I remember it like yesterday. The email came through in January of last year from Katherine Legge, telling me she’d hooked up with this fabulous new sponsor, TrueCar, but I couldn’t say a word about it until, unless the team she was joining was named. So I kept my trap shut and waited until, finally, Katherine was confirmed by Dragon Racing, Jay Penske’s outfit.
She’d be driving the No. 6 TrueCar Dallara/Lotus/Firestone Indy car in the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series championship, beginning at the Honda Grand Prix of St Petersburg. After success in Formula Atlantic (first woman to win in that series), success in the DTM with Mercedes-Benz, Legge was returning to her first love of open wheel racing.
We’d gotten tight when she came to the USA in 2004 to test an Indy Lights car for Kathryn Nunn, Morris Nunn’s wife who had a team the prior season. Nunn was hoping to have a woman driver for the next year and, together with Lyn St James invited six female racers to test her car at Texas Motor Speedway. Uninvited, Katherine Legge turned up anyway, got her opportunity when everyone else was doing lunch and was demonstrably quick and tidy – even though she’d never seen any oval, much less the daunting TMS 1.5-mile high-banked racetrack.
She then went to Toyota Atlantic with Polestar, winning three times (take that, Danica Patrick!), on to the Champ Car World Series, where she gained a bit of notoriety for her crash at Road America – and walking away from it to attend the evening’s Atlantic banquet – and had fair to middling success with a start-up team. Kind of like what she faced last year with Dragon Racing.
We didn’t see Katherine Legge for quite a while when she returned to the UK and the European theater of motorsports. But she never forgot the thrill of driving Indy cars and wanted, needed to come back.
So when we learned that Katherine was joining Dragon Racing last year and partnering with former foe Sebastien Bourdais, it seemed like a good thing. Neither one of them had any testing prior to the season because the Lotus engine was (and still is) late to the dance. The engine barely ran, she never knew the tracks (with the exception of Long Beach, where Legge earned her first win) and, by the time the team arrived in Indianapolis, Lotus was gone, Chevrolet was in and she was under the gun to pass Indy’s Rookie Orientation Program in order to qualify for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
Katherine Legge did everything that was asked of her on the track and off the track at Indy. She represented TrueCar admirably, as well as the Girl Scouts, and she performed admirably on-track, finishing 22nd. That was the springboard to more oval contests at Teas, Milwaukee and Iowa. She was then able to race on a road course in Sonoma, thanks to the proximity to TrueCar headquarters and finished the season at Fontana, scoring a ninth place result.
Considering the lack of assistance from her “team” throughout all this and the turmoil inside Dragon Racing, particularly after team owner Jay Penske got caught in Nantucket with his pants allegedly down, one would have thought that TrueCar, rather than changing drivers for 2013, would have kept their contract with Katherine Legge and taken the money elsewhere.
They didn’t. Instead, they decided to hire Colombian Sebastian Saavedra to partner Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais in the No. 6 TrueCar. Katherine Legge learnt of this change in mid-January and asked for an explanation. None came so she’s starting legal proceedings to protect her TrueCar contract – it was she that brought the company to the racing business – and her ride with Dragon Racing.
“I was very much looking onward to 2013, using the experience I gained last year as a spring board for greater success,” Legge said in her statement after Saavedra’s hiring was made public. “It was a very difficult season last year. We did very little testing and I was made to sit out some of the races. Jay Penske’s actions in Nantucket really hurt my ability to find additional and personal sponsors and it was highly embarrassing, especially with the message that we were trying to portray regarding the empowerment of women in motorsport,” through TrueCar’s initiatives.
Katherine Legge spent the long INDYCAR off-season working on behalf of TrueCar to “mitigate their costs and bring sponsors onboard with their [Women Empowered] Initiative, having invested a great deal of my own time, effort and money, so this has come as a huge shock.”
Legge wondered, in her statement, whether INDYCAR would take a stand on her behalf – I’m going to tell her right now, they won’t.
Like every other successful racer, Katherine Legge has worked extremely hard for all of her opportunities in the business. “I will continue to do so,” she stated, even as she confirmed that legal action is imminent concerning the breaking of her two-year contract with TrueCar and, ostensibly, Penske’s Dragon Racing team. “I want to thank everybody for their support during all of this. It has been very tough for me to watch it unfold.”
It’s been tough for all of us, Katherine. Here’s hoping you land somewhere that you’re appreciated as the true professional racer you are. And let me add that I’m not writing this because Katherine Legge is a woman driver; she’s a racer and there’s a big difference between them.
(Oh, and I have no objections to Sebastian Saavedra – good kid, good driver and all… but not at the expense of someone else’s contract)
UPDATE: Dragon Racing and True Car have issued the following statements:
We are thankful for the contributions Katherine Legge has made during her time at Dragon Racing. But, unfortunately, our primary sponsor and Dragon Racing have decided it is best for the team to move in a different direction for the upcoming season. We wish Katherine the best in her future racing endeavors. Both Dragon Racing and TRUECar have tried to amicably resolve this matter with Legge and her representatives to no avail—and aside of acknowledging the existence of the dispute, due to the confidential nature of the dispute, neither of the parties will be making any further public statements regarding this matter, but both TrueCar and Dragon Racing have ample confidence that they will undoubtedly prevail
We have thoroughly enjoyed our association with Katherine, but after 12 months of collaboration, hard work, and TrueCar's sincere efforts to resurrect Katherine's open-wheel career, TrueCar has decided to pursue a different driver for 2013 IndyCar season.
After overcoming seemingly insurmountable issues with Lotus during the 2012 season, Dragon Racing has fielded two entries for the 2013 IndyCar season.
This story originally appeared on anneotheropinion on February 13, 2013, and was republished with permission.
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Photo Credits: Getty Images, Anne Proffit