Katherine is one of four full-time drivers for the Michael Shank Racing/Acura Motorsports effort in the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. She will drive the #93 Acura NSX GT3 for the full season with Andy Lally (Graham Rahal and Mark Wilkins will be additional drivers for the Rolex 24 At DAYTONA). Jeff Segal and Ozz Negri will be the full-season drivers for the team’s #86 Acura, joined at the Rolex 24 by Ryan Hunter-Reay and Tom Dyer.
In 2016, driving for DeltaWing Racing, Legge became the first woman to lead overall at the Rolex 24 At DAYTONA, coming from the back of the field (after the team elected to miss qualifying) to lead the race twice for more than 20 laps. Katherine was also the first woman to lead an American Le Mans Series race overall, also with DeltaWing Racing, at the Road America circuit in 2013. She finished third in the Prototype drivers’ championship that year, with six podium finishes in 10 races.
Daytona International Speedway: How did you first become interested in cars? How did you get started in racing and at what point did you decide that it was something you wanted to pursue professionally?
Katherine Legge: “I started racing go-karts when I was nine years old and my family went on a holiday. My uncle and my dad had a go on the karts and I really wanted to try. I tried it once and I loved it. I was always a bit of a tomboy; I wanted the adrenaline. We came back to England and since there’s a local go-kart track my dad and I went to check it out. My dad started racing and I nagged him enough that by Christmas I got a go-kart. We raced together for six races and he decided that he was just going to focus on me racing and I’ve been racing ever since.”
DIS: When you first started racing, did you ever think that one day you would be competing professionally?
KL: “Never, never. I just count my lucky stars. I always watched the Formula One races with my dad and I looked at Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell and people like that and was like, ‘That would be my dream job. I want to be a Formula One driver.’ But I never thought it was possible. There were no women doing it and unfortunately we didn’t come from lots of money – which you really need to have to go racing – so I didn’t give it a second thought, I just worked my way up and enjoyed go-karting. Then I won a scholarship to do some Formula Ford races and then I came over to America. I put a little bit of money together to come over here and do three races in Formula Renault; I just did pieces here and there as I could. I’ve begged, stolen and borrowed just to go racing. I was working at Silverstone instructing and I just loved it and I wanted to do it and I worked my butt off to do it, but I didn’t ever really think it was possible until I came over here (to America).”
DIS: Women have made massive strides in this sport and industry, but you still represent a unique position. What’s it like to be a trailblazer in motorsports and what do you feel your responsibilities are to young girls that have an interest in getting to where you are?
KL: “I don’t think you ever go in looking for that, but it happens and with that comes responsibility and I think everybody goes about it differently. I am a driver ambassador for the Women in Motorsport Commission for the FIA [International Automobile Federation]. I’m also the STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics— ambassador for the Girl Scouts. I just try and do the same things that the guys are doing. ‘The car doesn’t know the difference,’ is one of my favorite sayings. I just want to be seen as just another driver. You do get treated differently for sure, but I don’t know any different. I just get on and do my job as professionally as possible. I try not to think about whatever another person would do if they were in my shoes. I’ve got a personality that I can’t discount. I’m not suddenly going to become a robot, because it’s not who I am. I think you can choose your path and I’ve tried to stay true to that.”
DIS: You mentioned you’re a STEM ambassador for the Girl Scouts. Can you tell us what you do and why it’s so important to get girls engaged in a STEM curriculum?
KL: “It’s huge. There are girls racing cars and coming up through the ranks, but there are not that many female engineers. There aren’t that many over-the-wall crew. We need more in every aspect of racing. So, I would like more females on the crew. We only have one girl here on the crew, so there just aren’t any around. I think [Chip] Ganassi [Racing] has Ashley [Parlett] as a full-time mechanic, which is cool. I just want to raise awareness and have positive role models in every aspect. The little boys coming to the races see older males working and can say, ‘That’s so cool, I want to do telemetry,’ or ‘I want to be a driver,’ or ‘I want to change a tire.’ They have somebody to look up to. The girls come to the racetrack and don’t have much more than umbrella girls to model after. I think STEM is critically important; it’s where the future is headed. If you look at the major OEMs, like Acura or Honda for example, they need very qualified engineers, but people aren’t choosing to go down the engineering path in school. I think that it’s proving that engineering and science can be fun and cool. When I was in school, I certainly never enjoyed it or never thought it was anything I wanted to pursue. It wasn’t until I became the Girl Scout STEM ambassador that I realized everything I do ties back to science.”
DIS: What advice would you give to young girls who are interested in racing, but don’t have a particularly traditional path or connection into the industry?
KL: “I tell them that if you want something badly enough, you will find a way to make it happen. And if you don’t want it, then it won’t happen. There’s no giving up. Its 24/7, 365 days a year, so you have to find a way to make it happen for yourself.”
DIS: What are the big goals to accomplish during the ROAR weekend? What do you focus on?
KL: “Being a new program in its development, we’re going through things like ABS systems checks and traction control and power steering. We’re trying to do car setup stuff too, but for the most part we’re doing the fundamentals and making sure that we are reliable for the race. It’s just a process that we’re working through; I don’t think anybody is worried about being fast. We are probably the only ones that aren’t sandbagging right now. It is what it is, so at least we will see what we’ve got. We just got to keep doing our own thing and have blinders on about what we need to achieve and not worry about everybody around us.”
DIS: You’ve driven in sports cars, IndyCar and IMSA cars and even tested in a Formula One car. It seems like you’re comfortable racing anything. How do you go about preparing yourself to race in such different cars? Is there any type of race car that you haven’t driven yet that you’d like to get behind the wheel of?
KL: “I think I am the most diverse driver here. You don’t really prepare yourself too much to race in different cars. I think, if you are a good driver, you drive whatever. It’s a race car at the end of the day. It has four wheels. You just get on and deal with it and try to learn as much as you can.”
DIS: Since you have experience with so many different types of racing, for those race fans unfamiliar with IMSA, why should they come out and watch? What makes the series and the racing action so good?
KL: “The diversity and accessibility. You can just walk straight up to us and say hello. That’s really cool. You just get unique interaction and you see all the different kinds of cars. Where else can you see Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Acuras, Porsches, Audis and Mercedes? The access to all of them is incredible and you literally have all of these cars racing and it’s almost like sensory overload. You’d struggle to get bored.”
DIS: What unique challenges does the Daytona International Speedway road course present?
KL: “I think this track is very unique in that you have to be completely on it. It’s like a 24-hour sprint race, so you can’t take it easy in any way. You can’t drop the ball, you can’t get lost in the pit stops. It’s a 24-hour sprint race and it’s the only one like it in the world. It’s just totally unique. The banking and the lights are awesome. You can’t miss an apex and, if you want to win, you have to be completely on it all of the time.”
DIS: What are some of your professional goals? What do you hope to accomplish this year? Where do you hope to see your racing career in five years?
KL: I really want one of those (Rolex) watches. Andy (Lally), my teammate, has like a hundred of those things. Realistically, I would love to win here at Daytona, but if we’re winning races at the end of the season, that would be a great achievement. Moving forward, I want to win races and win championships. I want to try NASCAR, even if it’s a one-off race. It’s on the bucket list.”
If you'd like to see more women like Katherine Legge, be sure to get your tickets now for North America’s most prestigious sports car race - the 2017 Rolex 24 At DAYTONA. Surround yourself with music, food, fun and exotic cars in the prestige of the world’s only motorsports stadium.