Legge earns first career win in Long Beach

Legge earns first career win in Long Beach

With 15 rookies of 19 starters in today's Imperial Capital Bank Challenge that begins the Toyota Atlantic Challenge for the 2005 season, it was nearly inevitable a first-timer would claim the checkered flags. Katherine Legge. Photo by...

With 15 rookies of 19 starters in today's Imperial Capital Bank Challenge that begins the Toyota Atlantic Challenge for the 2005 season, it was nearly inevitable a first-timer would claim the checkered flags.

Katherine Legge.
Photo by Kurt Dahlstrom.
Katherine Legge, the 24-year-old from Northampton, England fought from seventh on the grid in her #12 PKV Racing Swift 014.a/Toyota/Yokohama machine to earn the first 2005 victory for PKV Racing, for Polestar Racing Group and, oh yes, for a woman competing in a major North American open wheel series since 1980. That's quite a drought.

"It was a long race," Legge admitted. "I didn't even think about winning; I just wanted to stay out of trouble. I had a good start and, when Rocky wanted to go I just let him take second because I knew, at that point I had enough car for him.

"I'm very thankful to Kevin Kalkhoven and PKV Racing for giving me this opportunity and awesomely grateful to Polestar. The biggest challenge I face at this point is in setting up the car. It's got more power, more downforce and more ground effects than anything I've ever driven."

Legge moved up quickly after a first-lap incident between second starter Andreas Wirth's #8 KBE/Profine/Wurges Windows & Doors Swift and the optimistic Tonis Kasemets, who tried to win the race from sixth on the grid in the first turn, driving the #6 Flexovit Abrasive Products/MK/TMI/Red Line Oil Swift.

Wirth was out on the spot, Kasemets continued while Legge moved up to fourth place while teammate and polesitter Antoine Bassette inherited the lead and began to pull out a clear advantage in his #3 Unik Auto Design Swift. By the end of the first lap, Bessette had built a 2.3-second advantage over the #10 Bahia/Natal/Santa Catarina Swift of Brazilian Fernando Rees, who began the race in third.

At that point Rocky Moran Jr. held third place in his #5 C2 King Taco/Trench Shoring Swift 014.a and was being caught by Legge. The seven- year veteran held his ground and passed Rees on the eighth lap, finding himself lagging Bessette by more than five seconds.

On lap 11 Legge clipped Rees in turn one and, while the Brazilian ended up in the tire wall, the Briton put her head down and set off for Moran Jr. and Bessette.

Antoine Bessette.
Photo by Todd Corzett.
Under yellow for their incident, the top five were Bessette, Moran Jr., Legge, Chris Dyson (#16 Thetford/Norcold Swift) and Charles Zwolsman, the initial polesitter who was moved to the rear when his #11 superior Warranty/Fleet Auto Sales Swift failed to pass post-qualifying inspection.

Green flew once more on lap 15 but caution flags waved at once when Kyle Kelley missed the braking point for turn one and plunked himself in the tire wall. At the same time Kasemets, who had continued to run by stopped on the front stretch.

The Champ Car safety team tried to restart Kelley, but were unable to do so. Green flag running ensued on lap 18 and Legge fell prey to Moran Jr., who passed her for second place. Katherine shadowed the veteran and, when he went to pass Bessette for the lead, she followed him through.

On the 30th of 32 laps Moran Jr. slowed, putting Legge in front but she had no easy time running to the close as Bessette caught but could not pass his squadmate. Katherine Legge took the checkered flags by a margin of 0.507 seconds over Bessette and the amazing Zwolsman claimed the third podium slot after starting 19th and last.

Bessette shrugged off the loss to Legge. "I'm very happy with my performance and the performance of my car," the French Canadian offered. Zwolsman agreed his weekend was "a rollercoaster ride. I was up and down and up and down. Now I went up and that was most important. I was passing in every corner," the Huntington Beach resident said, "and the other drivers didn't block."

Dyson finished fourth while Justin Sofio took the victory in C2, fifth overall with his #15 Bare Elegance/Valley Ball Swift to repeat in this race. "I'm just glad to have the same sponsors on board and it's a good feeling to be sitting here with these guys," the former mechanic said.

Not only was Katherine Legge's victory an important one for women in motorsports, but she gave Kevin Kalkhoven his first victory as a team owner - and series co-owner - in Champ Car.

"Hopefully this will encourage more young girls to get into the sport," Legge said with diplomacy. Maybe this will encourage more young ladies with the talent and moxie of Katherine Legge to race to win.

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