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12/29/2011

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It would be nice to think that we don't care about the gender of the driver in a race car, that all we care about is their ability to (safely) win races. But that's simply not the case and that's not going to change until there are just as many women finishing in the top ten, winning races, and taking their share of championships as men.

As you point out, Danica was regularly in the hunt, and usually finished in the top ten. But because she was the only woman who regularly finished in the top ten, her team and her team's sponsors got a lot more exposure than they would have if it had been a (good looking) guy behind the wheel. She was great for her sponsors on the track, and because she was a very good looking woman, who wasn't afraid of the occasional sexy photo, and was good at handling the media she was also great for her sponsors when it came to product advertising, events, etc. I'm willing to bet you that if asked the booking agents for any of the late night talk show programs (ex: Leno), which professional race drivers they'd prefer to have on their show, Danica would be in their top three list and would probably be number one on the list except at the end of the year when the champion was crowned. At the start of next season I'd bet serious money that Danica will get more requests to go on big name TV talk shows than Dario will - unless he agrees to bring his wife :).

So while I'd prefer to live in a world where the gender of the driver didn't matter, I know that in the real world, Indy is going to need to find somebody to replace Danica, not just as a driver, but as a "star". And as you've pointed out, that's going to be a very hard thing to do.

I think you are completely wrong. If you put Simona Pippa or perhaps Anna in a better funded car like Danica had, they would compete for wins as well. I too have met Katherine Legge when she was in Champ Car, and she is a racer, and is qualified to race with the likes of anyone in IndyCar. There is a pretty large gap betwen the well funded teams of Penske, Ganassi and everyone else.

I would like to remined you that Champcar and touring cars are much more chalanging machines to race then irl cars and further more there is a team and old cars that K Legge had to work with. Racing for Andretti Honda team and have nothing to show for it when Cart guys came over. With new car Danica would not do much as she did not do anything in Atlantics. Beside cute there is nothing there. K Legge will not win championship or a single race but I'm sure she will be better then 1/4 of today line up of Indycar drivers and should have chance.Indycar going backwords is do more with a new slow car then any female driver.

Thought I'd be the hundredth or so but it seems not.

Cha-Cha and Denise McCluggage were FAR before Janet; Michele Mouton and Monique Proulx and Desire about the same time and what aboot Lela Lambardi and Maria Teresa De Filippis.

Janet was "just" a name, Shirley WON CHAMPIONSHIPS!!

Gung hay fat choy.

Mr. McDonald, you say your column has nothing to do with Katherine Legge as a person, but it is so methodically slanted to belittle her that it doesn't seem to have much to do with Legge as a racing driver, either. I grant you, she doesn't have a very long or a very impressive record at high levels of racing and on paper you could perhaps be forgiven for claiming (albeit wrongly) that she already had her audition and didn't make the cut. But explicitly comparing Legge with Milka Duno and Marty Roth would be slanderous if it weren't so patently preposterous. Duno and Roth were regularly "retired" by officials for being so far off the pace they posed a hazard, and in a combined 64 Indycar races, neither had a single top 10 finish. In just 22 Champ Car races, Legge had 6 top 10 finishes. She finished on the lead lap many other times, and even led 12 laps (at Milwaukee), which makes two other achievements neither Duno nor Roth ever managed. Legge struggled, to be sure, in her first year, and spun or made contact too often, but she also did not drive for one of the strongest teams either. Yet, despite her inexperience in the very complex and difficult-to-drive Champ Cars (compared to IRL cars), she had 4 top-10 finishes (actually you can make that 5, umofficially, as I'll explain later). In 2007 she managed to keep with the pace of the field but had terrible luck with mechanical failures. When she did finish in 2006, it may not have been top 10, but it was on the lead lap (and she did manage 2 more top 10s). You may discount her 3 Atlantics wins, but it's a better win total in her 1 season there than either Pippa Mann or Ana Beatriz had (not to mention plenty of male drivers) in twice that time in Lights. And Roth spent 10 YEARS in various versions of Indy Lights and never won a single race!

But the point I am trying to make is no better illustrated than at Road America in 2006, where she earned every possible chance to prove herself before being cast aside. Remember that race, Mr. McDonald? That awful, scary crash that brought out a red flag, when her rear wing broke going into the fastest corner on the course, when she plowed into the earthen embankment at 160 mph and the car disintegrated and tumbled so wildly and violently that most spectators feared how just terribly she was injured, if in fact she wasn't dead. Minutes later, microphones shoved in her face, she smiled and declared she'd like to jump back in a car and finish the race. Now, THAT's a racer. Remember that? Of course you do.

What you may not remember is that when that crash occurred she was battling for 5th place with just 6 laps to go. That would have been another top 10-finish, maybe even a top 5. Oh, and the driver she was battling with? Oriol Servia; you know, one of those oh-so-deserving unemployed drivers you insist should get a ride long before the likes of Katherine Legge. That race she qualified solidly in the top 10 and ran there all day, and with just a little luck she would have gotten pretty darn close that podium you mention. This is the driver you would smear by comparing to possibly the two worst drivers in the history of Indy cars? Before you trash her so cruelly, give the gal a chance to prove whether or not she can really hack it. She's earned at least that much, and then some.

I forgot to mention that, whether you think she deserves to be or not, Legge was, in fact, on the same track with Paul Tracy, Oriol Servia, Justin Wilson, Will Power and Graham Rahal over those two full Champ Car seasons, and she held her own.

Katherine's not as bad as Duno or Roth. However, I'm annoyed at your treatment of Simona. She's much better than Danica. She finished 4th at St Pete, and if you put her in Danica's car - I know that she'd have got better results than Danica, particularly since the Series has taken a swing towards the road/street courses that Simona excels on and Danica doesn't. Danica's the only woman to have got a good ride so it's not really fair to compare - when she was at Rahal Letterman, a much better team at the time than HVM are now - Simona's results are about the same as Danica's. The reason Danica has got more attention is that she's A)American, B) her best result came at Indy C)She uses her sex appeal to get more attention.

At the risk of going overboard on the point, as far as "never got near the podium" that's also not strictly true. At Vegas in 2007, she ran in the top 10 and even the top 5 most of the day, and was running 3rd as late as 9 laps to go, but a late fuel stop put her finish at 6th. Top 3 with under 10 to go; that's getting pretty darn near the podium. Her chances in 4 races in 2007 were ruined by other drivers: Will Power ill-advisedly dive-bombed her with an already-bent car at Surfer's Paradise, Dan Clarke punted her & cut her tire in San Jose & the flat put her in the wall (Clarke was suspended from the next race for putting both Legge & Justin Wilson out), Jani slammed the door hard on her when she had her front wheels in trying to retake 8th at Houston, taking them both out, and she got collected in a first-lap chain reaction pile-up that took out 4 other cars in Toronto. Her mechanical DNFs included engine failure, clutch/differential, and even a pit fire! Considering she was knocked out of more more than half the 2007 races by through no fault of her own, the most anyone can say about Legge is that she never really got a chance to show what she can do. But in her 22 races the 6 top 10s and 2 more retirements while running there three-quarters or more through the race proves she's got enough ability and potential to be given a fair chance. Who really cares what she did in rally cars? (FYI, some former F1 stars haven't done very well there, either). You may not agree, but I think you owe Ms. Legge an apology.

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