Katherine Legge and Sheena Monk show top-5 potential at Road America
"I felt connected with the car and made passes straight away. We could have been in the top five today." - After a brilliant qualifying and arguably her best GT3 race to date, Sheena Monk and teammate Katherine Legge were punted off with realistic chances of a top-5 at Road America, eventually securing their fifth Top-10 of the year in IMSA.
Katherine Legge and Sheena Monk rallied to a tenth place finish in the IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship at Road America in a race which saw both drivers show excellent pace. After Monk qualified the #66 Gradient Racing Acura NSX a season’s best tenth in GTD, Legge was challenging for a top-5 position before contact from a competitor forced the team to make an extra pit stop. Without a full course yellow period in the final hour, Katherine and Sheena were unable to regain the lost time, but once again displayed their speed at the highest level of GT racing.
Katherine and Sheena have made excellent progress in their first season together for Gradient Racing and they were aiming to build upon this speed at Road America, a circuit at which Katherine raced at in the NASCAR Xfinity Series just one week ago.
“Team spirits are high as we get into the real meat of the season and Road America is on my all time favorites list,” Legge said before the weekend. “I think we can keep up the momentum and have another strong result here for the championship and hopefully get that elusive podium on the new track surface.”
The weekend began with two practice sessions ahead of qualifying, with the duo posting the 12th and eighth quickest times respectively, just eight tenths of a second away from the GTD pacesetter in session two. Further encouragement was gained from the fact that Sheena set the fastest time of any bronze rated driver across both practice sessions.
Qualifying took place on Saturday afternoon with Sheena aiming to continue her speed from practice. Improving upon her time from practice by one second, Monk drove the #66 Gradient Racing Acura NSX to tenth in GTD, second fastest among the bronze rated drivers. This was Sheena’s best qualifying effort of the year and with a over a second to the next bronze rated driver behind, this underlined her progress in a highly competitive championship.
"I think we have a top six car today and Sheena did a great job in qualifying so I think she'll make up a few spots", Legge commented after qualifying on Saturday. "If we can keep our nose clean, I'm sure we can get another top-10 finish."
Sheena began the race from tenth in GTD and immediately gained one position following the first lap of green flag racing, overtaking the Turner Motorsport BMW of Chandler Hull. Following a short full course yellow period on lap three, Monk made an excellent restart and overtook the Winward Racing Mercedes of Russell Ward for eighth. Competing superbly with silver rated drivers while holding her position as the second highest bronze, it was a confident start for Sheena who was able to transfer her speed from practice into the race.
As Monk’s stint reached its conclusion, the Gradient Racing driver began to close in on the Lamborghini Huracan of Forte Racing Powered by USRT driver of Misha Goikhberg and ran as high as seventh as the pit cycle began. On lap 18, Sheena handed over to Katherine with a little under two hours remaining as Legge cycled through into eighth place following the pit sequence.
Katherine set about chasing Loris Spinelli in the opening portion of her first stint and ran just 15 seconds behind the leader in GTD, further highlighting the competitive nature of field. With sixth to tenth running nose-to-tail, strategic decisions surrounding the final pit stop were anticipated to be significant. On lap 42, misfortune struck as contact from a competitor resulted in damage to the #66 Acura which led to an unscheduled pit stop. Although remaining on the lead lap in GTD, Legge would now need a period of full course yellow to fight for the top positions after falling to 11th in class.
Running just ahead of the Wright Motorsport Porsche of Trent Hindman, Katherine enjoyed a close battle with her rival before Hindman moved ahead on lap 52. Remaining in close proximity to the #77 Porsche, Legge’s lap times continued to be strong despite the damage and this allowed her to move back ahead on lap 65 to reclaim 11th position.
With a number of her GTD rivals close on fuel in the closing stages of the race, this allowed Katherine to capitalise and claim a top-10 finish on the final lap. Although this was not the result the Gradient Racing duo deserved, they showed their fighting spirit to battle back from adversity and collect valuable championship points.
Katherine and Sheena continued their strong on-track performance despite not achieving the finish they merited at Road America. Showing excellent speed throughout the weekend, Sheena achieved her best qualifying result at one of the most demanding circuits on the calendar, before sustaining this pace in her opening stint in which she ran as high as seventh.
"It's heartbreaking" - Monk commented after what was arguably her best GT3 race to date.
"Kat set a phenomenal pace in the JG Wentworth Acura and then she was pushed off. This was easily my best race in GT3 though; I felt connected with the car and made passes straight away. We could have been in the top five today."
Katherine once again showed front-running performance and was in contention for a top-5 finish prior to the unfortunate contact, underlining the strength of the Gradient Racing team.
"It's a disappointing result for what started out looking so positive", Legge summed up. "Sheena did a great stint and for the majority of my first stint we looked in the fight for a top six result. Unfortunately we got punted off and we had to scramble to finish 10th. The JG Wentworth team were awesome."
Legge and Monk will aim to bounce back when the IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship returns with a GT only event at Virginia International Raceway on the weekend of 26th/27th August.