Trio of former Indy car women drivers pull together on sports car team

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“We’ve brought together the best female drivers in the world. It’s legitimate, it’s credible and we’re some of the best drivers for the job. We just happen to be female.”

Katherine Legge’s assessment of her teammates for the 2019 Rolex 24 at Daytona was warranted. The No. 57 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 had Bia Figueiredo (Ana Beatriz), Simona de Silvestro and Christina Nielsen partnering last year’s GT Daytona championship runner-up and the quartet were set for a top-five finish in class before contact sent the car to the garage area for repairs. They finished 13th in class in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener.

Legge, Figueiredo and de Silvestro are all past Indy car drivers with a combined 136 starts among them. Figueiredo won two Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires races in her ascension up the INDYCAR ladder. Despite driving elsewhere now, the trio looks fondly back at the time spent in open-wheel racing – and with a wistful eye toward returning since IMSA team co-owner Mike Shank fields a car for Jack Harvey in the NTT IndyCar Series.

“INDYCAR is still one of my passions, especially the (Indianapolis) 500, you never lose that,” said Legge, 38, who competed in two Indy 500s (2012 and ’13). “I keep asking Mike every week, ‘Hey can I drive for you, can I drive for you?’ But, you know, so much (is) about sponsorship these days and about how much money you can bring. It’s tough. But yeah, that would be really fun.”

Shank confirmed Legge’s repeated requests to drive an Indy car for his team.

“All the time! About every other day, she says something about it,” he said. “You know we’re digging around (for sponsorship). I don’t know, we’ll see.

“It’s not going to be in 2019, but she does a great job with these (sports) cars, she’s great with the sponsors, she’s a very, very good racing driver. This is her third year with me and I’m happy to see where it goes with her. If it takes us to Indy, then so be it.”

Figueiredo, 33, has been racing in the Brazilian stock car series since 2014, returning this year to join Shank’s all-women’s team. Her best finish in Indy cars was 11th at Toronto in 2011. She competed at the Indianapolis 500 from 2010-13, but remembered the 2011 race as a highlight because of how stressful it was to qualify for field of 33.

“In practice, we knew it was going to be tight,” Figueiredo said. “It was so stressful and it was so much effort to put this together and it was the biggest race of the season. When we were not in the show (earlier on bump day), you’re young and you’re trying to prove yourself and be in the series and stabilize there and it’s a killer and it was so close and so stressful. I think it was one of the most stressful days in my life.”

De Silvestro, 30, is entering her third full season in the Virgin Australia Supercars series after spending four-plus seasons in NTT IndyCar Series competition as a fan favorite. She scored a best finish of second in 2013 at the Houston street course and would like to race at Indianapolis again.

“I do miss Indy cars and things like that because I think I was really good in those types of cars,” de Silvestro said. “But right now, I’m really enjoying supercars in Australia. It’s really cool and really competitive and I really love it there. It’s cool as a driver also to be able to drive different cars and learn from them.”

The lineup at Daytona for the Meyer Shank Racing No. 57 Caterpillar Acura was one of the strongest to compete, but there is a deeper meaning behind the driver selection.

“I think it’s going to show people (they should) give opportunities to young girls or to us,” de Silvestro said. “I think in our careers we have had a lot of highs and lows, because it’s always difficult to kind of crack the barrier and get the right opportunities. I think what’s happening here at the Rolex with Mike, with Caterpillar, with the car that we have.

“Hopefully, down the road, it’ll inspire a lot of young girls to see if you have a dream, follow it and keep working hard for it and try to achieve your goals.”

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