While in Long Beach this past weekend we had the chance to catch-up with IndyCar driver Katherine Legge. Legge came up through the Champ Car ranks, first winning three Atlantic Series races and then moving up to race two years in Champ Car.
When that series merged with IndyCar she found herself without a ride, so she raced in the German DTM series for a few years. Now, with backing from TrueCar, she is back in open wheel racing.
We talk about the obstacles she faces, the touchy topic of whether woman can beat men in motorsports, and what her goals are for 2012 and beyond.
Q. This is Mark Cipolloni. I am here in Long Beach California with Katherine Legge. Katherine, thank you for taking time here today with us.
A. Thank you.
Q. Welcome back to IndyCar racing open wheel racing. You were over in DTM for a few years.
A. I was gone for a while.
Q. You won some race in Atlantics I think it was in 2005. And then you moved up and ran one or two years with Champ Car.
A. Two years. First year with KV, 2nd year with Coyne.
Q. Then you went to DTM and you are back here now. Unfortunately you have not had a lot of practice time – preseason testing. Has that hurt you a lot because you were out of open wheel for so long?
A. Four years out of open wheel racing. And then no testing. Sebastian [Bourdais, her teammate] and I had less than a day in the car. So it hurt us a lot just because it is a new car and we had no time in the car. And then to top that we had, in every session, issues with engine management or whatever it was. So, we are yet to have a weekend free of problems. In Barber it rained, which also cut down on our testing time. Here it’s rained which cut down on our testing time. And so we have been doing our testing during the actual races themselves. And it’s been a very tough time. But at the end of the day I am really happy that TrueCar has given me this opportunity to be here. And it is a 2 year process so we are really thinking by the end of the year; we are going to be up to speed, competitive and a force to be reckoned with. But it is that process.
Q. Has IndyCar indicated that they would allow the Lotus teams or your team to get any kind of testing in between now and Indy?
A. The problem is we are not allowed to do testing or IndyCar would have a problem with that. I don’t know where we stand with that. But the problem is the motor availability. We would have loved to have done do a lot of testing up until now but we just physically can’t do the testing because we don’t have spare engines. Lotus does not have enough engines. Or Judd’s. They are one in the same thing. Don’t have enough engines to supply them to us. This is why we haven’t been testing. I am sure that IndyCar would probably allow us to test because we haven’t done any days so far. And the team is desperate to as well. But then we run into the problem we can’t test before San Paulo, no time, no engines. We can’t test after San Paulo, no time, no engines.
So, we literally go to the Texas test which is mandated by IndyCar, and we had to fight like tooth and nail for that. And then we go into Indy and we are not sure how much running we are going to get in Indy. So it’s a very difficult time. To be honest, Sebastian and I, we are not really party to everything that is going on. That’s a Jay [Penske] issue; Jay’s is doing his upmost for Dragon Racing. So he is the one who is pushing for the engines and pushing for different things to be accomplished so that we can go testing. Because that is what everyone here wants.
Q. You mentioned your goal by the end of the year was to be competitive. Define the competitive. What would you view as a successful year given the circumstances?
A. Oh well given the circumstances at the moment, we are really just looking to finish races. Like I said before, we are kinda doing our testing at the races. So, our main goal is to finish races and have learnt something moving forward. By the end of the year, we are hoping to be 1) inside the top 10, and 2) inside the top 6 and fighting for it because there is no reason why we shouldn’t be when we have done our development work.
Q. Do you feel that Lotus is in the ballpark in terms of power that you are seeing? I know you don’t want to say anything bad about Lotus but they did come in to the game late. Hats off to them that they are even here. But do you feel like you are at a big disadvantage or do you feel there is a lot of catching up to do? Or you think they are pretty close?
A. There is an awful lot of catching up to do. They did come into the game late. They are working to rectify the problem but they are doing their testing at the races as well. But they haven’t been developing because they literally don’t have the engines to be able to go testing and develop them anyway. We are a massive step behind. Being a driver I want everything done yesterday. I would like that we were up to power and we were up to reliability and everything else. All I can say is that from my point, and I am not privy to everything. Yes we have a long way to go.
Q. You mentioned that this is a 2 year process, is your deal a two-year deal with some option years?
A. Yes, absolutely. I think it should be successful. What TrueCar is doing is a very cool program and they are investing a lot in it. And with all of us, it should be successful and then we should be able to move forward from those 2 years as well. I have spoken to TrueCar and they really care, it’s a long term thing. Of course they need us all to perform. So when we are given the equipment in which to perform, like we working towards, at the end of that 2 years, we will all be evaluated. But the program should continue because the program is, I believe, and they believe, a good one.
Q. Are you looking forward to Indy?
A. Oh my God, I am, yea. I am really excited about Indy. I am very apprehensive purely because of the situation that we find ourselves in. I don’t know how many cars we are going to try and qualify but at the moment there is a certain 5 of us that will be struggling more than the rest. I’m hoping that will be sorted out before Indy. Yea, I am very nervous because it is Indy. I drive into the place and I get Goosebumps. I was nervous about Indy as soon as I signed the contract. It is like one of those races. Lucky for me it’s an oval that everybody says is more like a road course with fast corners.
Q. In other sports, I am going to ask this philosophically, in other sports you have women’s leagues and men’s league. I am not sure if that is because the sport itself require more physical strength maybe and they have to have separate leagues. Do you feel in racing you are at a disadvantage at all being you are a woman? Or do you feel this is one sport where women truly can compete on equal terms with a man?
A. I think this is the only sport in the world that you can compete equally. I think that given being treated equally all the way through, it would be a totally equal sport. I think there is still, not prejudice so much especially not over here, but I still feel that you get treated differently as a woman especially getting here. Once you are here, I think it is slightly different. I would say it would be an insult to have a woman’s only league because we can compete with the guys.
Q. So you feel the physical strength issue, which given men are built differently, just human nature…
A. No, no, men are built differently.
Q. That the strength isn’t required here in racing that would put a woman at a disadvantage?
A. Let’s put it this way, there are women that would not be strong enough to do what we do. It is just the way you are born, it’s the way you are built. I am very lucky that I was built in such a way I could train and put muscle, I could do anything. When I did my first year in Champ Car, I finally put the strength thing to bed with everybody thinking girls’ aren’t strong enough because I proved that when I got out of the car after the 2 hours, I was in a lot better shape than some of the guys. Right? I think we kinda quashed that. I don’t think that’s an issue. But I do think that for some girls it might be a struggle because you do have to train very hard and some girls cannot put on that amount of muscle. It is difficult to say it is out of the equation, but for me it is not in the equation. And I think you can see by Simona also is strong enough to drive these cars.
Q. But because all women maybe can’t develop the strength and put the muscle on, does that limit the numbers? The more women who come into racing the better odds that you will have one will end up being a winner and a champion. And because of that inability of some women to develop the muscle, is it going to be a long time before women can be champions because the odds are stacked against them?
A. Yea, I think that like Danica, she was strong enough to drive the car. She had power steering to help her out. But I think it is probably not affecting the total numbers. I think it just probably the volume of girls you start out at nine or ten years old carting and kinda go from there, so I think it’s just a volume thing. If not’s really anything to do with strength. If you are not strong enough to drive a go-kart or what have you, then you don’t make it through the ranks. I really don’t think strength is an issue. I would say maybe with 1% of girls it would be an issue.
Q. Men tend to be by nature more reckless, more dare devilish, more willing to injure themselves. They will take chances and do things that maybe women are a little more smarter than men in that regard. In a race car you are you hanging it out to the point where there can be a question in your mind – “Hey, this is too risky, I should back off a little bit because I might hurt myself."
A. No, it doesn’t even enter in to your thinking. You have a healthy respect for the dangers. But I think it is the same for the guys and the girls. You can see by my massive accident that I had in 2006 and that 4 days later I was back in the car. We can have the balls to do it as well. It has never slowed me down, you just have a healthy respect that it is there. As does everyone else.
Q. Good insight. It would be great for the sport if we could get a woman champion. We haven’t seen it in NASCAR or Formula One and here in IndyCar, of course. Women have just started to really get involved in numbers. I wanted to understand better if there was any reason why we can’t in the future see more women and get the odds up and so we could get a female champion.
A. We could absolutely see that. There are thousands of thousands of guys across the world staring in go-karts with the “want to be" professional drivers mentality. There are a lot less girls who do that. The odds of one of them being as good as one of the guys is a lot lower. But having said that, I think the main thing holding us back at the moment is the opportunities. I think that everything is changing, especially in America, it’s not the same around the rest of the world, so we can’t say that. But the only female driver that has been given the equipment to do well has been Danica. No disrespect to HVM but Simona has not been given a car capable of winning races weekend in, weekend out. If you put Will Power or Scott Dixon in one of the less well funded teams, shall we say, then they would not be as great as they are. Sebastian is doing a great job here of moving this team forward, I think that is going to be important for us because we are striving to be one of the big teams. But I think you are limited by the resources that you have and I am in a very fortunate position like I say, it is a process. I really believe in Jay and I believe in Dragon Racing and I believe we will be one of the big teams. So, therefore, TrueCar would have given me the opportunity to be put in a position to win races. I think Simona is a very good driver. If she were given a ride with Ganassi or Penske or something like that, she would have very different results. It is a true testament to what TrueCar is trying to do, give us the tools that we need and empower us to be able to win races and succeed.
Q. Very good. Thank you very much for your time. Good luck for the rest of the year and hopefully it all works out for what you are trying to accomplish.
A. Yea, fingers crossed too.
Q. Thank you.