Legge energized by GEAR mission

Image by Dole/LAT

Legge energized by GEAR mission

IMSA

Legge energized by GEAR mission

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Katherine Legge sounds like a racer who’s happy and settled in her new WeatherTech SportsCar Championship home.

“I feel rejuvenated, and up for the challenge, and just excited,” she tells RACER during a hectic day in New York while promoting this weekend’s Rolex 24 At Daytona race.

The IMSA fan favorite relocated from Meyer Shank Racing’s No. 57 Acura NSX GT3 to Gottfried Grasser’s outfit during the offseason, where she leads the No. 19 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 effort for the Grasser Racing Team. Her 2019 season with MSR and co-entrant Heinricher Racing made great strides as IMSA’s first all-female driving squad drew considerable interest from athletes and educators alike.

Legge, and teammate Christina Nielsen, were busy inside and out of the car as science, technology, engineering, and math initiatives were incorporated for young girls at every stop on the IMSA tour. It was a grinding season, though, and with a chance to take a greater leadership role in inspiring and developing future Legges and Nielsens, the Briton and her Danish co-pilot accepted an invitation from GEAR Racing owner Mark Ruggieri to spearhead a new all-female program at GRT.

For the vast majority of Legge’s career, she’s been hired to drive race cars, and nothing more. With Ruggieri’s Girl Empowerment Around Racing program, Legge’s been asked to bring her vision to the effort where creating a more inclusive environment for women in the sport is central to GEAR’s 2020 IMSA campaign.

Empowered by Ruggieri and Grasser to be a greater instrument of change, Legge enters the new season with the kind of power and authority most drivers never receive.

“They’re 110-percent behind us,” she beams. “Gottfried is the coolest. He is totally open to all our ideas and it feels like we have invested in it. We’ve got input in the program, and Mark, who is on the marketing side, is who we officially driver for with GEAR Racing and he looks to me and my teammates for ideas to make the most out of what we’re doing.”

In Grasser’s team, GEAR has chosen one of IMSA’s most successful squads at the long-distance races. As defending, back-to-back winners of the GT Daytona class at the Rolex 24, and last year’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the No. 19 Lamborghini entry is among the pre-race favorites to land on the podium.

Legge hoped to bring the same driver roster from MSR to GEAR/GRT, but with Bia Figueiredo’s preparations for motherhood and Simona de Silvestro’s new role with the Porsche factory, a late opportunity to draft in the talents of Colombia’s Tatiana Calderon and Switzerland’s Rahel Frey was presented.

Having worked together for the first time a few weeks ago during the lone test ahead of the Rolex 24, the quartet will use the time leading up to Saturday’s green flag to continue building on the chemistry needed to thrive in the endurance racing discipline.

The Lamborghini’s ‘temporary’ ROAR livery proved so popular that it’s here to stay. Image by Levitt/LAT

“This is multifaceted partnership that we’ve got going on, and Christina’s been working really hard and I’m showing a great deal of initiative with it too as we’re driving with Rahel and Tati,” Legge says. “Obviously, Bia’s having a baby, so she can’t drive with us, and Simona’s busy with her new role, so the four of us sat down in the truck when we met at the test and we all immediately just clicked. It was on another level. It was so cool and we’re just having fun. It’s fun again and I really can’t say enough good things about everybody involved. I think I lost sight a little bit of that. But we should make these things fun.

“Lamborghini has been fantastic. We didn’t know what to expect at the test; it was a very last minute thing where everybody was running into the deep end, and I think we did a really good job considering we’d never driven the car before, it was a new team, everybody was trying to scramble and figure out what we were doing and we all showed that we could be fast and we all had a great time doing it. And I really think that if we can control the things that we can control, then we’ll have a great 24 hour race and if not, we’re going to have fun.”

Another aspect of Legge’s increasing role on the team side of GEAR/GRT is developing the programs to introduce more girls and women to racing, and working with Ruggieri to make sure a wide-reaching impact is felt once those projects are in motion. Beyond the commitment to STEM, GEAR will also look to develop female driving talent using input from the No. 19 Lamborghini pilots.

“Well, as the GEAR name implies, the big thing we’re doing with this all-female team is to empower women through racing, so if they can see it, they can do it,” she explains. So we’re trying to put together the best showcase where we can and say, ‘Hey look, we’re not different to the male drivers in terms of talent, and we want to show you that we’re women and that we can do the job. If you put the right people together, we can do the job just as well as any of the men can.’

“And we have a number of other young drivers that that we’re talking to; Mark is leading the charge on that. We’re just giving him advice on who to use and on what to do and how to bring them up through the driving ranks, if you like. So it’s going to be more like a ladder series, I would say.

“But also, we’ve got those of STEM events planned to go alongside the IMSA races. We’re doing a program for the Girl Scouts, and IMSA has been really responsive to what we’re wanting to do to try and engage with the younger generation. In a short amount of time, this whole GEAR project is really taking off.”

The GEAR/GRT car is destined to be among the most popular wherever it travels this season as IMSA treks from Florida to California and plenty of destinations in between the coasts. A throwaway idea for the early January Daytona test, where livery designer Andy Blackmore was tasked with creating a temporary design to wrap the No. 19 Lamborghini, became an instant hit.

Thanks to the reaction it generated, Blackmore’s ‘pop art’ livery will stay with the V10-powered Italian supercar as GEAR’s sponsors are integrated into the design.

“I was driving to Indy for Christmas, and Mark calls me and he says, ‘So what do you think we should do for the test livery?’” Legge recalls. “I said, ‘Well, some teams do nothing, go there with bare carbon, so since we don’t have the sponsors finalized, maybe we should leave it black,’ and he’s like, ‘No, I just want to do something fun,’ and I was like, ‘That sounds like a really good idea, let me talk to Andy Blackmore.’

“Then Andy gets back to me a day later; he had literally stayed up most of the night going backwards and forwards coming up with this livery, and I just thought, ‘oh my goodness’.

“I don’t know how creative people do it because it would never have crossed my mind. It’s just a really cool car and it speaks to everybody, young people and old people alike. I think most people love it.”

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