Legge debuts with a splash in Long Beach

Updated: April 10, 2005, 5:45 PM ET
Associated Press

LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Katherine Legge won her Toyota Atlantic debut Sunday, surviving a collision to become the first woman to win a race in the developmental series for the Champ Car World Series.

The 25-year-old Englishwoman started seventh in the 19-car field and was able to continue after colliding on the sixth lap with Fernando Rees, another of the 15 rookies in the lineup. It was the first major open-wheel win for a woman since Desire Wilson won an Aurora Formula One race at Brands Hatch in England in 1980, the year Legge was born.

She took the lead with just over two laps remaining in the 32-lap event in the streets of downtown Long Beach when leader Rocky Moran Jr. slowed with a mechanical problem. Legge then held off PKV Racing teammate and fellow rookie Antoine Bessette, who started from the pole, for the victory by about three car-lengths.

The best previous finish by a woman in the Atlantic series was a pair of seconds by Danica Patrick, a rookie this season in the IndyCar Series.

"It's been a lifelong ambition of mine to be here right now,'' said Legge, who grew up near the Silverstone racetrack north of London and began her career in go-karts.

She met team owner Kevin Kalkhoven when he went to England to complete a deal to buy the Cosworth engine company and talked him into giving her a test.

"I did the test in Phoenix and Kevin gave me the ride,'' Legge said. "I'm just fortunate I found Kevin and PKV.''

The team worked until the early morning hours to repair her car after Legge crashed late in the Saturday qualifying session.

"I didn't even think about winning at the start,'' Legge said. "I was just concentrating on getting past the car ahead of me.''

Legge spent last season driving in the North American Formula Renault series, finishing 10th, after driving in British F3 in 2003.

Charles Zwolsman, another rookie, had to start from the rear of the field after getting knocked off the pole Saturday by a technical violation. The driver from The Netherlands charged back to finish third, just ahead of Chris Dyson.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press