The No. 88 Porsche Drivers Know They Represent Women Racers Present and Future
By Mark Robinson
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Race car drivers feel enough pressure to perform, lest they be cast aside for another hot shoe. It’s the nature of the business.
For Christina Nielsen and Katherine Legge, the burden seems even greater because they also carry the hopes, dreams and potential opportunities of an entire gender. In their minds, failure is not an option.
“We have to perform,” Legge says, heavy emphasis on have to. “There is no two ways about it because if we don’t, all we’re doing is reinforcing negative connotation, the opinions that some other people may have. We’ve had success independently. We just really need to make it work together not only for our careers moving forward, but also for what happens when the next generation of Kats and Christinas come up through the ranks.”
Early results are promising. In their first race since being named primary drivers of the No. 88 Team Hardpoint EBM Porsche 911 GT3R for the remainder of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, Legge, Nielsen and Bia Figueiredo nearly finished on the podium in the GT Daytona (GTD) class at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts on March 20.
Legge, indeed, was running third with under 20 minutes remaining in the iconic endurance race, but she was penalized for incident responsibility with the No. 44 Magnus with Archangel Acura NSX GT3 on the pass that put her in the podium position. The ensuing pit-lane drive-through dropped the No. 88 Porsche to fifth place at the checkered flag.
“This last moment unfortunately defines the final results,” Nielsen said, “but I don’t want that to be the one thing that takes away all the good stuff that we produced.”
To which Legge added, “We felt we deserved a podium, it just wasn’t meant to be. But our program is all about perseverance and we have a lot to build on moving forward.”
They’re like that, Legge and Nielsen. Spending so much time together, supporting each other’s endeavors, commiserating lost opportunities, finishing each other’s thoughts.
“When you spend this many hours on it and, even on the track, we spend so many hours together, it just comes naturally,” Nielsen said. “Rather than hate each other, we like each other.”
“Sometimes it’s a bit of both,” chimed in Legge.
“It’s about bringing out the best in each other and I’m definitely also learning from Kat,” Nielsen added. “I feel lucky that I am surrounded by people who I can learn from and take a step forward together with. I think of the cheesy saying, ‘Teamwork makes the dream work,’ I do believe in it.”
Each woman has carved out her own success in the WeatherTech Championship. Nielsen – the 29-year-old Dane – has accumulated four race wins and two season championships, all in GTD. Legge – the 40-year-old Brit – also has four wins and was runner-up for the 2018 GTD crown. But none of the achievements came together.
They were initially teammates in 2019 at Heinricher Racing with Meyer Shank Racing. Legge was the full-season driver, with Nielsen and Figueiredo splitting time as the second driver and all three sharing the car at endurance events. Their best was a fourth-place finish in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen.
Plans for Legge and Nielsen to team again in 2020 derailed after the Rolex 24 At Daytona, primarily due to the coronavirus pandemic. Then Legge sustained injuries to her leg and wrist in July, in a frightening crash during practice while driving for an all-female team in the European Le Mans Series.
Despite the setbacks, the duo plotted their return to the WeatherTech Championship for 2021 because as Nielsen put it, “We love being a part of IMSA, we love the tracks that we get to race in IMSA, we love the format.”
With continued backing from sponsor Richard Mille, they were added as the endurance drivers in the No. 88 Porsche to pair with team co-owners Earl Bamber and Rob Ferriol in January’s Rolex 24 At Daytona. The car wasn’t a factor in the race, finishing 10th among the 19 GTD entries.
Little more than a week before Sebring, the deal came together to keep Legge and Nielsen in the No. 88 for the rest of the season while a second Team Hardpoint EBM Porsche, the No. 99, became home for Bamber and Ferriol the rest of the year. It ended a long period of uncertainty for the two women.
“I think it’s a tough situation to stand in alone, so I am kind of happy that I’ve been able to share the misery with Kat,” Nielsen said. “We’ve been in it together. Sometimes when you have days where you feel like giving up, it’s nice that there’s someone there to pull you back in and get you going. I think we do that for each other. You know, you quickly get forgotten (in racing) and we didn’t want that to be our case, so we’re happy that we actually managed to stay in the circle and be back here now.”
Getting back into the WeatherTech Championship was difficult enough. Now, the duo know they must prove they can be successful on the track together.
“It would be huge!” Legge said. “We want it so badly and it will happen, and it’ll mean everything. We’ve stood on the podium together, just on different teams. That’s the ultimate goal (to be on the podium on the same team), and what it will take for us to do that is I think continuity, for sure.
“We’re trying to make it all gel as quickly as possible because also, as Christina mentioned, racing is really fickle and you get forgotten about very quickly. So we need the success, we need this program to continue, so we’re doing everything that we can and the team are, too.”
The GTD class will be among those competing when the WeatherTech Championship resumes its season May 14-16 with the Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio. The race airs live at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday, May 16 on NBCSN. Tickets for the race weekend go on sale April 6 at midohio.com.