Katherine Legge's 2012 season has not gone according to plan, let alone dream. As Legge said last week during an interview at Iowa Speedway: "nothing's ever easy, right?" But struggle is nothing new for Legge, who says she's "always had to fight as hard as I can for what I’ve done, and it’s been really hard. And sometimes I think I’m stupid for pursuing it at all costs."
And of course all female drivers face the gender factor, with its blessing-and-curse impacts. Being a woman in a male-dominated sport is perhaps the ultimate differentiator and can greatly help attract the sponsor attention needed to survive. But it can also bring undercurrent of fan vulgarity and an oversized portion of negative scrutiny.
I interviewed Katherine by phone January 2011 when she became a Woman of pressdog®, having just returned to America to look for a ride in IndyCar. (Read the interview story here.) Last week at Iowa Speedway I finally met her, fresh from a morning of testing.
I found Katherine to be generous with her time, plainspoken and relaxed. Her philosophical moments mixed with flashes of classic English wit and glimpses of battle scars earned during 20 years of racing across several continents.
During our discussion in the Iowa Speedway garages, Katherine Legge talked about life so far, including her Indy rookie orientation and first big oval at Texas, how she deals with criticism and her new role as the defacto mentor/big sister of the six-woman TrueCar Racing Team.
pressdog: Welcome to Iowa. What do you think of Iowa Speedway?
Katherine Legge: It's pretty alien to me. When I did Indy that was huge deal and Texas was another real strange thing having not done ovals before and then coming here with it being so short and everything it was again a little strange, but you take a few laps and get up to speed and it is what it is. But I like it. I think I'm really happy we got to test, because we've done a lot in these last couple of days that we needed to do. I'm very happy with the way it went.
pressdog: I want to talk to you about Indy, Texas and a little bit about TrueCar. So tell me about Indy. We were all watching Timing and Scoring for the little six dot to go out ... were you kind of nervous or ..
Katherine: It was a really difficult build-up to Indy because of the engine situation and everything. We didn’t know what was happening and it was just we want to get out, we want to get out, we want to get out because time is so valuable and we haven’t had any time in the car this year. No testing or anything like that. I think I was more apprehensive just to get out and get in the car and get some laps underneath me because Indy is such a big deal.
Mentally as well, you feel much more comfortable if you’ve been driving around it all month. We didn’t have that luxury. It was very last minute which has been the story of the whole year. I think that I was nervous just because I wanted to do well, not nervous because of the driving side. Although having said that, when I did go out for rookie orientation Sebastian gets out of my car and says, “She shouldn’t be driving that, not for rookie orientation; it’s just going to scare her.” There was something wrong with the car.
pressdog: That’s what I heard.
Katherine: I go out and I’m driving around going holy shit. Literally thinking I don’t know whether I’ve got the balls to do this, this is scary; but then when they found what was wrong with the car, with the undertray, basically hitting the ground and taking away all the downforce, of course when they fixed that I went out and I went, okay, this is more normal to me and it’s all good. It wasn’t the same feeling. After that and I had a lot of faith in the car, the team, the engineers -- we had Neal (Fife), Brandon (Thomas), and Craig Hampson all are at Indy and that was fricking awesome. That was probably the strongest engineering of any team there. We’re really happy with that. Then we really played it too safe and ran a lot of downforce. We had under-steer in the race. We’ve always been erring toward the side of understeer just because it’s easier to deal with than oversteer, especially for a rookie.
Yeah, we made progress in the race. I think we were doing quite well until about two-thirds of the way through, and then I had a pick-up problem. At every restart basically it just wouldn’t pick-up and go. I would always lose all those places. When it was up to speed it fine, but getting up to speed it was like we were trying all the different engine maps and everything to combat it and we couldn’t find anything. That was a shame.
pressdog: Was Indy what you expected? You talked about growing up with Indy and thinking about Indy, was it what you expected?
Katherine: Yes and no. I guess no because when I first went out ..nothing prepares you for Indy. You can watch it all you like. You can drive it on a simulator. You can drive it on practice. But nothing prepares you for the first time in the tunnel with 32 other cars. It’s crazy. Nothing really prepares you for the track. It’s a different experience. It’s an ultimate dream. It was what I expected and it wasn’t what I expected. It’s just difficult to explain.
pressdog: You got treated to a big dose of the Indy, the pre-hype with the all the appearances, and with the car. Was that taxing or was it expected or …
Katherine: Yeah, I was expecting that. Yeah, I was expecting that. It was taxing, but it’s part of it and it’s good that you have to realize that it’s part of what enables you to drive, right? If it wasn’t for the fans and the media then there would be no reason for us to go run around in circles all day. (Laughter) Yeah, it was mentally hard, but it was okay. I think I handled that side of it pretty well.
pressdog: So at Texas your weight jacker was broken? Is that what I heard?
Katherine: Back to Indy for one second .. I wanted to say that I don’t think I took it in and enjoyed it as much as I probably should have just because I was very conscious of the fact, just keep my blinkers on and not let that affect it. You’re standing on the grid and there’s 300,000 people or whatever it is, there’s “Back Home Again In Indiana” playing and you see it all, and it’s a frickin’ big deal. It’s amazing.
I thought okay, I’m going to enjoy it after. I am going to remember what it was like. I am going to enjoy all this. I’ve got to think about all these things that were really new to me and I have to focus on that I haven’t experienced before. It’s not like you can have a block them from your subconscious and go, okay this is what happens in this situation. I was really having to be on guard. Yeah, I think next year maybe I’ll enjoy it more because I’ll be more relaxed about it.
pressdog: You want have the last second rush. Hopefully that you did this year.
pressdog: What’s Texas like with no weight jacker? No wing and no weight jacker?
Katherine: Texas for us was a bit of a disaster up until the race. After qualifying we threw the kitchen sink at the car. It was horrible to drive. Neil the engineer said OK I think I know what it is now and I’m going to change it and I’ll be back tomorrow. I was like okay. I was thinking okay, I hope he is right. And he was right. The car was so much better to drive and felt more balanced and everything. What we’ve done was we were really shy on front wing. We should have started with four times more front wing than we had. To lose the weight jacker so earlier on, it was lap ten or something, you had no way of counteracting that understeer. We kept on adding front weight at all the stops, but I was at the same pace as the rest of the field for maybe six laps when new tires went out. As soon as the tires started going away, we took just massive, massive understeer. I couldn’t do anything to counteract that because I was fully maxed out on my bars.
Without the weight jacker I was screaming in the radio that I need my weight jacker because I had just to lift to turn the car. The more you lift, the slower you go. That was really hard just getting out of everyone’s way. It’s really hard because you know you’ve got a good car and if you just had your tools you’d be okay. If we had started Texas the way we finished, wing-wise with the weight jacker, I think we would have been competitive which was good, it was positive moving forward.
pressdog: Now you’re in Iowa. I wanted to talk to you about TrueCar. I know all about team, the six women (more here), are you kind of the … your nickname was the "mother hen" in the Brant James article?
Katherine: (Laughter) Yeah. I don't think I like that. I'm not that old ...
pressdog: What are you, the leader of the pack? Do they look at you as the mentor of the group or what’s the dynamic there?
Katherine: I don’t know. I guess they say they do. I guess I’d rather not be known like that. It makes me feel old, and I’m not old. I think that there’s a lot different of personalities involved with all six girls, which is a good thing. If everybody was the same it would be boring. Right? Obviously if any of them have anything that they want to talk to me about they can call me anytime, and I will try to support them and help them and give them advice from my perspective. I know that they would do the same the other way around. I think that it’s like a team within a team. I have my race team and then I have the TrueCar team, and it is the same as having a team. Some are better than others. Some are closer to you than others. It’s just the same kind of dynamic.
pressdog: You’re obviously the most experienced driver. What kinds of things do they ask, do they seem to want from you or ask you about?
Katherine: They haven’t really. I’ve been busy. We all have the same driver coach in Mike Zimicki, so it’s really easy for them to go direct to Mike and ask Mike a question. They are very welcome to ask to me whatever they want whenever they want. I speak to some of them occasionally about just random stuff like okay what about this, what about that? What should I do in this situation? I think the thing is in my career, I’ve been through so much. I’ve always had to fight as hard as I can for what I’ve done, and it’s been really hard. And sometimes I think I’m stupid for pursuing it at all costs. I think that for sure I can definitely say been there, done that, got the t-shirt and if any of them need to ask from my perspective what to do in any given situation, that’s probably where I would be most beneficial.
pressdog: A year ago we talked, now that was like two years ago, you were chasing the ride and I think you've since said it was harder than you expected. Now you’re at this point, is it still evolving because you have had your team, your Lotus problems, and some of the issues with Indy, is it still a work in progress?
Katherine: Yeah. Nothing’s ever easy, right? I thought with having the TrueCar backing and having it done -- okay it wasn’t done early it was kind of late -- but I thought I would have a really decent shot at being competitive and things never work out the way you want them to because having been out of the car for four years or more, I needed testing. We didn’t get testing, and that’s the thing that’s hurt us most. Even today (at Iowa Speedway) it’s been half the benefit just to go six or seven in and out laps. So you know where the limit of your car is, you’re not scared to push it because you don’t want to ward it up on a race weekend. Little things like that with the new car, testing the different parts of the new car, running it through a test schedule, it gives you so much more confidence, the team so much more confidence and overall speed.
I thought, we’re probably not even going to end this year the way that I would have like to have started it, which it’s not right, but I hope that the powers of me being TrueCar and Jay and Dragon, then we’ll have a really comprehensive test done this winter and then next year we can’t be competitive. Because in every lap out at the moment we’re learning. We should have done that to a certain extent before St. Pete. I know that down to the Lotus situation. It’s definitely not where I want to be. It opens you up to all kinds of criticism and everything when people see the result, they don’t see the reason for it. You have to be very mentally strong. It is what it is and do the best you can.
pressdog: Is that something you’re good at, being mentally strong?
Katherine: It is now.
pressdog: We know all the criticism that you’ve taken and that the women take in general.
Katherine: I don’t even look at it anymore. I really don’t. I think I read something from Ashley Judd today that was really interesting. She said to have criticism take any effect, or something like that, then you need to respect the person’s opinion. All I can do is go to the people that I respect and ask them their opinion. How I am doing? What do need to get there? How do we do it better? They’re the ones who know what’s going on and they know where we should be in relation to everybody else because of all the testing etc, etc. All I do is listen to those people. The other people I just block out. I don’t read it. I don’t look at it. I don’t stress about it. I just do the best job I can do.
It’s maturity as well. Then I first was in Champ Car for example and everybody was comparing me to Danica or you know lots of stuff going on. I did let it get to me a little bit. I did read some of it. After that I think you just come to the realization that it’s just not going to do you any good. Nothing positive can come from that because it’s not coming from people that actually (know what is going on) most of the time. I guess you think, oh well, people ... It is what it is.
pressdog: When you got back in open-wheel cars -- this is my last question -- after four years was there any doubt? Did you doubt yourself or have I still got it or any of those kinds of moments?
Katherine: Yeah, for sure my confidence has taken a bit of a bruising this year. I don’t think that I ever doubted that I got it. I think that I deep down I believe in myself. It’s just confidence breeds confidence and results breed confidence. You need to always reassure yourself, I guess. Deep down I believe I can do it, but I was a little bit too conservative or tentative and days like today really help confidence because you realize that so far we’re quickest. We can take that and move you forward and I can do the out laps and I can do the in laps and they are OK compared to everybody. I think it’s just been a while since I got some results, but it’s still there inside me somewhere.
Katherine Legge will race at Iowa Speedway this weekend. Tickets here.
For more on Katherine Legge, visit katherinelegge.com.