It’s all about timing in life whether it be in relationships or with ones career – and the timing seems to be just right for Katherine Legge in both arenas. The recently engaged, Legge returns to the United States after a four-year absence to compete in the 2012 IZOD IndyCar series and will be hitting the track April 13 th at the 2012 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach – the same track where in 2005 Legge became the first woman to win a major open-wheel race in North America.
When the Indy Racing League (IRL) and Champ Car World Series (the two rival American open-wheel circuits) merged under the IRL umbrella, it created a period of uncertainty for many drivers who weren’t sure what the new league would shape up to be. Despite her early success in American open-wheel racing, when Legge got an offer to race in the DTM series in Europe as an Audi Factory driver, she hedged her bets and decided to take it. Legge saw good days and bad days driving in DTM, never achieving the same success she saw in American open-wheel racing, but it certainly wasn’t for naught, “Europe changed me as a person,” says Legge, in a phone interview from the Indianapolis airport en route to Long Beach. “[The experience] humbled and toughened me, and made me realize I wasn’t giving 110%. It also clarified what I really wanted to do.” What she really wanted to do was to go back to the United States and return to IndyCar. But Legge believes everything happens for a reason, and her time in Europe proved that; not only did she gain valuable driving experience and personal growth driving in DTM, but Legge also met former DTM driver and now fiancé, Peter Terting on the track.
Legge, along with Terting (who is currently in talks with American Le Mans Series teams), moved back to the U.S. in early 2011, with the intent to get back into the IZOD IndyCar Series. She was pleasantly surprised last summer when she was offered a two-year full-season sponsorship deal from TrueCar.com, an online information and communications platform where car buyers can see what other people paid for a particular car and can connect with Certified car dealers. Legge’s sponsorship is part of TrueCar’s “Women Empowered” initiative that offers full support, training and development opportunities for six female racecar drivers in various racing series – the first of its kind.
While it may seem that everything’s coming up roses for Legge, she has faced some early challenges in her INDYCAR return. Her Lotus engine was not available for testing prior to her season opener at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. While her competitors logged thousands of miles during pre-season testing, and continue to do so during mid-season testing, she and teammate Sebastien Bourdais have had to watch from the sidelines, waiting for their Lotus engines. This means she has had to experiment with the car’s tires, tire pressure and other settings mid-race. The combination of racing on tracks she’s never raced on before, and not being able to test her Lotus Dallara DW12 has hurt Legge in the standings of her first two races. While Legge will also not have the opportunity to test her car prior to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach this weekend, she will be racing on a familiar and favorable track. A track where Legge experienced one of her greatest racing accomplishments to date; a track full of fond memories of sweet victory for the English-born driver, who took the checkered flag there in 2005. The pressure is certainly on for Legge because of her past success, and she feels it. “There’s a lot more pressure,” says Legge, “It’s just hard to not have had any time in the car.” But Legge was a rookie and underdog in 2005, crashing in qualifying which resulted in a poor starting position, and having to come from behind to win it all. Legge finds herself as the underdog yet again at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in her 2012 return. The question is, can she do it again and return to the winner’s circle?
Legge feels very fortunate for the opportunity she’s been given by TrueCar and Dragon Racing, and a bit for superstitious reasons as well. Legge’s car is a Lotus Dallara DW12 – 12 happens to be Legge’s favorite number. And she’s driving for media mogul, Jay Penske’s Dragon Racing team – in the Chinese zodiac calendar, 2012 is the Year of the Dragon. It’s all about timing, and 2012 is poised to be Katherine Legge’s year in more ways than one.