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British woman's wish: Champ Car ride
By BRANT JAMES
Published December 25, 2005
SEBRING - Katherine Legge doesn't feel right asking for too much, considering the kind of year she's had. Or pressing the boss for answers, considering what he has done for her career.
But after finishing two days of encouraging tests in a PKV Racing Champ Car this week at Sebring International Raceway, the 25-year-old Brit, who was unknown and looking for a break a year ago, is just eager to know whether she'll be driving one full time this spring.
"I'll do whatever they think is best. I'll be all right, but I wish I could say, "Well, it's 80 percent Champ car or it's definitely 90 percent Atlantics,' " said Legge, who in 2005, her first year in the developmental Atlantics series, won three times to become the first woman to win a major open-wheel race in North America and finished third in points. "Half of me is saying I should stay in Atlantics and get another year of experience. The other half is saying, "Put me in the big car. Put me in the big car. Put me in the big car. This is cool.'
"Maybe in three weeks they'll let me know. I hope I will. I'll be nagging. Believe me, I will."
As persistent as she is, Legge knows she won't be able to pry anything out of PKV co-team owner Kevin Kalkhoven - "I try to look into his eyes and get a feel for it, but he's a very good poker player," she said. Kalkhoven said he does not need to make a decision for six weeks.
One of three co-owners of the series, Kalkhoven makes it clear that he wants Legge to succeed as a racer, not as a novelty in a male-dominated sport. Starting her in Champ Car in 2006 would be ahead of a normal schedule. That said, she has been ahead of the curve since she pitched herself to him in England last year. After her driving ability proved equal to the determination that convinced Kalkhoven to sign Legge, he helped arrange tests for her this fall in various other series, including Formula One.
Kalkhoven admitted that Legge's Sebring test, where she posted a best lap of 51.51 seconds over the 1.66-mile course on Wednesday and posted the fifth-best time of any Champ Car driver - including regulars - who tested there this fall was "quite remarkable." Legge made 119 laps on both Tuesday and Wednesday.
NOT READY: Jimmy Vasser, 40, has been so consumed with his immediate future as a racer and ever-closer future as a team co-owner that he did not realize that Michael Andretti, 43, announced last week he would race the Indianapolis 500. Andretti, co-owner of Andretti Green Racing, which has won consecutive Indy Racing League titles with Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon, "retired" after the 2003 Indy 500.
Vasser, a 10-time race winner and the 1996 CART champion, said he couldn't relate to Andretti's desire to return because "I've never retired and then come back, so maybe when I retire here shortly and if I come back you can ask me that." But the time is coming, he admitted.
Vasser, the "V" in PKV, finished sixth in points in 2005, his 14th season. His decision will impact where Legge races, but he's taking his time.
"We had a decent year last year and it's just that it's time for me, I believe, to transition, although we haven't made our decision yet," he said Wednesday. "We're going to take all our data and our list of 20 drivers we have as candidates to take the seat at PKV, including the driver we had last year - Cristiano da Matta - and go make a decision. Whenever retirement is involved, I shouldn't say retire. When I resign my seat at PKV at some point in time it doesn't mean I've stopped driving forever. Retirement is the wrong word. However, it's going to be difficult for sure."