Rolex 24 Weekend to Feature Three Female Drivers The driving power attracted to race in the Rolex 24 at Daytona is directly proportional to the number of times the endurance classic is run. If you slept through your high school math courses and...
Rolex 24 Weekend to Feature Three Female Drivers
The driving power attracted to race in the Rolex 24 at Daytona is directly proportional to the number of times the endurance classic is run. If you slept through your high school math courses and haven't a clue what I'm talking about, just know that this year is the 45th running of the Rolex 24, and that means there will be a slate of celebrated throttle jockeys from all forms of motorsport. This includes NASCAR champions, Formula One pilots, Indy 500 winners and sports car veterans. But there's another type of driver not included in that list: the female driver. Three of them are entered to compete in the Rolex 24 and its compliment race, the Fresh From Florida 200.
The most celebrated of those women is arguably current Champ Car World Series driver Katherine Legge, who will drive the No. 84 Daytona Prototype with George Robinson, Wally Dallenbach and Paul Dallenbach in the Rolex 24. Legge started her car racing career in the British Formula Ford Zetec Championship before climbing her way to the Toyota Atlantic Series and finally Champ Car.
The second Rolex Series driver is regular Milka Duno, who will again drive the No. 11 SAMAX Motorsport Daytona Prototype in 2007, this time with Patrick Carpentier, Ryan Dalziel and Darren Manning. Duno began racing sports cars in her home country of Venezuela, and in 2005 and 2004 scored a total of three Daytona Prototype victories.
Finally, Valerie Limoges will again pilot the No. 4 Blackforest Motorsports Grand Sport car in the Rolex Series' support division, the Koni Challenge Series (formerly Grand-Am Cup). The Canadian raced in open-wheel cars -- including the Formula Renault Series -- before competing in the Koni Series in 2006 where she ended up 18th in the drivers' championship.
The reasons these drivers came to Grand-Am is as diverse as their backgrounds. Legge, like so many other drivers running only the Rolex 24, plans to use the race as a tune-up for her regular season. "Obviously it's great experience in the off season," she said. "And it's one of those races that I always wanted to do."
For Duno, the endurance classic's reputation keeps her coming back to Florida's East coast each January. "This is a very special race that every driver wants to make. It's a magic race," she said. "And I love the Daytona track; it's one of my favorite tracks. I'm quick here."
In the Koni Series, Limoges' decision to compete in Grand-Am was much simpler. "My boss, Tom Nastasi, asked me to race for him and that's what I do," she said.
Even with the various factors that bring them to Grand-Am, the three drivers agree mostly on one issue: they are no different than their co-drivers. They might be the opposite sex of their co-drivers but, when they get behind the wheel, their performance is all that defines them. Legge feels the strongest about this issue, and summarized it in one abrupt comment. "There is no difference [being a woman]," she said. "At the end of the day, I'm just another racecar driver."
Duno expanded on Legge's feelings. "For me it's not different, because I am a driver," Duno said. "I don't think that I'm a woman; I am a driver.... The important thing is not that you are a woman or a man. The important thing is how good you are in the same activity that the others [are] at."
Limoges takes a more reserved stance. "I've been racing for now ten years," she said. "I've been doing karting and all stuff like that, so I guess I'm used to that -- driving with boys."
These drivers might be used to driving with boys, but what if the two full-time sports car girls were able to co-drive with another female? Would this benefit Duno's and Limoges' performance? Duno isn't sure a female co-driver would have many benefits, "All time, since I started racing I've been driving with men," she said. "I have a good relation with the guys; I learn so much from them. I have no problem with it."
Limoges, however, thinks the possibility might be interesting. "I would like to drive with maybe a girl if it would happen, but we never know. There is not many girls that race."
Female co-drivers or not, these three drivers all have chances at Daytona glory. Those chances became clearer in early January when they turned laps at The World Center of Racing during the Daytona Test Days, the final official test before the Rolex 24 weekend. Even after her car ended up 23rd in the test, Legge thought her shot at victory was "as good as anybody else's." She explained, "It's a hell of a long race, so anything can happen and normally does. So I don't know. We'll see. It's really difficult to predict this race."
Duno remained a little more confident after her team's 17th test-ending position, "We must think we have a pretty good chance because that's the reason we are here."
Limoges, who never dipped out of the top seven in the sessions she ran at the test, gave the credit to her Mustang GT. "I think we have a very, very good car," she said. "The team have been working hard this winter to give me a good car."
What are these women's plans when the checkered flags fall on their January 26th and 27th races? For Legge, it's back to driving sans roof and fenders. "My focus is still on the Champ Car World Series, and that's what I'm going to be competing in this year," she said. "[But] for sure there are some races that I'd like to do outside of that, this [Rolex 24] being one of them."
For Duno, who will pilot the No. 11 Riley-Pontiac with Carpentier for the remainder of 2007, an elusive fourth win in the Rolex Series and ultimately her first championship seem to be the objects of her crosshairs. She undoubtedly hopes to improve on last year's 23rd place in the driver standings, this down from 8th in 2005.
Unlike Duno, the 23-year-old Limoges simply hopes to make the step up to the Rolex Series.
"Maybe not this year, but maybe next year or the one after," she said. "I'm still young, but I would really love to try at least to do the Rolex Series, that's for sure."