DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The first time she saw Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Katherine Legge knew it was where she wanted to be.
And what she wanted to do with her life.
Already established in open-wheel junior series Formula Atlantics in 2005, Legge watched the Indianapolis 500 from the stands above Turn 1. Like most people who witness the race for the first time, she was spellbound.
“I remember sitting up in the stands and thinking, ‘I want to do this more than anything else in the entire universe,’” she said. “It was the coolest thing. The energy of all of the people made it like it had its own personality. Every time I go back there, it still feels the same way.”
She’s about to go back to Indy to race for the fourth time in a long and diverse racing career, joining the 48-car field for the TireRack.com Battle on the Bricks next week in the No. 66 Gradient Racing Acura NSX GT3 with co-driver Sheena Monk. It will be Legge’s first run at IMS in a sports car after three Indy 500s, including the 107th running in May.
She’s not the only one in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship field who has raced at the venerable 114-year-old speedway this year. In August, Mike Rockenfeller competed in the NASCAR Cup Series race at IMS. He’ll join Tijmen van der Helm in the No. 5 JDC-Miller MotorSports Porsche 963 in the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class next weekend.
Other drivers in the Battle on the Bricks field have previous experience at IMS, including three – Sebastien Bourdais, Gabby Chaves and Jack Hawksworth – who have raced in the Indy 500.
Explaining Indianapolis Motor Speedway to the uninitiated can be difficult to explain.
“Unless you’ve experienced that kind of vibration (during the Indy 500), it’s difficult to put into words,” Legge said. “To get to go back and experience it again on the road course adds a whole other element to it. You always want to say you won at Indy. That’s one of the ones that looks really good on your resume.”
What is it about Indy that attracts racers? The answer is found in a 43-year-old native of Guildford, England, who settled in the U.S. and lived for a time in Indianapolis while pursuing her racing goals.
Indy encompasses everything that I love about American racing,” Legge explained. “I love the storied aspect of these tracks. You go to Road America, Watkins Glen, Daytona, Indy – these are places that were made famous by some of the greats in our sport. Their souls are still there in some way, shape or form. It’s got a soul of its own and a feeling of its own.”
Her thoughts echo those of the other drivers in the field – both those who have raced at IMS in the past and those who are about to race it for the first time.
“The fact that you’re racing the same bricks that Mario Andretti raced is just so cool!” Legge said. “We have the best job in the world. We’re very spoiled and fortunate but driving through the tunnel (to enter the infield) at Indy still gives me goosebumps.
“I grew up in England, thousands of miles away, knowing that the Indianapolis 500 was a big deal. It’s like Le Mans, Monaco and Bathurst.”
When she returns to Indianapolis, Legge is welcomed by fans and friends.
“The whole city is built around the motor speedway,” Legge said. “It is the city. Everybody there knows you. For me, it’s like going home. When I first came to the States, I did my growing up in Indianapolis. I call it home. I have friends there, and I can’t wait to see them again. Even when I get off the plane and I’m driving to the track, it feels familiar.”
Familiarity segues into versatility. For Legge, Indianapolis is morphing from a track she knows well to a track that’s about to show the breadth of her 24-year career. Her racing footprint includes stints as a Formula One test driver, Indy cars, Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM), Formula E and NASCAR – to name a few.
Now, Indianapolis welcomes her current home – IMSA – to the fold.
“Plenty of people have made long careers in sports cars,” she said. “If you’re a fan of racing and you have racing in your blood and you’re passionate about racing, you can drive anything. I embody that. I’m still racing after all this time. I’ve driven literally everything. I’ve probably got one of the most diverse careers on the grid. You name it, I’ve driven it.”
The race also is an opportunity for the WeatherTech Championship to show its versatility – and the versatility of its racers, who come from all backgrounds and genres.
“I love it,” Legge said. “I love the people, I love the racing and I love the cars. It’s really a community. We have some of the best racing on the planet. It’s a fun place to be and a serious place to be. … I’m blessed to be able to do this, honestly.”