Katherine Legge and Sheena Monk earn hard-fought 13th place finish at Indianapolis
"I'm just gutted. We didn't have a race-winning car today, but we did have a car capable of a top-10 finish." - Driving the #66 Gradient Racing Acura NSX, Katherine Legge and Sheena Monk rebounded from an early penalty to run inside the top-10 before a suspension issue saw them fall to 13th in the closing stages.
Tackling the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship, Katherine Legge and Sheena Monk overcame adversity to finish 13th in GTD. Driving the #66 Gradient Racing Acura NSX, the duo rebounded from an early penalty to run inside the top-10 before a suspension issue saw them fall to 13th in the closing stages.
Nonetheless, both drivers showed competitive speed and will be looking to convert this into a season’s best finish at Motul Petit Le Mans to close out the 2023 campaign.
Commenting on the result, Katherine said "I'm just gutted. We didn't have a race-winning car today, but we did have a car capable of a top-10 finish."
"That's where we were running in the final hour, and still gaining ground, when we had a failure in the right-front suspension. That made it imperative I reduce our pace to make it to the finish. Sometimes you have to look at the long game. We so wanted a good result here, and although we're bitterly disappointed, Sheena and the team did a great job all weekend, so we'll take that as a positive and go on to Road Atlanta."
Katherine and Sheena have rose to the challenge of the highly competitive IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship and with an expanded GTD class field at Indianapolis, they were aiming to impress despite their lack of experience at the historic circuit.
Prior to the weekend, Sheena gave her thoughts on what she knew would be a challenging event. She noted that “There will be quite a learning curve for us this weekend since neither Kat or I have ever been on the Indy Road Course. I plan to approach it methodically and build my confidence each session. We hope our JG Wentworth Acura is able to display some of its strengths on this circuit.”
Although a home race for Katherine, she had never driven on the Indianapolis road course and was relishing the challenge. The British driver stated that “I’m very much looking forward to getting back to Indy. I lived there for a number of years when I first came to the USA. I've always wanted to drive on the road course and somehow I never have until now. This place just gives you Goosebumps and a good result here would mean so much to us as a team. I think we're knocking on the door so let's hope we can close out 2023 strong.”
Friday afternoon saw the opening practice session take place with the Gradient Racing duo setting the 13th fastest time in class, but less than a second away from the quickest time, further highlighting the close competition. Half a second of lap time improvement was found by the pair in the final practice session on Saturday morning, with the Acura NSX setting the 16th fastest time in GTD.
Qualifying took place later on Saturday with Sheena looking to continue her one-lap pace improvements. It was a tough session for the Gradient Racing driver who set the 15th quickest lap time in GTD, fifth fastest among the bronze rated drivers. Nonetheless, Monk’s strength has come in race trim and with a two-hour-forty-minute race to come, there would be good opportunities to move forward.
Sheena was promoted to start the race in 14th and did a superb job to negotiate a spinning Turner Motorsport BMW of Chandler Hull on lap one. Although falling to 15th, a full course yellow period neutralised the race and gave her a chance to regroup. When racing resumed, the Gradient Racing driver wasted no time in making up lost positions, moving into 13th by the end of lap six. Monk was then assessed a drive-through penalty for opening lap contact which dropped her to 16th.
This was an unfortunate setback for Sheena, but with clear track ahead she set about improving her lap times and set a personal best time on lap 11. Her pace remained extremely competitive as the stint progressed, closing in on the drivers ahead while negotiating traffic well.
Monk’s consistent pace paid dividends on lap 26 as a second full course yellow period enabled the Gradient Racing driver to catch up to the field while remaining on the lead lap. This intervention also coincided with Sheena’s minimum drive time being completed which allowed her to hand over to Katherine in 14th.
Positions were closely contested on the restart and although Legge fell behind Robby Foley, contact for two competitors ahead saw the #66 Acura NSX move into 13th at the end of lap 40. Katherine then set about chasing down Gabby Chaves and made the move on her GTD rival on lap 51, immediately showing her speed by setting a number of personal best sectors. Traffic management remained challenging, but Legge used her experience to good effect and began catching Alec Udell for 11th prior to the final pitstop.
After a fast stop by the team, Katherine re-joined the race 12th, setting a series of personal best times on new tyres. Legge continued her forward progress in the first half of the final stint, moving ahead of both Seb Priaulx and Laurens Vanthoor to claim a spot inside the top-10 on lap 88.
Disappointment then struck the Gradient Racing team as Katherine picked up a suspension issue which saw her pace decrease in the final twenty-minutes. Despite her best efforts, Legge was unable to maintain position and lost three spots in the closing stages to take the checkered flag 13th.
It was unfortunate end to a great recovery drive from Katherine and Sheena who should be proud of their fighting spirit in overcoming adversity. Sheena’s pace following her penalty was particularly notable, underlining her improvement in her debut year competing in GT3 machinery.
The Gradient Racing duo will be aiming to end their season on a high when the IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship closes out its season at Motul Petit Le Mans on the weekend of October 13th/14th.