"Mixed weekend" for Team Hardpoint EBM on the Streets of Detroit left Katherine Legge out of the race before getting behind the wheel of the #88 Porsche, but the Brit scored points after a competitive qualifying and was happy about the gains made by the team throughout the weekend.
British ace Katherine Legge – one of the most influential female figures in motor racing – returned to the US for the fourth round of the 2021 IMSA championship, which she is contesting with team Hardpoint EBM in the Richard Mille/GridRival #88 Porsche in the GTD class.
The entry should have featured an all-female crew, with two-time IMSA champion Christina Nielsen driving alongside Legge in the #88 car, but sponsors' issues forced the team to reduce to a one-car operation – leaving Legge and driver/owner Rob Ferriol in the single Porsche 911 GT3 R after the Sebring 12H.
Last weekend, Katherine Legge prioritized her IMSA commitment as she also faced a calendar clash with the FIA World Endurance Championship; the vacancy in the seat of the #85 Ferrari 488 GTE Evo by Iron Dames was filled by Michelle Gatting at the 8H of Portimao, as the Danish driver made her debut in the championship.
Team Hardpoint thus made its debut on the street course around the Belle Isle Park with Legge returning to the track after two victories in 2017 and 2018.
“I love street racing,” Legge said prior to the event. “My first race in the USA was a win at Long Beach in Atlantics, so they hold a special place in my heart."
"Detroit is its own special bumpy animal, and success here is a combination of a great car, confidence, strategy and luck. Street courses evolve and change slightly year to year and that’s part of the fun. I’m really looking forward to it!”
Legge, who has one of the most complete resumés in motor racing, spanning from a F1 test to Formula E, Indycar, DTM, sports cars and GT cars, won in fact her first race in North America at the 2005 Long Beach GP in the Atlantic Championship and has always performed well on street tracks. On the other hand, it was Ferriol's debut on such tricky racetracks.
With Covid forcing the cancellation of the event last year, Ferriol was looking forward to learning the secrets of the 2.3-mile temporary circuit – which, for the first time in IMSA since 2020, allowed spectators back in the paddock.
Curiously, the Hardpoint EBM car was also the only Porsche in the field last weekend – thus leaving on the shoulders of Ferriol-Legge all the weight of representing the German brand.
The race event – contested in conjunction with the Indycar double header – turned out to be a rather challenging one for the two drivers.
Both showed promising speed throughout the sessions, with Legge putting the #88 Porsche in sixth place in GTD in the first practice session – led by the Compass Racing Acura NSX GT3 of Mario Farnbacher.
In the second session, they were P10, just over a second adrift from the Vasser Sullivan Lexus of Telitz-Hawksworth.
The qualifying session was then splitted in two 15-minute sessions: Q1 set the grid and Rob Ferriol went out on track to sign a 1:31.841 effort that put the #88 Porsche in eleventh place on the grid for the 100-minute race on Saturday.
Legge drove the second session, which granted points for the championship. With a best lap of 1:30.140 – just 0.269-second off Mario Farnbacher in the #76 Acura, who topped the GTD class timesheets – the British lady was fifth fastest and conquered 26 championship points.
“We’re really looking forward to tomorrow’s race,” Legge said after her qualifying run.
“We should have a really good race pace, but the challenge will be turning that into track position. Everyone has worked really hard on the Richard Mille/GridRival Porsche 911 GT3 R, and we’ll see how far forward we can take it.”
Rob Ferriol took the start from the inside of row six for the 1h and 40 minute race, with Katherine Legge set to take over mid-race and bring the car to the chequered flag.
Unfortunately, the race of the #88 entry came to a halt before Legge got the chance to jump in the driving seat, due to an accident involving the #28 Alegra Motorsport Mercedes AMG GT3 of Michael de Quesada and Ferriol on lap 3.
The #28 Mercedes dived on the inside of Turn 5 and passed Ferriol – then went wide and Ferriol was quick to switch back, but made contact with De Quesada and went hard into the wall. While he was unhurt, the race of the #88 Porsche was done.
The incident brought out the first Safety Car and the race was ultimately won by the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac of Renger van der Zande and Kevin Magnussen, after the Dutchman was able to pull away from Felipe Nasr in the Whelen Engineering Cadillac after the final Full Course Yellow with approximately 3 minutes to go.
It marked Magnussen's first win in the series after the former F1 driver joined the top American sports car championship in 2021.
In GTLM, Milner and Tandy took class honours in what was effectively a Corvette Racing parade at the brand's home race: the duo preceded the sister car of Garcia and Taylor, but did not score any championship points.
GTD was tightly fought and saw De Angelis and Gunn ultimately taking the win in the #23 Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage after a post race disqualification for the #39 Peregrine Racing Audi R8 LMS of Heistand and Westphal, whose refuelling time was found to be faster than the minimum pitstop time.
Goikhberg and Mapelli were second in the GRT Grasser Lamborghini, and preceded the #66 Gradient Racing Acura NSX GT3 of Bechtolsheimer and Miller, who took home the final podium position.
While it was certainly a disappointing race for Katherine Legge – who currently sits eighth in the class championship standings – she highlighted the improvements that the team had made throughout the weekend, which are crucially important as the series heads to Watkins Glen for the 6H of the Glen on June 27th.
"We came, we saw…we did not however conquer Detroit's bumpy concrete jungle!" – wrote Legge on her social media.
"It was such a mixed weekend, we have made huge gains as a team and with the car - and I’m so proud of each and every one of them for giving it their all and leaving nothing on the table."
"We had the pace this weekend for a podium, and Rob Ferriol had impressive speed and improvement, yet again. There’s no quit… only digging in and fighting for it!
We will get ’em but it will have to be at Watkins Glen".