Imagine being a rookie in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, in the largest class, in your first endurance race, your first in a GT3 car … and being disappointed with a fourth-place finish. That’s the position Sheena Monk found herself in after her IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship debut as she embarked on a full-season effort with Katherine Legge in the GTD-class No. 66 Gradient Racing Acura NSX GT3 Evo22.
“I felt like as long as I was smart and kept the car clean, I legitimately believed we had a shot for a win,” says Monk. “The BoP made me feel a smidge differently once we were there. But I felt as long as I did my job, which is to just protect the car and do my best to stay on the lead lap — obviously with the double stints made that a little more challenging — but as long as I did that, I felt like in the hands of the three others, I really thought we were in the hunt. And frankly, if we had a little bit more straight line speed, we really were.”
In addition to Legge, Marc Miller and Mario Farnbacher were in the No. 66 at Daytona, but Monk didn’t shy away from the driving duties. She went well above the minimum two hours of drive time to end up with more than five, including two double stints, and most of it in the dark. She admitted to still being a bit sore a week later.
“I did a double, then I was out for three hours, then I did a like a single and change because there was some yellow. Then I think I was only out for maybe an hour and a half and then I did a double again. And both doubles were almost completely green, so it was a little taxing,” she relates.
Monk, who has been racing in IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, may be the rookie but her driving partner for the season has a host of experience in GTD, including in the NSX. Legge, an IndyCar Series veteran who was just announced as a driver for RLL’s fourth car at the Indianapolis 500 this May, was a winning part of Shank’s efforts with the NSX in its IMSA debut. That relationship with Honda Performance Development was part of what led to this pairing at Gradient as Monk was looking for her next opportunity.
“I believe that everything happens for a reason,” says Legge. “I have had a great relationship with HPD and Acura throughout my sports car career, and actually all the way back to when I raced with Honda in IndyCar. I spoke to them about maybe getting back in the Acura and, at the same time, I was talking to Sheena, and both of those worlds kind of collided. I said to her, ‘How do you feel about the Acura?’ and she said, ‘I don’t know anything about it, but it looks great. Let’s talk about it.’ So it just kind of snowballed from there. And honestly, I don’t think there’s a better place that we could have landed.”
It may have been destiny — Legge has a photo of Monk sitting in her MSR NSX from the days when she was coaching Sheena in Lamborghini Super Trofeo. She says Monk has come a long way since then through hard work.
“I think the biggest thing that’s impressed about Sheena is that she’s really smart. She works her butt off, does all the homework and learns everything that she needs to do,” Legge explains. “She studied a bunch when she came to the track, so she knew how all the procedures were, how the car worked and everything else. And then she does it very methodically — she doesn’t go out there and like, try and go fast; she goes out there and makes sure that she does everything right. And that gets the same result, but it’s also a very smart way of doing it, because she’s taking less risk. You’re not trying going out trying to prove yourself — you’re working up to it. So every session, she’s knocked it down and knocked it down. And now she’s within half a second of us. So I think if she continues to use her brain the way that she has been doing it, there’s no way that she doesn’t get to where her expectations — however lofty — take her.”
Through that, the adjustment from GT4 to GT3 hasn’t been a great stretch for Monk. While she says she still has a long way to go to extract the full performance from the NSX, she’s getting there.
“The GT3 car, in some ways, is easier to drive,” Monk says. “You feel a lot more of the car working underneath of you. There’s just a lot more aerodynamic grip at play, and so that inspires quite a bit of confidence as a driver, especially for somebody like me who has zero experience in in this kind of vehicle. But in terms of the traffic and the level of the competition, it is exponentially higher. So I have to be on my top game here, still focusing on what I can do best in terms of putting the team in a good position. But similarly, keeping my expectations in check, and just making sure that I’m doing everything as correctly as I can.”
The program with Monk and Gradient is a big change from Legge’s most recent efforts in the WeatherTech Championship, a run with another team that tapered off mid-season last year. Naturally she’s happy to be back with the manufacturer with which she had previous success, but the whole situation is an improvement, she says.
“I’m over the moon; literally I feel like a kid again. I’ve got this renewed sense of motivation,” Legge declares. “Everything so far has been phenomenal, and Sheena has so much potential. Being back in the Acura is really cool. The team seem to be really supportive — very can-do attitude. I have not found a single fault yet, with any of it — and that’s unusual. You know, normally there’s something that somebody doesn’t do as well as another team that you’ve raced for or what have you, so it’s been all positive. And I think that we can really do something special.”