Saturday between the afternoon and night practice sessions of The Roar, IMSA held a “Women in Motorsports” panel hosted by Shea Adam, pit reporter for IMSA radio and Radio Le Mans, and attended by Jessica Mace, sports car mechanic with Chip Ganassi Racing, Katherine Legge, driver of the #93 Honda Acura NSX car with Michael Shank Racing, and Christina Nielsen, driver of the #63 Ferrari 488 GTE car with Scuderia Corsa. Katherine and Christina are both competing in the GTD class, where Christina is defending her championship winning 2016 season.
The panel spoke to a packed house with a diverse attentive audience of all ages, boys and girl scouts, their parents and many people, who currently were or soon to become race fans! Here is just part of the event. After an introduction of the panel, the group answered probably their most asked question, “How did you get started in motorsports?” From Jessica, “My grandfather raced a mini-cooper for 40 years, so I grew up at the race track watching him. It was probably my second year in college, I realized I really don’t like what I’m doing and pursued just racing only and kept on which I always been hooked at a young age.”
Image from IMSA
From Katherine who was on a family holiday or vacation and “I had a go on the fun karts as did my dad and my uncle. It really just started as a hobby. I was looking for adrenaline. I was always jumping off stuff and doing crazy things. I loved competition as I still do now. It just started as fun and then gets additive very quickly, you just want to be driving.” Katherine continues, “You want to be at the track. You want to be learning and be all encompassing. Ever since I’ve been nine years old, I think its 365 days a year. I literally focused on racing. I’m very fortunate. I’ve had the best life and I’ve also worked really really frickin’ hard for it. It’s been really good.”
Christina came from a racing family where her father raced in Le Mans and the American Le Mans series. Racing “wasn’t something I didn’t know anything about, but I really didn’t have an interest before I sat behind the wheel and drove myself. And I still have that passion today for driving. And that’s what makes racing so good. We love driving. We love competition. We love also our team and the people we get to work with. It is a team effort. And I’ve been very lucky to be with some good people and they are the ones to make the difference for me.”
Shea Adam brought up the topic of the first time driving with the guys and Katherine shared that “their lockers stink, just disgusting.” After a chuckle from the audience, Katherine continued, “There are so few women. We need to stick together. And I think we do a good job of that girl-power thing, supporting each other, helping each other along. I really think within the sport nobody looks at us differently. We are just race car drivers, we’re just mechanics, we’ve just engineers, whatever we may be….but the people on the outside the sport and think of us as a novelty.”
Looking forward to the Rolex 24 weekend, Christina shared, “Last year, we won the championship with the 488 with Scuderia Corsa. I have an awesome teammate, Alessandro Balzan. He is with me again for the season, but we have never run the 488 at Daytona. We have never done 24 hours with the car. We’ve done 12 hours at Sebring which is tougher than most 24 hour races in the car to be honest because of the track surface.” Christina continued, “It’s definitely something you are nervous about but as a driver you can’t do anything about it. I think our engineer has a great saying that I think counts for a lot of things in life. You are going to run into challenges. It’s not a matter of when and where. It’s a matter of how you handle them, and that’s how we approach as well on our team. And that’s what makes it so good, if you ask me.” And I’m glad Shea did ask her. Excellent response, Christina.
The panel discussion turned to topics of travel, missing families and the difficulty of handling time zone differences and ended with taking questions from the audience. It was a wonderful event and I hope this is done again and I encourage everyone to attend. I enjoyed learning more about the women who I personally have seen around the track for years and am fortunate to known two of them very well.