FROM YAHOO SPORTS
Katherine Legge is a new IZOD IndyCar series driver who is behind the wheel of the #6 TrueCar.com Lotus Dallara DW12 from Dragon RacingShe’s an IndyCar rookie this season, but has a lot of experience behind the wheel and was even the first woman to win a major open-wheel race in North America back in 2005.
Legge is part of TrueCar Racing’s “Women Empowered” initiative. The TrueCar Racing team features six women, each racing in different race leagues. By sponsoring these drivers — sometimes before they have deals to drive with car builders — the team provides them the opportunity to pursue their dream. I also think it’s a smart marketing move for the consumer auto-buying information website, which says it aims to empower women car buyers with information, like it empowers women racecar drivers with sponsorship support.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Katherine Legge at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in the TrueCar garage, as her team worked to replace the engine on her car in preparation for the race.
I’ve always thought auto racing is a unique sport when it comes to men and women. Once you’re in a helmet and behind the wheel, the other drivers don’t know and don’t care which sex you are, they just want to beat you. Can men and women compete equally in racing?
Well, it is really the only sport where it doesn’t matter. There isn’t any other sport that I can think of that has the equality that we do. Now, saying that, some female drivers just aren’t strong enough at a certain level, so it does depend on how you’re built, which is purely down to genes and how much you train. For 99 percent of the time, I would say it’s fairly equal. Now whether you are given the same opportunities, that’s a different matter. That’s something that TrueCar is starting to do, because really, the only other person who got good equipment was Danica (Patrick). And she got some good results. So what TrueCar is trying to do is give us the tools we need, so we get good equipment and can go out and win races.
Now it’s a process, obviously, which is why it’s initially two years and hopefully moving forward from there. I think that it’s important that we’re given the equipment we need and the tools we need to win races, beacause apart from Danica, nobody else has been.
Are you happy Danica moved on to NASCAR?
It’s completely irrelevant to me, it’s not like we’re just racing each other. We have 27 other cars in the field, or whatever it is, that we need to beat. I think that’s one good thing about racing, the guy drivers don’t see us as girl drivers, only racecar drivers, because you can’t tell the difference once you’re in the helmet.
Do you have an opinion on the engine-swap penalty rule? How do you feel being penalized as a driver for something mechanical that has nothing to do with you? (Legge and 11 other teams were each penalized 10 spots on the Long Beach Grand Prix grid for making an unapproved engine swap. Legge had issues with her Lotus-supplied engine and was forced to replace it. For the other 11 teams, the swap was forced by Chevrolet, who pulled all their engines after mechanical issues were discovered during testing last week.)
It doesn’t really enter into my thinking. You can only do what you can do. You can do what’s in your control to the very best of your ability. If you start worrying about the rules and whether they’re just or unjust, you’ll drive yourself absolutely crazy. So, all you can do is concentrate on what you have to do and not worry about the other things. That’s why you have a great team of people around you to fight on your behalf.
How do you feel about IndyCar’s new blocking rules? Do they go against your natural instincts as a driver to protect your position and win races?
No, for me it’s very much more European, it’s what you’re used to doing. The no-blocking rule was very unnatural, not being able to defend your line. Normally you’re allowed one move. So you’re allowed to defend, but then you’re allowed to come back. That’s what it’s always been in Europe and that’s the way that Beaux Barfield (IndyCar’s Race Director) has gone with it. So it’s made it more true to the old style of racing. I don’t prefer it one way or the other. For me, it’s natural as you get into a habit of doing it one way or the other. It’s very unnatural to stay and just let someone drive past you, but it’s just a different way of doing it, one way isn’t better than the other. It’s just horses for courses.
Any advice for aspiring female racers?
You have to be completely dedicated, otherwise don’t bother even trying. Unless you know in your heart of hearts that it’s what you need to do, and if it is, then 110 percent focus, dedication and never give up.
Growing up in England what was your first inspiration to become a racer?
We went on vacation to Spain and we just had a go on the fun karts. It was my dad, myself and my uncle. We were just messing around and it was just coincidence; really, you could say it was fate. So we came back to England from vacation and there was an advertisement in our local paper for the local go kart track. So after trying it in Spain, my dad and I decided we would go along and watch. We were just going along to see what it was all about. After the race, he decided, “Hey, this is really cool, we’re gonna buy a go kart.” He started and I think it took about six months of nagging, ‘Hey I want to do it, I want to do it,’ and he eventually gave up and let me have a go as well.
With regards to TrueCar, did you have a sponsor before you had a team? And is that a unique situation?
Yes, very unique, unique for me, at least. I had a team that employed me as a driver back in the old CART days, the team found the sponsors. With Audi, it was the same thing, I was employed by Audi, they put me with the sponsors. The TrueCar initiative is groundbreaking in that respect. TrueCar already had links to Dragon Racing, as the CEO was friends with Jay Penske, Dragon’s owner. So there was already a link there, and it all worked out very nicely. But it was a slightly different way of doing it. Yes, I have a contract with TrueCar and another with Dragon Racing.
You’ve done some Formula 1 testing in the past, do you have a desire to drive in Formula 1?
Everyone says, “Do you want to do NASCAR, do you want to do Formula 1?” At the moment, I think to be successful in anything you have to focus on what you’re doing right now, so I am completely focused on IndyCar. I am very proud and grateful to have been given this opportunity by TrueCar to do IndyCar. So I am very focused on that. If the opportunity arises to do something else, then I’ll look at that as and when it comes up. You can’t have your mind elsewhere, wanting to do something else, especially at this level if you’re already doing this, so it’s like blinkers on, you know?
More from this contributor:
Interview with James Hinchcliffe – 2011 IndyCar Rookie of the Year
IndyCar Engine and Car Changes for 2012: Fan’s View
Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach – IndyCar Plus so Much More: Fan’s View
A lifetime auto racing fan, Freddy Sherman collects vintage muscle cars and attends races and rally events in the U.S. and around the world. You can follow him on Twitter – @thefredsherman