Dan will never be forgotten, says Legge as IndyCar prepares for life after Wheldon
02:28 GMT, 23 March 2012
'I knew Dan since I was nine-years-old. It was just a massive shock, and it still is. I don't think that it will ever go away. He should always be remembered. He was one of the great ones.'
Those are the words of British racing driver Katherine Legge, who will be among 26 drivers set to compete in this weekend's season-opening IndyCar race – the first since Dan Wheldon was tragically killed last year.
Tragedy: Dan Wheldon was killed at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway last October
Mayhem: The British driver lost his life after a huge 15-car pile-up at the season-ending race
Wheldon, a devoted husband, father of two, and double Indy 500 winner, died after a massive 15-car pile-up at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway in October which sent his car catapulting into the air at 225mph.
The Englishman, who was just 33, landed on the crash barrier, and suffered fatal head injuries. He was pronounced dead two hours later.
Katherine wheel: Legge will make her IndyCar debut this weekend
This weekend will see the series emerge from what Legge describes as a 'hard' winter to Wheldon's adopted hometown of St Petersburg, Florida for the first round of the 2012 championship.
The race meeting will be flooded with tributes to the British star from the 26 drivers competing in cars named after him, to Turn 10 of the St Petersburg track recently renamed 'Dan Wheldon Way'. His younger sister Holly will be the honorary starter as well as presenting the winner's trophy. While race-goers are being encouraged to wear orange in Wheldon's memory.
'We're driving the car that Dan did all the testing on,' Legge who is set to make her IndyCar debut on Sunday, said.
'He was the one who changed all the different parts and did all the development work.
'There is no way he is ever going to be forgotten. He is going to be a
hero and a legend in many people's eyes for decades and decades.
'There is a cloud hanging over the racing community over here. But I don't think that will ever go away, it just gets higher.'
31, who hails from Guildford, Surrey wasn't racing on that ill-fated
day in October, with Sunday's season-opener set to mark her first return
to competitive action in America since 2007.
Legge will partner former Formula One driver Sebastien Bourdais at Dragon Racing this season after signing a two-year deal in January.
Eyes on the prize: Legge has signed a two-year deal with Dragon Racing
But did the British driver have second thoughts about a return to open-wheel racing in the States after seeing Wheldon lose his life
'No. No, I wouldn't say that,' said Legge. 'You have to have a healthy respect for it, and you have to know that it is there, but you can't have it in you mind otherwise you wouldn't drive the same. I think you have to put it to one side.
'You could get hit by a bus tomorrow. If you rode horses you could fall off your horse. You could get bombed by terrorists. There is danger in everything we do.
'If you go in with your eyes open then I think that is all you can do.'
Legge suffered her own brush with death in 2006 following a huge accident during a two-year stint in the now defunct Champ Car series.
The British driver lost her rear wing at 170mph causing her car to veer off the road and slam into a fence. Her chassis shattered into pieces sending the cockpit section rolling down the track. Miraculously, Legge remained conscious, and left the scene of the accident unharmed.
'After that, I said to my dad: “if anything ever was to happen to me I'm doing what I love to do, so please don't think you are in anyway responsible because we went go-karting together. If it happens then it happens”.'
Legge's return to American motor racing comes after three years competing in the European-based DTM series.
In 2005, Legge, who became the first female to win the prestigious British Racing Drivers' Club Rising Star award, earned a test drive with former Formula One team Minardi, and claims she was on the brink of signing full-time for the team before they sold out to Red Bull.
On the brink: Legge tested for Minardi back in 2005
'The test went really well. I proved that I could do the times,' Legge said.
“You could get bombed by terrorists. There is danger in everything we do.”
'I was going to get the opportunity to drive with (owner) Paul Stoddart and the team, but then Paul sold out to Red Bull.
'Red Bull weren't interested in doing anything with a female driver, because they didn't want to be the first ones that got it wrong.
'It is a very macho sport and they don't want to be laughed at. That sounds awful but that is the way it is.'
While Legge will be among two female drivers racing in IndyCar this term, Italian Lella Lombardi remains the last woman to start a Formula One grand prix way back in 1976.
Change of pace: Danica Patrick has left the IndyCar series to race NASCAR in 2012
'Europe is a big place, and if you look at it the opinions vary differently,' Legge adds.
'When I first came over here in 2005 it was a novelty. It was me and Danica (Patrick) and that was about it. It was definitely different, but we did at least get the opportunity to compete which was a good thing.
'Now, it's not a novelty anymore. There are more female drivers around and it is more accepted, whereas in Europe they're not at that stage yet because nobody has been competitive over there.
'It's like the chicken and the egg situation. Nobody is going to be competitive until they are given the right opportunities, and nobody is going to get the opportunity until somebody has proved they can do it.'
So, what does Legge make of Marussia Racing's decision to name Maria de Villota as their reserve driver this season
Lone figure: Maria de Villota is Marussia Racing's reserve driver this season
She laughs: 'Honestly, it's a publicity stunt, and until somebody has proved they can compete that is all it will be.
'I would like her to do GP2, to see if she can win races and finish on the podium, but from what I've seen it will be more derogatory than positive because it is just going to reinforce the value that girls can't drive race cars.
'I think it is the wrong thing to do. They should wait until someone can actually compete on a level playing field and put some good times on the board, so they're not just a laughing stock or publicity stunt.
'Bernie (Ecclestone) would love to have a female in Formula One. It would do him a lot of good publicity wise. However, there is still a lot of money influence coming from places that don't want that.'
So, is Legge the answer to Ecclestone's dreams I remind her that Jenson Button, whom she raced against in the junior ranks might require a new team-mate at McLaren next year, should Lewis Hamilton seek pastures new when his current contract expires.
'That would be nice,' she says. 'I remember I contacted Ron Dennis when I was 16 or 17 because I wanted to be part of the programme that Lewis was part of. It was either McLaren or Williams for me when I was growing up.'
And what did Dennis say, I ask 'Nothing. Nothing, he didn't even reply to me.'