IMSA: Sixth Top-10 of the season for Katherine Legge and Sheena Monk
"We executed well and our team did a great job, as they have all year" – Katherine Legge and Sheena Monk collected their sixth top-ten finish of the season in IMSA, after a solid race in extreme temperatures that saw the all-female team maximising the car's performance at Virginia International Raceway.
IMSA Weathertech SportsCar Championship hosted the GT-only round at Virginia International Raceway with an extremely competitive GTD field battling out for victory at the challenging seventeen-turn 3.27 mile track. Among some of the world's best teams and drivers, Gradient Racing's all-female duo Katherine Legge and Sheena Monk returned to the track for the ninth round of their full-time campaign in IMSA – Monk's first in GT3 machinery.
The drivers of the #66 JG Wentworth Acura NSX GT3 Evo22 have been one of the most consistent crews of the GTD class, finishing every race so far and barely missing out on a podium on a few occasions. Two top-5s – at the Daytona season opener as well as at the 6H of the Glen – in addition to a sixth place at Lime Rock highlight Legge and Monk's potential at the wheel of the Gradient Racing's Acura, who aimed to take another step forward at VIR.
The fast and undulating track also brought good memories to the two drivers, with Sheena taking her first victory there in the 2018 Lamborghini Super Trofeo NA. "I think combining the car's strengths and my personal comfort with the track is maybe the recipe we need to get the elusive podium that JG Wentworth, Acura, and Gradient deserve” – she commented before the race.
“It's one of the traditional storied tracks that you have in North America that reminds me of being home in Europe", Katherine Legge added. "It's not manufactured in any way shape or form. It follows the lay of the land, you've got elevation, you've got increasing radius corners, you've got fast corners, you've got a little bit of everything. I love the fast uphill esses and scaring the living daylights out of myself!”
In her runner-up season in 2018, the British racing star had also stood on the podium at VIR - and hopes for a fast car were high, with the Acura NSX traditionally performing well.
The 2023 Michelin GT Challenge at Virginia International Raceway, though, brought a few challenges, including extreme heat.
Legge and Monk built speed through the practice sessions, ahead of the qualifying session on Saturday which saw Sheena taking the helm of the JG Wentworth Acura.
Monk's progression in the series was yet again evident when she clocked a 1:47.504 lap that put her second among the bronze rated drivers, tenth on the GTD field.
The series rookie has been in fact been highly impressive all season and, in a promising position for the race, the all-female duo was eyeing a strong race in the 2 hour and 40 minute contest.
Back behind the wheel for the race start, Sheena Monk had a great getaway and immediately passed Chandler Hull's Turner Motorsport BMW, then chased the Inception Racing McLaren of Brendon Iribe on the first lap of the race.
In the opening stages, Sheena's pace was really competitive and she clocked a purple first sector as she kept putting pressure on Iribe. Her progression was halted by the first full course yellow 15 minutes into the race, when David Brule went off and heavily damaged his #92 Kellymoss Porsche against the tyre barriers at turn 6.
The race went back to green with 2 hours and 14 minutes to go, with positions remaining mostly unchanged; Monk was a few tenths of a second faster than the cars ahead and set competitive times under the 1:48s, as the race reached the 40 minute mark.
Sheena pitted after a superbly consistent stint with 45 minutes elapsed, having completed her required driving time – and handed over the reins of the #66 JG Wentworth Acura in the expert hands of Katherine Legge.
The British racer battled for position just out of the pit lane with Bill Auberlen, eventually retaining P9 in GTD after a good stop by the Gradient Racing crew.
The #78 Forte Racing Lamborghini initially stopped on track – then restarted and, with Misha Goikhberg behind the wheel, suffered a high-speed crash due to braking issues that brought out a lengthy safety car.
Katherine Legge had meanwhile gained seventh place in GTD ahead of Philip Ellis' Winward Racing Mercedes and Trend Hindman's Wright Motorsports Porsche. A brief interlude of rain did not shuffle the order, as everyone stayed on slicks.
The race resumed with 1 hour and 22 minutes to go and Legge was right in the mirrors of Mikael Grenier (#32 Team Korthoff Mercedes). Katherine cleared the Mercedes on lap 39 and moved up to sixth place - in what was shaping up to be another epic run for driver of the #66 Acura.
With one hour to go, most of the field pitted for the final time and Legge stayed out for a few more laps, running as high as third. She pitted on lap 46 but, after the pit stop cycle, she had dropped to tenth place, behind Priaulx and Hindman.
Legge overtook Marco Sorensen for ninth position, then chased the #77 Wright Motorsports Porsche, gaining a couple of tenths of a second per lap. With a little over 30 minutes to go, though, Legge fell back to P10 after Frederick Schandorff found a way past the Acura.
In the closing minutes of a two hour stint in extreme heat, Legge couldn't get close enough to Hindman's Porsche and eventually crossed the finish line in P10.
"This was not our weekend", commented Katherine Legge. "I think we had a 10th place car, and that's where we finished. We executed well and our team did a great job, as they have all year. Sheena did a great job in her stint, and we raced to the best of our abilities", she continued. "We just didn't have any more for them today."
While it was not the result they had initially hoped for, tenth place was nevertheless a solid sixth top-10 out of the nine rounds contested so far, which gained Legge and Monk a good amount of points for the championship.
The only all-female team in IMSA Weathertech SportsCar Championship will continue to chase their elusive first podium together at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, when the 2 hours and 40 minute IMSA Battle on the Bricks will go green on September 17th.