IMSA: Katherine Legge recovers to P7 at Long Beach to sign third Top-10 in a row for Hardpoint
In the first IMSA sprint race of the season, team Hardpoint's Katherine Legge recovered to a very solid seventh place after a charging second stint at the iconic Long Beach street circuit, scoring her team's best result of the season so far.
IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship started its Sprint Cup season after the two endurance events of Daytona and Sebring, where British Katherine Legge shared the #99 Hardpoint Porsche 911 GT3 R with Rob Ferriol, Stefan Wilson and Nick Boulle (at the Rolex 24). The 100-minute race kicking off the Sprint Cup was contested on another equally iconic circuit - the 3,167 km-long Long Beach Street Circuit, one of the most recognized street tracks in the world that has also hosted a F1 GP between 1976 and 1983. Legge returned to partner Rob Ferriol, one year after the driver-owner's debut on the street course - and the team's second ever start on this type of track. In 2021, in fact, Ferriol had a very strong race at Long Beach, recovered four positions before handing over to Katherine Legge – who ran as the second-fastest car on track before finishing ninth. But the result didn't show all of Hardpoint's potential, as their race was also marked by slow pitstop due to misplaced equipment from another team. Legge has also strong ties with the Long Beach Grand Prix, having made her American racing debut at the Californian venue in 2005 in Formula Atlantic. The British racer went on to claim a history-making victory, becoming the first woman to win in the ChampCar environment. “It’s no secret that I love going to Long Beach and have some fond memories racing there" – said Legge. "Last year, we had a stint at the end of the race where we were among the quickest cars on track, so there’s some optimism again coming into this weekend." "It’s a tough schedule though, and a short race, so we’re going to have to be on it from the start", she added before the race weekend. "The team knocked it out of the park last year and have been fantastic through the opening endurance races, so we feel strongly that we can put it all together in this street race.” Coming off a difficult weekend at Sebring, where the car was fully rebuilt after a practice crash, Hardpoint was aiming for a strong comeback at Long Beach. Ferriol qualified the #99 Porsche in 13th place in GTD class, while Sebastien Bourdai, Alex Lynn and Tom Blomqvist led the pack in the overall qualifying standings. Ferriol passed Hardwick in the Wright Motorsport’s Porsche once the latter went deep into Turn 1, starting to move up the field in the very crowded and competitive GTD field. On lap 28, the GTD entries started their round of pit stops with driver change: Rob Ferriol dived into the pitlane after a clean run and handed over to Katherine Legge with 1 hour and 1 minute to go. Legge rejoined in P14 in class and P26 overall, but quickly gained positions on Washington (GMG Racing Porsche) and Jaminet (Pfaff Motorsport’s Porsche) – the latter having to retire after a unlucky issue at the pit stop, when a wheel nut lost by another car was shot into the Pfaff Porsche’s radiator, ending its race prematurely. There were troubles also for Ellis’ Winward Mercedes, who brushed the wall but continued. With steady lap times, Legge made her way up to P11, when a Full Course Yellow freezed the action with 43 minutes to go for a dislodged kerb. The restart was again action-filled: the #27 Heart of Racing Aston Martin of Maxime Martin made contact with the BMW of John Edwards – soon triggering another caution. Meanwhile, the leading GTD-Pro entry of Connor De Philippi received a drive through and Stevan McAleer (#32 Mercedes) made contact with the tyre barrier with 20 minutes left on the clock. With a solid and untroubled run, Legge was able to recover to eighth. At the final green flag, the driver of the #99 Hardpoint Porsche gained one more position to finish seventh in class – signing her team’s best result of the season so far. The overall battle for the win was just as exciting, despite the winner turning out to be also the pole-man: Sebastien Bourdais hit trouble in the early stages when he got stuck at the final corner while trying to overtake a lapped GTD car and had to rebuild his lead from sixth in DPi. Lynn led Blomqvist and Pipo Derani, while Albuquerque struggled to go around traffic in the #10 Konica Minolta Acura. Bourdais, though, put on a show and navigated through the field to claim back the first spot on lap 30, after a superb drive across the tight streets of Long Beach. Bourdais handed over to Renger van der Zande on lap 40, who reclaimed the lead from the #01 and #02 Cadillacs. He survived all the restarts in the second half of the race, while Oliver Jarvis (Meyer Shank Acura) had to defend from the returning Cadillacs of Westbrook and Derani. It would be Westbrook to bring home the podium, after Jarvis and Derani came together at the final corner. Bourdais/Van der Zande took a dominant win, ahead of Bamber/Lynn and Vautier/Westbrook, in a Cadillac 1-2-3. Alex Riberas and Maxime Martin managed to seal GTD-Pro victory despite a troubled race, while Bryan Sellers/Madison Snow dominated the GTD class in the Paul Miller Racing #1 BMW M4 GT3. Katherine Legge’s seventh place put the #99 crew in eighth place in the standings, thanks to three top-10 finishes in the first three races of the IMSA season. The next round will be a 2 hour and 40 minute race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, on May 1st.