KATHERINE LEGGE MAKES HISTORY WHILE WINNING TOYOTA ATLANTIC SEASON OPENER ON STREETS OF LONG BEACH LONG BEACH, California (April 10, 2005) -- An epic battle on the streets of Long Beach ended with a history-making win for rookie Katherine...
KATHERINE LEGGE MAKES HISTORY WHILE WINNING TOYOTA ATLANTIC SEASON OPENER ON STREETS OF LONG BEACH
LONG BEACH, California (April 10, 2005) -- An epic battle on the streets of Long Beach ended with a history-making win for rookie Katherine Legge (#12 PKV Racing) as the talented British female racer captured the checkered flag in the 2005 Toyota Atlantic Championship Presented by Yokohama season opener on Sunday.
Legge, a 24-year-old who hails from Northampton, England, started seventh in her Atlantic debut but she rose quickly through the field and took advantage of a late technical problem by race leader Rocky Moran Jr. (#5 King Taco/Trench Shoring) to seize her first series win. With the victory, Legge becomes the first woman to win a major open-wheel race in North America.
"What a fantastic race and I'm just so happy for my team. They did an unbelievable job," said Legge, who joined Polestar Racing Group in March. "I don't think this has quite sunk in yet."
The win by Legge capped a brilliant race by the 19-car Toyota Atlantic field, comprised mainly of rookie drivers. Legge's Polestar teammate Antoine Bessette (#3 Unik Auto Design) started from the pole in the 32-lap Imperial Capital Bank Challenge for the Toyota Atlantic Championship (tape-delayed broadcast on SPEED Channel - Saturday, April 16 at 2 p.m. ET). Bessette was able to stay clear of an incident at the green flag that involved Andreas Wirth (#8 KBE/Profine/Wurges Windows and Doors), who started second, and Tonis Kasemets (#6 Flexovit Abrasives/MK ind./TMI/Redline Oil), who lined up sixth at the start. Wirth was forced to retire as a result of the contact while Kasemets lasted 15 laps before his day was done.
Moran, the California native who made his fifth career Atlantic start at Long Beach Sunday, moved up from fifth position to the second place by the eighth lap. Despite running a C2 class entry that features pre-existing Atlantic equipment, Moran ran up front with the championship-class competitors all weekend.
Legge and Brazilian rookie Fernando Rees (#10 Bahia/Natal/Santa Catarina) got together in Turn 1 on the 12th lap and Rees, who started third, got the worst of the exchange as he was forced to park his car as a result of the contact. Legge continued on, although it appeared that her car suffered slight damage. The Polestar team hoped that Legge's machine wasn't too negatively affected as they had spent much of the night fixing the car after the young Brit hit the wall during Saturday qualifying.
Everything turned out to be fine on Legge's entry as she settled into an entertaining and tight chase up front with Bessette and Moran. All three drivers took turns leading the race in the final seven laps. With just three laps remaining, Moran was out front but facing heavy pressure from both Legge and Bessette. A mechanical problem forced Moran into the runoff area in Turn 1 as his dream day ended in heartbreak, just a few miles short of his third career series victory.
Legge was there to pounce after Moran's misfortune but she continued to feel the heat from her teammate. Bessette kept closing on his Polestar partner but with a nifty bit of driving Legge managed to fight back the charge, winning by just .507 over the St. Bruno, Quebec racer at the finish line.
European racer Charles Zwolsman (#11 Condor Motorsports) completed an emotional rollercoaster of a weekend by finishing on the podium in his series debut. Zwolsman's car failed post-qualifying technical inspection Saturday after he
appeared to capture the pole position in his first Atlantic race. After starting from the back of the field due to the infraction, Zwolsman ran an incredible race, moving steadily up through the field to finish third for Condor Motorsports.
Established sports car veteran Chris Dyson (#16 Thetford/Norcold) also turned in a good performance as he carded a fourth-place finish is his first Atlantic street race. Local driver Justin Sofio (#15 Bare Elegance/Valley Ball) won the C2 class for the second straight year as we wound up fifth overall. Sofio, who hails from nearby Arleta, California, led all eight C2 entries this weekend.
Dan Cobb (#9 Camelot Construction) also had a strong debut, finishing sixth overall and second in the C2 category. In the seventh position, Dan Selznick (#49 The Room Store) recorded his best career Atlantic result while rookie Kyle Kelley (#24 UP Racing.com/Pauline's Antiques/Toyota of Huntington Beach/T. Christy) made his first series start and wound up eighth for McAtee Motorsports. Rookie Mark Ishikakawa (#71 Bay TSP) crossed the line ninth as Ishikawa Racing made its maiden Atlantic voyage and Moran wound up 10th in the final rundown.
Legge will carry a slim one-point lead in the championship over Bessette (32-31) into the second round of the Toyota Atlantic Championship Presented by Yokohama. The Atlantics return to the track May 20-22 in Monterrey, Mexico at the Tecate/Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix.
ATLANTIC RACE NOTES
* Bessette earned a bonus point for turning the fastest race lap of the weekend. He carded a quick time of 1:19.062 late in the race.
* Legge's win is believed to be the first victory by a female racer in a major open-wheel event since South African Desire Wilson won at Brand Hatch in the F1 Aurora Series in 1980.
* Today's victory marked the first time that a driver has won in their Atlantic debut since 2002 when Jon Fogarty won at Monterrey, Mexico.
Quotes from the top three finishers of today's race, and Rocky Moran Jr., follow:
KATHERINE LEGGE (#12 PKV Racing): Started seventh on the grid. "There were a few full-course yellows and it was a long race. I knew I had time. I didn't even think about winning, just wanted to stay out of trouble. I had a good start. I just let Rocky (Moran Jr.) go. I knew I had enough car for him. It's been a life-long ambition of mine to be sitting in this spot. I'm very thankful to Kevin Kalkhoven and PKV Racing for giving me this opportunity. I'm awesomely grateful to Polestar (Racing Group). For a few corners, I was concerned (after contact with FERNANDO REES (#10 Bahia/Natal/Santa Catarina) in Turn 1 on lap 12). I thought I might have more damage than I did. But I just had a bit more understeer. The biggest challenge I face is setting up the car. It's not sunk in yet that I've made history but, hopefully, it will encourage more young girls to get into the sport. (When leader ROCKY MORAN JR. (#5 King Taco/Trench Shoring) slowed on lap 30), I actually thought he made a mistake and missed the line. I thought, 'Yeah.' I don't compare myself against anybody else. I'm my own person. Champ Car is my aim and Toyota Atlantic is the best platform for that."
ANTOINE BESSETTE (#3 Unik Auto Design): "I'm very happy with my performance and the performance of my car. The track was excellent. I wish it had stayed green (he had built a big lead to start the race). I was trying to stay clean (throughout the race) and I think I did. For me, I think it was a good start. I think somebody touched me, but it was no problem. I had bad luck with traffic (on lap 27 when Moran Jr. and Legge passed him). I got off line to get around traffic and both the cars behind me had a good line and got past me. No, I don't think I touched her (in Turn 11 on the final lap). I would have put a lot of pressure on her with one more lap."
CHARLES ZWOLSMAN (#11 Condor Motorsports): Started 19th when his car did not pass tech inspection after qualifying and finished third. "It's been a roller coaster. I was up and down and up and down. Now, I went up and that was most important. It was quite difficult (moving up) but the guys in the back helped me. They didn't block. I was passing in every corner. The yellows helped out. I got to the front, but I couldn't get close enough to pass Antoine and Katherine."
ROCKY MORAN JR. (#5 King Taco/Trench Shoring): Was leading when a mechanical problem ended his day late in the race. "It's kind of a double-edged sword. To go out with two-and-a-half laps to go while leading is tough -- it's the kind of stuff you read about. But I'm happy we ran so well and went from first to fifth. It was a great race with a lot of passes and we had fun out there. I'd rather be leading and break down then not be running well and stuck in fifth or sixth place."