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  • Writer's pictureLIAM REDFORD

IMSA: Late-race misfortune denies Katherine Legge and Sheena Monk at CTMP

"It looked like we had a very promising race going for us" - Katherine Legge and Sheena Monk were knocking on the door of a very special result in IMSA, but a brake issue in the closing stages derailed their chances at CTMP.

Photo by: Richard Dole

A smart strategy call in the final hour of the IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship was left unrewarded after a brake issue derailed a potential victory for Katherine Legge and Sheena Monk at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. The Gradient Racing pair showed brilliant speed across the course of the weekend in their #66 JG Wentworth Acura NSX, with Katherine leading a number of laps in the second half of the race.

An 11th place finish was unrepresentative of their pace, but both drivers should be encouraged by their performance and will be looking forward to rebounding at Lime Rock Park.

Looking to build upon a strong performance at Watkins Glen, Katherine and Sheena were ready to tackle the third round of IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship Sprint Cup. With Canadian Tyre Motorsport Park featuring one of the shortest laps of the season, times were set to be close across the weekend. A 12th place result in the opening practice was followed by Katherine setting the 13th fastest time in the second session, just one second away from the fastest time in GTD.

Qualifying was set to be an equally close affair with Sheena taking driving duties as the bronze rated driver in the team. The Gradient Racing driver was extremely consistent during the session, setting six lap times within a tenth and a half of her best lap, resulting in her fastest time placing the #66 Acura NSX 13th in GTD, fifth among the bronze rated drivers.

"The nature of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park is a bit difficult", Monk said after qualifying.

"It requires a bit of bravery so getting everything out from the Acura has been a bit of a challenge. Looking at the season as a whole, I would say that I am making improvements but I want so much more", she added. "The pace in practice this morning feels like it didn't translate into qualifying later in the day."

"So, I'm a bit frustrated with that, but it's a learning experience at the moment and I'm just trying my best to always push my limit a little bit further and just try to get myself as close to Kat as possible. This morning I felt like I was making some headway - but then the track conditions changed a little bit, it got a little warmer, and the behavior of the car changed slightly and I just wasn't able to adapt and put the power down in a way that felt as comfortable as this morning."

With Monk’s optimum lap time being half a second faster than her best qualifying effort, this gave promise for further improvements during the two-hour-forty-minute race.

Following a penalty for a driver ahead, Sheena lined up 12th for the start of the race and immediately made progress, passing Alan Metni on the opening lap before overtaking Alan Brynjolfsson on lap two to move inside the top-10. After moving past PJ Hyett on lap four, Sheena was the second highest bronze rated driver and displayed the speed which was evident following qualifying.

Photo by: Jake Galstad

Extending the gap to the drivers behind, Monk attempted to close in on the Inception Racing McLaren of Brendan Iribe and set her personal best lap time on lap 18. After an issue for a car ahead, Sheena was up to eighth and continued to display excellent pace before handing over to Katherine on lap 34.

Legge remained in eighth as the pit cycle was completed and following a full course yellow period, this enabled Katherine to close up to the drivers ahead and mount a challenge for the podium places. Contrary to their rivals, the Gradient Racing team elected to stay out and not pit under the full course yellow, enabling Katherine to claim the lead. At this point, every team was still scheduled to make one further pitstop with the #66 Acura NSX assuming track position over its rivals.

Managing the restart brilliantly, Legge held the lead and began to pull away from her competitors, extending the gap to over three seconds before being the first driver, along with Seb Priaulx, to make their last stop first. This would be a significant advantage if a full course yellow was to fly and following an incident for an LMP3 car, the race was neutralised and placed the Gradient Racing team in a potentially race-winning position.

On the restart, Katherine was able to smartly overtake Priaulx to become the first car on the alternative strategy and look poised to inherit the lead in GTD if the race remained green. On lap 84, misfortune struck as a brake issue forced Legge to pit which ruled them out of contention for a competitive finish. Re-joining seven laps in arrears, Katherine found herself on the same lap as fellow GTD runner Alec Udell and was able to make the move for 11th in the closing stages to underline her impressive pace.

In spite of the end result, Katherine and Sheena once again displayed class-leading pace and were in position to claim a historic victory. Sheena’s opening stint was extremely impressive as cemented her place as a leading bronze rated driver, gaining four positions and setting a highly competitive pace.

Katherine continued this progress and coupled with a smart strategy, placed the #66 Acura NSX in a potentially class-winning position until the mechanical issue halted their progress.

"It looked like we had a very promising race going for us" Legge commented.

"I think we had the car for a top-five finish, at the very least, but then we had the long stop to repair a brake caliper. It's unfortunate. At least we were able to return to the race once the problem was fixed and salvage a finish and some championship points. All our thoughts right now are with [team owner] Andris Laivins as he deals with a serious illness in his family."

Katherine and Sheena will be looking to bounce back at the GT-only event at Lime Rock Park on the weekend of 21st/22nd July.

Photo by: Richard Dole



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