As she lay trapped in her mangled LMP2 car at Paul Ricard last July, Katherine Legge might have been forgiven for wanting to jack in this racing business.
After a horrific shunt caused by a mechanical failure, the Brit was stuck in her car for what must have seemed like hours as rescue crews attempted to free her broken left leg without causing further damage.
With a career that has taken in Champ Car, IndyCar, IMSA, DTM and Formula E, there’s little Legge hasn’t already done in racing.
But when asked if she had considered calling it a day as she lay in her hospital bed, she simply says: “It never even entered my thinking that it would finish my career in any way.”
Instead, she fought back to finish a gutsy 10th in class on her return at January’s Daytona 24 Hours. Partly as a result of that assured performance, she today announced a full IMSA season with Earl Bamber’s Team Hardpoint EBM, which comes in addition to an ELMS drive with the Iron Dames team.
The motivation to return to the track wasn’t simply a personal challenge for Legge: it’s a key part of her rallying call to all female drivers “to want to be the best.”
Legge is now more committed than ever to championing the cause of women in motor sport, and sees driving, via new opportunities presented by FIA Women in Motorsport commission, as the way to do it.
Legge’s return to racing came six months after her testing crash and the stage for her comeback drive at the Florida classic couldn’t have been better. Teamed up at two-time Le Mans champion Bamber’s team with long-time team-mate Cristina Nielsen and Rob Ferriol, the line-up looked set to do well straight out of the box.
Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go to plan.
“It was difficult, because we had great potential,” Legge tells Motor Sport. “Great team, great crew, great drivers. Unfortunately, we just were unlucky and had a mechanical issue.
“The splitter cable broke, which is kind of unheard of, it’s just one of those things.”
The 10th managed at the end of the race, impressive nonetheless. Legge does concede that just crossing the line and finishing was an incredible achievement, redemption somewhat.
“It was great, because to finish Daytona, [it was the injury] resolving itself in a way. But also it was bittersweet, because we could have done so much more – that’s racing unfortunately, and we move on to the next one.
“It was good to get back in the swing of things and good to kick off a great season of racing. A lot of positives, but obviously the result wasn’t what we’d hoped.”
Part of the first all-female LMP2 crew at this weekend's Le Mans 24 Hours, Sophia Floersch says that female drivers are now getting opportunities in racing that they never would before — but doesn't think W Series is the solution
Just as impressive was the fact that Legge wasn’t hampered by her injuries during the gruelling 24 hour race, after spending months in a wheelchair.
“I was worried that, maybe after doing so much time in the car during the 24 hour period, that there might be pain,” says Legge. “Or that I might lose strength or something like that, but absolutely nothing.”
Legge’s rehabilitation began in France and then continued in the US. “I worked really hard on the physio and the rehab,” she says. “It’s not that easy actually – fitness-wise – when you don’t have the use of your legs to do things!
“So it’s been hard, but it’s been totally worth it. Daytona was the right timing. Everything was right.”
So strong was the potential shown by Bamber team’s, they’ve decided to split the entry for a full IMSA campaign.
“It’s not that easy – fitness-wise – when you don’t have your legs to do things!”
Announced today, Legge will partner Nielsen for an entire season with Team Hardpoint EBM, with Bamber and Ferriol in the other car.
Legge believes that the outfit will “be a force to be reckoned with”, saying: “We had a really good team [at Daytona]. Christina obviously has done a lot of a lot of Daytonas now too, it was great to work with her again.
“Earl’s just been invaluable with learning how to drive the Porsche GT3, which are a little bit different to other GT cars, as well as Rob. Everybody bought something different to the team.
“It was a really great dynamic and one that we’re looking very much forward to continuing.”
With racing partner Nielsen a two-time IMSA GTD champion, success could come quickly, and Legge still has a big Daytona itch to scratch. This could be the run-up to a full-blooded assault next year.
“That race has been elusive to me – I finished second [in 2018].”
Not satisfied with an IMSA campaign, Legge is looking for success on this side of the pond too – she’s signed up to campaign for the all-female Iron Dames squad in the European Le Mans Series.
Unsurprisingly, she has ambitious targets for that project also.
“I get to race with my friend Rahel [Frey],” enthuses Legge. “Her and I have been strong together before in the past – we did Daytona last year.
“We really wanted to race together again because I think our experience and our level is going to be one where we can go for the championship in ELMS – that’s the goal, honestly.”
The team is supported by the FIA Commission for Women in Motorsport, and represents a massive push to support greater diversity in racing. Legge is fired up and ready to make sure it has the impact the project deserves.
“Honestly, I think it’s a big step forward, and it’s a big step in the right direction, “ Legge says.
“For women in racing in particular, I think to be given the opportunity, a good car and a good team – it’s been a long time coming. Things are changing.
“Now during the last few years, things have started to snowball. Deborah Meyer [Iron Dames Team Principal] has given us the car, the equipment and the team to be competitive, which is something that we’ve always been pushing and looking for.
“We’re going to be bringing other young female drivers on, and we’re going to be trying to develop them, so they are the Katherines and the Rahels of the future.”
Legge has been central in an advisory role to the Commission since it was first formed in 2009, and is delighted to see the fruits of its and her labour starting to reap rewards.
“It was a big train to get rolling, it hasn’t been an easy road,” she says. “But it was built on solid foundations. I think I wanted everything instantaneously because I wanted it when I was still young.
“Now it’s rolling, it’s definitely taking a life of its own and I’m very impressed with what they’ve been able to do.
“With the rising stars, the Ferrari link [where its Academy has welcomed its first female driver] and everything else, there’s definitely going to be more competitive females in the future, that’s going to act as an advert to get more and more young girls involved in the sport.”
The Iron Dames team – along with its associated Iron Lynx squad – will run 14 cars across 5 GT championships, giving plenty of room for driver development.
Legge will help and give advice when it comes to developing the young driver talent in the team, but don’t for a moment presume that she’s shifting her focus from being behind the wheel. When this writer overemphasises the ‘mentor’ angle, I receive a strong riposte: “You keep saying mentor, but it’s really not what’s happening!” she says, “I’m still a driver, first and foremost!”
Legge previously kicked back at promotion of women in motorsport, believing that drivers should progress on their own merit rather than their gender.
However, she now sees other initiatives to address gender inequality, such as the Extreme-E’s stipulation that teams must field both a male and female driver per car, also as a good thing.
“I think that’s great,” she says. “Because now we’re given equal opportunity. Some will sink and some will swim. Then it’s like any form of competition, the cream rises to the top.
“I don’t think it’s right to use your gender. I’ve never asked for special treatment because I’m female and racing. I’ve just been trying to do the same thing that the guys do the whole time and be taken seriously doing it. So it’s not different [to that] and it’s not a gimmick.
“That’s what Extreme-E is doing in a way, they’re just making it equal. The good ones will all succeed and the other ones won’t. Simple.”
Legge recently sampled Extreme-E machinery herself on the invitation of Jenson Button, and doesn’t hold back her enthusiasm for the Odyssey 21 SUV. Could Legge drive for Button’s team? For now she’s just focused on securing her first international title with the teams she is confirmed with, in addition to looking at her long-term impact on motorsport.
“I still want to win races and win championships,” she says. “That’s my main focus and my main goal. I was gutted when I didn’t do Le Mans last year. I will race there, come hell or high water.
“But alongside that, I can have a legacy, right? You can just be a driver, then quit driving and go and do your own thing, or you can still have some involvement in racing.
“I will still want to have an involvement so my legacy I see is helping other young drivers be, like I said, to be the next Katherine or the next Rahel or next Simona [De Silvestro].
“That’s why, when I got older, became slightly less selfish and a little bit more mature, I joined the Women in Motorsport Commission because I wanted to leave a legacy, I wanted to do good things with my reputation and everything that I had.
“A lot of these young girls coming up, they want to be the best girl, and I think that’s absolute rubbish. They shouldn’t be fighting each other. They should be working together to figure out how to be better, so that they’d beat everybody, not just each other.