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  • Writer's pictureRACERS

Legge, Calderon and Monk show top-5 potential before being taken out with 3h to go

"I think we were all running really well, and the team was working so well together, until the collision." - Tatiana Calderon, Sheena Monk and Katherine Legge had ran impressive stints and were well in contention for a top-five at the 12H of Sebring when they were crashed out of the race with three hours to go - with Legge luckily emerging unhurt.

Gradient Racing Acura NSX GT3 EVO2, Tatiana Calderon, Katherine Legge, Sheena Monk, 2024 Sebring 12 Hours, IMSA
Photo by: Emotive Image / Gradient Racing

Gradient Racing's performance at the 12 Hours of Sebring was typical case of unfulfilled potential to no fault of their own, as Sheena Monk, Tatiana Calderon and Katherine Legge were making impressive progress through the race and were well in contention for a top-five when they were crashed out of the race by a GTP prototype with three hours to go.

It marked the team's second consecutive DNF, after almost the entire 2023 season of uninterrupted point-scoring results. Legge and Monk were joined by former F2 and Indycar racer Tatiana Calderon at the wheel of the #66 JG Wentworth Acura NSX GT3 Evo22 at the season opener at Daytona - and the trio showed great speed throughout the week, also leading sessions. They were unfortunately taken out of contention by a technical issue in the night - but the pace shown was highly promising for the remainder of the season.

Their performance was again on display at the famously demanding 6.019 km-long Sebring International Raceway, and the three drivers had firmly set their eyes on an important result.

While illness compromised Tatiana's build-up to the Rolex 24, this time the Colombian had the chance to get up to speed with the car and the bumpy track in testing - in what is effectively her first season in GT3 racing.

"We tested there a couple weeks ago, it’s a very challenging circuit with a lot of changes in the track surface, so it was really good to get a feel for the car over the bumps", Tatiana said before the weekend. "It was also my first real test with the team and car, so I think I understood a lot of things. We will have to see where we stand with the BoP, which will be different from Daytona, and the weather looks like it will be different too, as it is probably going to be a very hot, physical race."

Monk, Legge and Calderon's speed was building up nicely in the practice sessions, as the #66 Acura consistently made its way up into the top ten in the GTD class.

Sheena Monk then took over driving duties for qualifying - and she delivered another extremely solid performance with a 2:01.064 lap that put her P14 in GTD. Monk was the second fastest bronze-rated driver, only behind Brendan Iribe. This was another testament of Sheena's fast development as a racing driver in GT3 machinery, having only made her debut on the GTD platform last year.

Following post-session penalties, the Gradient Racing Acura was moved up to P12 and Monk took the start of the race, which featured 58 cars among some of the best teams and drivers in the world of sports car racing.

Gradient Racing Acura NSX GT3 EVO2, Tatiana Calderon, Katherine Legge, Sheena Monk, 2024 Sebring 12 Hours, IMSA
Photo by: Emotive Image / Gradient Racing

A very chaotic first lap for the GTD field saw Davide Rigon's #52 Ferrari spinning across the track and being collected by the Inception McLaren. Sheena was hit but the car emerged relatively unscathed from the pile up and slotted into P15 in class.

Faster than Ian James' Heart of Racing Aston Martin, Monk also had to defend from Charlie Scardina in the #023 Triarsi Ferrari; nevertheless, she managed to always keep consistent pace and took no unnecessary risks, following James closely.

A full course yellow 40 minutes into the race for debris at turn 17 interrupted the action for the first time; there was chaos in pit road for the GTD pit stops when the #45 WTR Lamborghini stalled at the end of pit lane, creating a traffic jam. Thanks to a flawless pit by the Gradient crew, though, Sheena gained a few positions and was up to seventh in class before the green flag waved again on lap 24.

Monk cleared Doyle right at the restart and held sixth comfortably, until her next round of pit stops on lap 49, when she handed over to Katherine Legge as the race approached the two hours. Moments later, the safety car was deployed for the accident of Michael Dinan's Tower Motorsport's LMP2 car. While the timing left Legge one lap down, in P15 - she then stayed out once most of the GTD field pitted under caution, where she gained back the lap.

Legge started her trademark charges and closed in on the GTD top-ten. She was unfortunately involved in a contact with the #21 AF Corse Ferrari into turn 1 and was handed a drive through penalty. The British driver only lost one place - and would catch back the pack at the following safety car, triggered by a technical issue for the #88 Richard Mille Oreca of Lilou Wadoux.

At the third round of pit stops under caution, Tatiana Calderon took over from Katherine Legge. At the restart, Calderon lost out to Miguel Molina but picked up a position on Lacorte - and held a very positive ninth place.

From there, Calderon had a brilliant start to her stint and set the car's fastest lap until that point again and again, as the Gradient Acura got closer to the cars ahead. Calderon's stellar pace translated in a clean pass on Ian James, as the Colombian matched some of the front runners on new tyres.

The caution was out again when Yoluc went off in the #80 Lone Star Mercedes; Gradient Racing opted to keep Calderon out and she therefore advanced into fifth place, until most of the field pitted on lap 110, when Sheena Monk was back behind the wheel.

While Monk lost a few positions at the restart, she settled nicely in P15 in a very disrupted stint of the race, which saw another full course yellow for debris. On the day of her birthday, Sheena did well to avoid chaos and never made a mistake, consistently working her way forward. 

Gradient Racing Acura NSX GT3 EVO2, Tatiana Calderon, Katherine Legge, Sheena Monk, 2024 Sebring 12 Hours, IMSA
Photo by: Michael L. Levitt

On lap 133, Monk was pushed off by the #43 Andretti Motorsports Porsche, but after a quick trip to the grass she was soon back underway, 13th in class as the race reached its fifth hour. Despite some damage, lap times remained competitive.

Sheena pitted on lap 140 and Katherine Legge was back at the helm of the #66 JG Wentworth-sponsored machine. Monk and Calderon alternated in the next 20 laps as a full course yellow gave the team the opportunity to shuffle the strategy.

At the restart, Tatiana was back into P14, solidly on the lead lap. The Colombian gained two more positions when Telitz and Lacorte were handed pit infringement penalties - and she resumed her strong run as the race reached its mid-way point. She cycled up into the lead before pitting for the car's ninth stop on lap 190, after arguably one of her best stints in GT racing to date. Now in the expert hands of Katherine Legge, their race resumed from P12.

In the seventh hour, a big crash for the overall leader - the #10 Whelen Cadillac driven by Pipo Derani - saw a lengthy caution as the Brazilian driver hit the #21 AF Corse Ferrari and crashed heavily into the tyre barrier, ending his race upside down. The rescue operations for the driver - who was unhurt - and track repairs meant that everyone pitted under caution and Legge slotted into tenth place. Over the next hour, she would move from tenth to fourth, perfectly managing the pace and with precise strategy from the team.

The Gradient strategy was in fact paying off perfectly; Katherine was steadily making her way up, preparing for the final crucial stints with a chance for big points. Unfortunately, when the race was about to enter its final three hours, Legge was hit by the #6 Porsche 963 hypercar into the final corner; the #66 Acura went off at speed into the barriers and bounced back on track, severely damaged. Luckily, Legge climbed out under her own power and was checked and cleared from the infield care centre.

"It's a shame to lose what I think would have been a top-five finish", Calderon commented. "I think we were all [three drivers] running really well, and the team was working so well together, until the collision."

"The important thing is Kat is okay. Every time I get in the Acura, I feel more and more confident. I'm understanding the car and the tires a bit more all the time. I think we were doing a great job. So it's a real shame not to finish, but that's racing sometimes."

The incident was a very unfortunate end to a highly competitive showing for Legge, Calderon and Monk, who were in the game for a top five. Calderon's performance was particularly notable: the Colombian's stints were among the strongest of her GT racing career, as she gets more familiar with the car lap after lap.

"Now there is a big break until Watkins Glen, so I’ll be training hard and doing my best to familiarise myself with the track as much as possible, and hopefully we can get a better result there” - Tatiana concluded.

The third round of the IMSA SportsCar Championship - and first of the sprint races - will take place at the legendary Long Beach street circuit. Katherine Legge and Sheena Monk will share the car for the 1 hour and 40 minute race; Tatiana Calderon will return behind the wheel at the 6 Hours of the Glen in June.



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