Indianapolis 500 preview: Will this be the Year of the Woman?
INDIANAPOLIS — Katherine Legge didn't know she'd have a shot at the Indianapolis 500 until it was time to qualify, when Schmidt Peterson Motorsports decided to put her in its second car at the last second.
Pippa Mann chatted with tire makers, dropped in on the folks from the television networks and even tried to get cozy with engine maker Honda in the hopes of landing a ride.
Both of them have overcome long odds to join Ana Beatriz and Simona de Silvestro in Sunday's 33-car field, matching the record of four women starters. But in their minds, just starting the race is no longer a story: The next big story will be win a woman finally wins.
"Until somebody is competitive on a regular basis, and winning races, and then probably more than one, it's still going to be a bit of a novelty," Legge said Thursday. "And it stinks in a way, because there's no reason for it."
Especially given the history of women at the Brickyard.
"Danica's done a great job, and Danica's made a lot of money in the way she's marketed herself," Legge said, "so nobody can blame her for that. She brings attention to it, for sure, which is a positive thing, but we're all individual people trying to do it our own way."
And now that Patrick is running fulltime in the Sprint Cup series — she'll start Sunday night's race in Charlotte — the focus has turned to who will take over for her.
Legge may be the longest shot in the field.
After losing her ride with Dragon Racing, she arrived at Indianapolis just to say hello to her old pal A.J. Allmendinger, who had hooked up with Penske Racing. But when she got wind of a seat in a second car for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports — with no sponsorship money in sight, mind you — Legge managed to get onto the track just in time for qualifying.
She's run about 20 total laps, but her perseverance was rewarded: Not only did she qualify, but Angie's List has come aboard as a sponsor for Sunday's race.
"My whole career, I've never had the money or the backing on a regular basis to make it easier or to make continuity or anything like that," she said, "so I had to keep fighting. My whole career, I've been fighting. I keep fighting for every opportunity to prove what I'm capable of."
Mann understands what it means to fight for a ride.
She only joined up with Dale Coyne Racing a week before qualifying, and only after pestering just about everyone she could think of to give her a shot. Just like Legge, the gritty determination to get back in the driver's seat finally paid off, and she'll start 30th on Sunday.
"All the female drivers are here, myself included, because we're race winners in various feeder series," said Mann, who was on the pole at Indianapolis when she was running Indy Lights.
"We're here because we're race winners," Mann said, "and that's the most important thing."
Beatriz, the first woman to win in Indy Lights, also happens to be Mann's teammate — the first time there's been two women on the same team. She'll be making her fourth Indy 500 start.
Then there's de Silvestro, who has perhaps the best chance of running near the front.
The Swiss driver is ninth in points heading to Indianapolis, and will be trying for her third straight top-10 finish during the best start of her career. But she'll have to do it from the 24th spot on the grid in the No. 78 car fielded by KV Racing Technology.
"I have a sponsor behind me, and we've been working together for several years, so there's an advantage maybe," de Silvestro said. "You should have a deal together. That's how racing works."