When Katherine Legge competes this weekend in the Sahlen's Six Hours of the Glen at Watkins Glen International, she will have two missions at the fabled Finger Lakes Region road course.
The first will be to be on the podium for the third straight year. The second will be to bring a greater awareness to increasing and developing the participation of more women in auto racing.
The Sahlen's Six Hours of the Glen is part of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The Michelin Pilot Challenge, the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama and the Lamborghini Super Trofeo also will take place at the Glen.
Legge, a native of Great Britain, competes in the GTD class of the IMSA WeatherTech series. She will compete in the No. 57 Heinricher Racing with Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3. The team will feature an all-female co-driving lineup of Legge, Denmark's Christina Nielsen and Brazil's Bia Figueiredo. Nielsen is a two-time IMSA GTD season points champion, and Figueiredo was the first woman to win a race in the Indy Lights series.
Legge won the GTD class of the Sahlen's event in 2017, then co-driving with Andy Lally. Last season, she finished second in the same class at the Glen while paired with Alvaro Parente.
Legge and her 2019 teammates stress that the all-female aspect of their racing venture is no gimmick and that it has a much higher purpose. They want to be taken as serious racers, which has not always been the case.
"I'm driving for the same crew as I have the last three years," Legge said. "Last year, Jackie Heinricher of Heinricher Racing came to me and said she wanted to put an all-female team together. I said 'Okay, and can we put together the best female sports car drivers in the world on this car?' so that's what Jackie did.
"We partnered with [Meyer Shank Racing], and it's Jackie's team and Mike [Shank] runs the car, and we've got the best equipment that I've grown accustomed to now. We are no different than the guys and we should be treated equally. It's been kind of a change in views that we're definitely trying to send a message to get more young girls involved in racing and trying to showcase female talent within the sport.
"But also, in the same respect, we're just doing what the guys do. This is not a gimmick or I would not be involved. Rather, we want to spearhead an awareness of getting females involved."
During October's IMSA season finale, Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, Heinricher — buoyed by sponsorship from Caterpillar — announced her all-female team. It is the only all-female team competing in the IMSA WeatherTech series.
Heinricher, a Seattle native, also drives race cars on occasion. She is an Air Force veteran, scientist and founder of a biotech company. Over many years of observing racing, Heinricher grew tired of watching top female talent leave the United States, seeking better opportunities in Europe.
"I am honored to partner with Caterpillar and to have their support," Heinricher said. "My vision has long been to bring together a diverse team of females, some of the fastest globally, to join forces to compete together. And with the support of Caterpillar, I get to see my long held vision become reality. "
The best finish for the Heinricher team through four WeatherTech events this season is eighth place at the Twelve Hours of Sebring in March. The team is eighth in GTD points.
Other 2019 GTD results include a season-opening 12th-place run in the January Rolex 24 at Daytona, in which due to the length of the race, featured Swiss IndyCar veteran female racer Simona de Silvestro in the team's co-driver lineup.
Following Sebring, in the short event May 5 at Mid-Ohio, Legge and Nielsen drove to 10th place. In the most recent IMSA outing at Detroit on June 1, Legge and Nielsen placed ninth.
Legge believes their results are deceptive because the car has been strong on track.
"We've had some really bad luck," Legge said. "We've been taken out of a number of races. I was actually leading Sebring for awhile and then we got hit. At Mid-Ohio, we got hit and sustained damage. We were running in the top four throughout the race in Detroit and got taken out near the end. We've had the speed and the car, but bad luck for whatever reason, and being taken out has plagued us this year. We've had the car to do it."
Last season, the MSR team, due primarily to funding issues, originally planned on entering Legge's team in a small portion of the schedule. When Legge, driving with various co-drivers, collected a win, three seconds and an eighth in the first five races of 2018, and was second in WeatherTech points by a single point, co-owners Mike Shank and Jim Meyer found ways to run the remaining full schedule.
Legge eventually placed second in the final GTD standings by four points. The Paul Miller Racing championship Lamborghini team featuring co-drivers Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow were first.
"It was on a race-by-race basis for sure, until we found the rest of the money," Legge said. "It came down to the wire and down to the last race, and we just fell short of the championship, but between Mike Shank, Jim Meyer and Acura, they put the program together and we got funded for the whole year. I think that if we hadn't been doing well, they would not have continued to fund it. It was one of those years where everyone bonded together and tried to do something special."
Legge has built confidence off of her recent string of success at Watkins Glen and will carry it into the Sahlen's endurance test.
"The success I've had recently at Watkins Glen was just not me," Legge said. "I love the track. I love the six-hour format. I've had a great car with my Acura NSX and a whole team of good people behind me with Meyer Shank Racing. This year, I'm back with Meyer Shank Racing, but also under the Heinricher Racing banner with our all-female team, so I have a really good driver lineup again and a great car again, and so I don't see any reason why it will be any different this year.
"The last two years at Watkins Glen, I had the best teammates I could have ever wished for with Andy and Alvaro. I've got great teammates for this year also."
The Sahlen's Six Hours of the Glen will get the green flag at 9:45 a.m. Sunday. The WeatherTech classes competing in the six-hour affair are Daytona Prototype International (DPI)l, LMP2, GT Le Mans and GT Daytona.
In other racing this weekend, the four-hour Michelin Pilot Challenge Tioga Downs Casino Resort 240 at the Glen is at 1:55 p.m. Saturday. Porsche 45-minute races are 2 p.m. Friday and 9:20 a.m. Saturday. Two 50-minute Lamborghini events are set, the first at 4:25 p.m. Friday and the second at 10:25 a.m. Saturday.