Katherine Legge racing from behind
Danica Patrick is missing from the Brickyard this year while she pursues her NASCAR dreams. But Katherine Legge, an Indianapolis 500 rookie and the first woman to win a major open-wheel race in North America, isn't concerned about that. She was missing something more crucial that could impact her performance Sunday.
Less than two weeks before the Indianapolis 500, Legge's checklist looked like this:
Flame-retardant suit: Check
Due to legal issues surrounding what brand of engine would be under Legge's hood during the race, she was missing one of the most important parts of a driver's arsenal.
According to an Associated Press report, Legge's team, Dragon Racing, sued engine manufacturer Lotus for at least $4.6 million, claiming Lotus damaged Dragon Racing's reputation by spreading "especially outrageous" falsehoods about it while also not delivering two chassis and hurting its ability to be competitive.
Dragon Racing then sought to move to Chevrolet in time for the Indy 500. It reached an agreement with Lotus to do so only 10 days before the race, greatly reducing practice time for Legge and teammate Sebastien Bourdais.
"We didn't know what engine we would get and if we would get one on time," said Legge, 31. "There was a lot of legal wrangling and my teammate and myself didn't really know what was going on in the end. But ultimately other teams gained an advantage and got to be on the track practicing for six days before we got an engine."
Legge got only two hours of practice time -- one hour each before qualifying last Saturday and Sunday. Still, she made the field and will start from 30th position.
Not having an engine before such a significant race could make almost anyone blow a gasket, but not Legge. Known for her winning personality with fans, she spoke about the problem as casually as you would about forgetting your keys in the front door.
"Now that we have a Chevrolet-powered [engine], I'm super-happy we have gotten to this stage," Legge said. "We've got the power we need to be successful on the track."
Chevrolet engines won the first four races of the IndyCar season, thanks to Team Penske.
After not having much practice and being a rookie in the field, Legge doesn't see herself winning the Indianapolis 500 but said "anything could happen."
In last year's Indianapolis 500, rookie JR Hildebrand crashed into the wall on the final lap while seemingly headed to victory.
"My biggest fear is not having a good result," Legge said. "If I finished outside of the top 12 or 15, I wouldn't be satisfied."
Of the three women racing Sunday -- Legge, Simona de Silvestro and Ana Beatriz -- Legge could be the first to cross the finish line. She enters the race just two points behind de Silvestro of HVM Racing. Legge starts one row in front of the Swiss driver, who's been having trouble reaching top speeds.
Although Patrick is not present, the women in this year's race are still chasing her 2009 third-place finish, the best finish for a woman in the Indianapolis 500.
"The Indianapolis 500 is a very difficult and big stage to learn," said Bharat Naran, Dragon Racing's team manager. "The length of the race, and the concentration level that racers have to keep, is probably the most critical part of Indianapolis. Here, a small mistake is a big mistake and there is no room to make mistakes."
By securing an engine and getting power under the hood, Legge and Dragon Racing have one big mistake out of the way. Things can only rev up from here to the green flag on Sunday.