastien Bourdais for Jay Penske, son of record-setting IndyCar owner Roger Penske.
The timing couldn’t be better.
With Patrick wrapping up her final open-wheel season in October and now preparing for her first full season in Sprint Cup, Legge and Switzerland’s Simona de Silvestro are the only women drivers with full-time IndyCar deals in 2012.
But to Legge, this opportunity goes way beyond gender or personality.
”When the contract came up with Audi, I told them I was coming back over here to race IndyCars before I got too old because that’s where my heart is,” she said. ”I worked really, really hard for them to give me and the other girls a chance in racing. It’s helped me with my racing, and I hope it enables me to help the other girls who are coming along.”
Not long ago, Legge was one of those rising stars.
In 2005, she became the first woman to win in Toyota Atlantics, taking three race titles that season, and emerged as the biggest threat to Patrick’s claim as the world’s top female driver.
Many thought then that the Legge-Patrick matchup could become the next big rivalry in a sport in need of publicity, but it never materialized.
While Patrick evolved into a major IndyCar star, Legge finished 16th in points as Champ Car rookie in 2006 and 15th in 2007.
After the two rival series merged in 2008, though, the first woman to lead a Champ Car race was suddenly unemployed.
Legge eventually took a factory driver’s job with Audi in the European-based DTM, the world’s top touring car series where she finished 19th in points in 2008 and 18th each of the next two seasons. She spent all of last season looking for an American job, and landed nothing.
Now she’s hoping to give her own career a jump amid an almost certain second round of comparisons with Patrick.
”It’s going to happen because inevitably people want to wind up situations and rivalries,” Legge said. ”But she did a great job. She was really the only woman driver that was given equipment capable of winning. I’m in no way trying to replace her. I think it’s gotten to the stage where there’s been so many girls that it’s not really that novelty any more, like it was when I was in Champ Car and she was in IndyCars.”
Like Bourdais and Legge, Penske is trying to make a comeback, too.
Dragon Racing made its debut at the 2007 Indianapolis 500, getting a fifth-place finish from Ryan Briscoe who later jumped to the team owned by Penske’s father, Roger.
Jay Penske’s team ran six races in 2008, then went full-time in 2009 and 2010 before funding problems forced the team to cut back to a six-race schedule last year. Now he has two high-profile drivers to give his team a boost.
”The combination of having the technical support of Lotus as a factory team, the financial backing of a game-changing company TrueCar as a primary sponsor and the unquestionable driving skills of Sebastien and Katherine makes us a force to be reckoned with in 2012,” Penske said in a statement.
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