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IMSA: Katherine Legge shines in Long Beach, charges to ninth in GTD

With a remarkable final stint on the Long Beach street circuit, Katherine Legge charged back to P9 in class, securing Team Hardpoint's seventh Top-10 finish of the season in IMSA.

Photo by: Sideline Sports Photography

Two weeks after racing at Laguna Seca, North America's premier sports car championship IMSA moved to another iconic Californian racetrack: the street circuit of Long Beach.

The temporary racetrack located in downtown Long Beach, was launched in 1975 and has played host to a Formula 1 GP from 1976 to 1983. The event has then seen the American biggest open wheel series continuing the tradition from CART to Indycar - as well as the top sports car championship and Formula E.

Having reached its 10th round of the 2021 season, IMSA returned to Long Beach after a hiatus in 2020, when the event was cancelled due to the logistic challenges posed by the pandemic. This resulted in Team Hardpoint the team that lines up the #88 Richard Mille/GridRival Porsche 911 GT3 R for driver-owner Rob Ferriol and British racing star and series veteran and 2018 vice-champion Katherine Legge - making its first visit to the circuit, and only its second ever appearance on a temporary track.

At Belle Isle, Detroit, the team was 11th at the chequered flag, recording its only finish outside the top 10 to date. Since then, Legge and Ferriol have scored a positive streak of top ten finishes that include two P8 at the latest rounds at Elkhart Lake and Laguna Seca.

“We felt like we left a lot undone at Detroit with our rather early end to the race." commented Ferriol. "We knew we had a good car for a street race based on what we had done at Detroit, and we felt coming into the weekend we were going to be strong. It’s a Porsche track, and we as a Porsche team are getting smarter", he added.

Due to the two-day format, practice and qualifying sessions were contested on Friday, leaving Ferriol minimal time to learn and get fully comfortable with the circuit.

The American driver qualified the #88 Porsche in 15th position out of a 17-car field in GTD, while Katherine Legge managed to bring the car up to P8 in the session valid for points.

Saturday's 100 minute race the shortest race distance in the entire IMSA season - started with Rob Ferriol getting behind the wheel for the first stint. Madison Snow lined up in GTD pole position in the #1 Paul Miller Racing's Lamborghini, alongside the Turner Motorsport's BMW M6 GT3 of Robby Foley. Overall pole position went to Felipe Nasr (Whelen Engineering Cadillac), who preceded the #01 Chip Ganassi Cadillac of Kevin Magnussen.

At lights out, Albuquerque had a blistering start in the Konica Minolta WTR Acura, who moved up to third place from fifth on the grid - and had to give up second place after a close battle into the Fountain chicane. It was a clean getaway for the whole GTLM and GTD fields, as Ferriol initially retained 15th place in class. He would gain two positions soon after, slotting into P13.

Photo by: Sideline Sports Photography

Kevin Magnussen went for the move at the iconic fountain chicane on lap 7, as the DPi entries started to hit the traffic of the lapped GT cars: taking advantage from an hesitation by Nasr, Magnussen grabbed the lead but he would find the wall at Turn 1 soon after, in a dramatic turn of events. The #01 Cadillac lost big parts of rear bodywork but the Danish racer continued - yet the only Full Course Yellow of the race was deployed to allow the marshals to clear debris.

In another turning point for the race, the championship leading #96 BMW M6 of Robby Foley went into the tyre barriers at Turn 8 after a battle with the Audi R8 of Richard Heistand. Foley rejoined but dropped from second to eleventh in class. He would lose another position to Ferriol.

More overall position changes occurred when Duval passed Albuquerque for third as the two DPi cars passed the #88 Porsche at the hairpin, and Dane Cameron pitted in the #60 Meyer Shank Acura on lap 22, opting for an alternate strategy that would eventually not pay off.

The #19 GRT Grasser Lamborghini found the wall and retired with rear suspension damages; most of the GT field then pitted for the driver change with approximately 1 hour left on the clock. Ferriol dived into the pitlane from P11 and handed over to Katherine Legge.

The pit stop was delayed by a tyre left in the pit slot just ahead Legge's and the British ace rejoined in P13.

With 50 minutes to go, the leading DPi cars pitted as well: Magnussen handed over to van der Zande, and Pipo Derani took over from Felipe Nasr to rejoin just behind the Meyer Shank Acura of Cameron who then had to stop again.

When he finally completed his driver change to Olivier Pla, the #31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac of Derani was back in the lead, preceding van der Zande, Vautier and Taylor.

In GTD, Sellers continued a dominant run in the Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini and extended the gap to the #14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus of Jack Hawksworth and the #16 Wright Motorsport Porsche driven by Patrick Long - who had recovered several positions thanks to a brilliant stop. Right behind them, though, was another fast charging Porsche: Dries Vanthoor (Pfaff Motorsports) found a way past Long and moved into third. He would also get ahead of Hawksworth with 14 minutes to go.

Photo by: Sideline Sports Photography

Legge spent the first part of her stint trying to close the gap to the cars in front and, once she had caught up with the #12 Vasser Sullivan Lexus of Zach Veach and the Heart of Racing Aston Martin of Alex Riberas, she quickly cleared both to the bring the #88 Porsche in the top ten.

Katherine Legge was the fastest car on track in the final 25 minutes and set the second fastest lap of the race, just 0.042-second behind the GTD class best, but unfortunately had a 20 second gap to close on the #66 Gradient Racing Acura NSX GT3. A FCY would have brought back Legge in contention - but the race remained green.

The race of the #60 Meyer Shank Racing Acura went from bad to worse when Pla squeezed the GTLM Corvette of Garcia who was lapping the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari and the three ended up making contact at the end of the start finish straight. Pla limped back to the pits with damages and retired.

The Scuderia Corsa Ferrari of Colin Braun had to make an unscheduled pit stop with 2 minutes left on the clock which ultimately promoted Katherine Legge to ninth position in the final laps.

Pipo Derani won comfortably on Renger van der Zande who held on despite the damaged rear aero in a Cadillac 1-2. Tristan Vautier edged Ricky Taylor for third place overall.

The GTLM class was once again a lone run for the Corvette Racing of Milner/Tandy and Garcia/Taylor, who were separated by 0.7 seconds across the line; the WeatherTech Porsche of MacNeil/Jaminet was a distant third, over a minute behind.

The GTD class was dominated by Sellers/Snow in the Paul Miller Racing Huracan and preceded the Porsches of Vanthoor and Long.

Katherine Legge extended the streak of top ten finishes for Team Hardpoint and took the chequered flag in ninth place.

"The team did a really good job and gave me a really good car" Legge said.

“We were just unfortunate, honestly. We were hoping for a yellow, we were praying for a yellow", she explained. "We wanted to catch the pack and go fight them because we had a good car and we could have done it."

"Both Rob and I made a couple of strong passes and the car was strong so on pace we should have finished a lot further up. It just wasn’t to be today."

"Having said that, look how far we’ve come since the beginning of the year. We’ve worked really hard on the setup and the tire side, where we haven’t been so strong on qualifying and at the start of the runs. We’ve always been stronger toward the end of the runs. We’ve been working really hard at putting together a better all-around package, and the team knocked it out of the park on this one" Legge added.

"If we had an opportunity to qualify better we would certainly have had a better finish because Katherine was the class of the field working her way through." echoed Ferriol, praising his co-driver for her impressive stint.

“Seeing Katherine out there running fast lap after fast lap was a great moment for us on the timing stand, knowing how hard we continue to work week in and week out.“

"Despite what position we were in at the time, to see her being the fastest car on track was really good for us and we’re looking forward to coming back to VIR to get that result." concluded the driver-owner.

With now two rounds to go, the IMSA championship will resume in two weeks' time on Team Hardpoint's home race at VIRginia International Raceway, back on the east coast.

It will mark the final race of the WeatherTech Sprint Cup series, with another 2-hour and 40 minute race featuring only GT classes.

Photo by: Sideline Sports Photography



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