Q+A with Katherine Legge: Her decision to contest her third Indy 500, why the race is ‘bonkers’ and what she hopes to achieve


Update: Katherine Legge locked in a spot in the 107th edition of the Indianapolis 500 in last weekend’s qualifying with an average speed of 231.070 over four laps. She’ll return to the Brickyard for the legendary race this Sunday (coverage begins on NBC and Peacock at 11 a.m. ET, with a special pre-race show shown exclusively on Peacock starting at 9 a.m. ET.). 

On the eve of qualifying for the 107th Indianapolis 500, British professional race car driver Katherine Legge has her sights set on making her third start in the iconic American race. If she does qualify for one of the coveted 33 spots in the grid (34 teams are attempting to qualify), Legge also will become the first woman to do so since Simona De Silvestro made her sixth start at Indy in 2021.

The 42-year-old Brit made headlines in February when Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLL) announced she would drive the team’s No. 44 Dallara-Honda for the race, marking Legge’s first Indy start since 2013. Last year’s Indy 500 field was notably absent for the second time in three years. The 2020 race was the first contest without at least one woman in the field since 1999.

Legge, whose team recently finished fourth in class at the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January, is one of just nine women to have raced in the Indy 500, which is set for May 28 on NBC. She currently competes fulltime in an Acura NSX GT3 for Gradient Racing in the GTD class in International Motor Sport Association (IMSA) racing. Her resume includes experience in Formula 3, Formula Renault, Formula 1 test, ChampCar, IndyCar, A1 Grand Prix, Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM), Formula E and sports car racing. In two previous starts at the Indy 500, Legge finished 22nd in 2012 (starting 30th) and 26th in 2013 (starting 33rd).

On Her Turf sat down with Legge during her leadup to this weekend’s qualifying to talk about her decision to race in this year’s Indy 500, her preparation and what she hopes to achieve in her third appearance at The Brickyard.

RELATED: How to watch the 2023 Indy 500 (schedule, start time and more)

This Q+A has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

On Her Turf: Let’s start by talking about your decision to compete at the Indy 500 for the first time in 10 years. Can you talk a little bit about your decision and what went into it?

Katherine Legge: I think it was a relatively easy decision, honestly, because for the last 10 years I’ve been trying to get another shot at Indy with a good car, with a good team and with a chance of winning it. I’ve done it twice — as you said the last one a decade ago, and the first one a year before that. The first time I did it was not a great situation, but the second year, I had a great car and a great opportunity. So I wanted to recreate that and get another really good opportunity to go out there and have a chance of winning the thing.

OHT: You said your first appearance at Indy was not a great experience. Is there anything more about it that you could share?

Legge: It was a disaster. It was my first year back in IndyCar after having gone back to Europe to race for a while. The team was using Lotus engines and the Lotus engine was quite significantly down on power compared to Honda and to Chevy. And so when we started practicing… we were just being lapped, once every 10 laps, so it’s not worth doing. They tried to get another engine manufacturer to support us and in the end, we missed out on literally all the testing. The second year was great, but I didn’t have any testing. … It was a great car and we did qualify, we put it in the field, and I’ve been chasing that high ever since, I guess you could say.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing have given me the opportunity this year to have a significant amount of testing. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been so well prepared for anything in my life. So that’s a really nice feeling because it gives you a level of confidence and a level of calm going in.

OHT: Why was Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing the right fit this year?

Legge: I have raced for the team before. As far as level of comfort goes, I’ve known these guys for a long time. I’ve won races with them. I think they know what I’m capable of and it’s not a gimmick. I think I’ve been given and will be given the best equipment. And it’s not like they’re just putting another car on the grid for the sake of doing it or a gimmick or anything like that. It’s like they legit believe in me. And I believe in them. And we can go win together.

It’s very unique, honestly, in racing that the team are very supportive of one another. There’s a real team atmosphere — there’s no infighting, there’s no politics. It’s just really a supportive atmosphere, and you don’t find that every day in racing, unfortunately. I’ve been in some less-than-ideal scenarios in the past, and I’ve been in some great ones. So you know, you recognize it when you see it, and I’m just going to try and make the most of it.

OHT: What has training looked like for you? Could you share a couple of specifics?

Legge: I just really had to kind of up the strength training, but I still do a lot of the same things I’ve done for the last 10 years. I still I still run five miles every day, most often. But I definitely increased weight training — upper body and core — and tried to lose weight because the lighter you are in these cars, the better. Mentally — I have a mental coach that I’ve worked with on and off for a number of years, but I think with age and experience comes wisdom, and I think you know yourself a lot better. I think I’m actually mentally in a much better place and a much more secure place than I was when I was trying to make it as a racing driver. I think the relative successes I’ve had across the years and everything else have helped with that, so it’s been pretty seamless to move into doing it.

OHT: When it comes to women in racing and women at the Indy 500, it continues to be an anomaly. It’s been 10 years since you last raced at Indy and there still has been only nine women drivers who’ve raced there. Why do you think that is?

Legge: It’s totally rubbish. I don’t actually think it’s a reflection of what’s been happening over the past decade. I think if you look at it, from when I first started nearly 20 years ago until now, there’s been a snowball effect and it’s been exponential of the women involved. …There are a lot more women involved in racing. I think a lot of TV documentaries, like (Netflix’s)“Drive to Survive,” probably have made it more human and more interesting to a lot of people. But I think there’s a lot more girls karting, and there’s a lot more women trying to rise through the ranks.

I think it will happen – it’s just not a linear climb up the mountain. It’s kind of like, you go over one hump and then you find another one, and then you keep going. And because it isn’t a gimmick anymore, the spotlight isn’t necessarily as much on you, which means it’s hard to find sponsors and such. I think it very much depends on the individual now, rather than just the fact that you’re a girl and racing. It depends on whether you can actually drive and not just turn up. So in a way, it’s good and it’s bad.

#44: Katherine Legge, photo courtesy Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

OHT: Do feel like women racecar drivers still have to be as good as or better than the men to get that recognition?

Legge: Yes and no. I think I think it’s difficult because the default is to not believe that they can do it until it’s been proven wrong. Whereas there’s more of an open mind going in with the young male drivers that are coming up. I would say that I don’t think (women) have to be “better than” — I think they’re judged on more things. So for example, I don’t think the guys have to worry about what they look like as much as we do. … So I think it’s different standards, especially because, the spotlight is still on you a little bit more. But I think there is definitely more of an open mind that women can do it.

OHT: Let’s do a quick rewind. Can you talk a little bit about your childhood and how you fell in love with racing?

Legge: It didn’t start off as a love of racing. I was a tomboy and an adrenaline junkie — and I was also very close to my dad. I still am. I would follow him around — he built houses. So I would be on the building site, with a hammer, nails and stuff. He actually wanted to have a go at karting while we were on holiday. I nagged him and I nagged him, and he eventually let me have a go. But it wasn’t that I had a love of cars or anything like that. It’s the competition.

It’s mostly the competition with yourself, I think, because you’re always striving for perfection. And because there’s so many changing variables, you never get it. You’re always learning. So, you’re battling with yourself mentally, and you’re also battling everybody else on track. And it’s fast. And it’s really fun. So, I think there’s a there’s a number of reasons I fell in love with racing itself. And I think once it gets in your blood, it’s really hard to not have it in your blood. Like I can’t imagine not racing in some way, shape, or form. Obviously, a time will come when I don’t race anymore, but I still think I’ll be involved in racing, because I love the sport. I just have a real real passion for it.

OHT: What will success at the Indy 500 look like for you this year? What are you hoping to achieve?

Legge: I think there’s a bunch of things I want to achieve. I want to do as well as I’m capable of and the car is capable of. I don’t want to leave anything on the table. I don’t want to make any mistakes. I want to learn as much as possible. I want to enjoy it as much as possible and get as much out of it as I can. And if that’s good enough to win, and I want to win.

I we collectively have been working very hard on different things — the car, the sim, fitness. I think if I can retain all the information needed and figure out the traffic and the tools inside the car and everything — which I anticipate I will be able to relatively quickly — so that all then gets programmed into my subconscious. Because if you’re thinking about it consciously, then you’re too slow. You need to have it, like, in your bones almost. Then, if we make good decisions on strategy, if we make good decisions on car setup and I make good decisions on the track, then what will be will be.

OHT: When you think about race day, what are you looking forward to the most? What is it like being in that grid when it all starts up on race day? Is there anything else like it? 

Legge: It’s bonkers. It’s the largest sporting event in the world, as far as people turning up goes, and I didn’t ever let myself enjoy it because you put your blinders. You don’t want to let anything in because you’ve got so much to think about — and you’re nervous. It has its own personality, the 500, and I intend to enjoy it more this year. I think I’m probably in a place where I can enjoy it a little bit more now and still do all the other things.

But honestly when the crowd is in there, the whole place is totally different, and you go into Turn 1 with 33 cars, and the air has been pushed around by the cars so much that you’re getting buffeted from side to side, and you don’t know which way is up and which way is down. And you can’t really tell — you just kind of go on what your spotter tells you, and it’s a whole different venue. Unless you’ve done it, you can’t describe the emotion that it evokes. It’s probably the neatest experience on the planet.

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Li Li Leung talks USA Gymnastics’ cultural transformation, challenges still to come and embracing her AAPI heritage

Head of USA Gymnastics Li Li Leung.
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Li Li Leung joined USA Gymnastics as president and CEO in March 2019, when the organization was reeling from the fallout of Larry Nassar’s widespread sexual abuse and the subsequent revelations of larger cultural issues within the sport. Since then, Leung has seen USAG through an ongoing transformation, one that hinges on the work of the survivors and staff around her, whom she is quick to credit. That evolution, as she calls it, has included instituting new norms and standards at all levels of the sport, particularly in matters related to athlete safety.

Among the notable USAG initiatives that Leung has brought to fruition is the Athlete Bill of Rights, established in December 2020 as a tool “to unite the full gymnastics community around a shared vision of behavioral expectations.” At the same time, USAG instituted a protest policy for national team members aimed at supporting athletes who choose to use their voice on public platforms. Both initiatives were among the first of their kind in sport.

Prior to joining USAG, Leung served as a vice president at the National Basketball Association (NBA), where she was responsible for building and managing key partner relationships around the world. She continues to use that experience in her roles as vice chair of the National Governing Bodies Council of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee and a member of the International Gymnastics Federation’s Executive Committee.

Leung, who began competing in gymnastics at age 7, was a member of the U.S. junior national training team and represented the U.S. at the 1988 Junior Pan American Games. She was a four-year member of the four-time Big 10 champion University of Michigan gymnastics team and was an NCAA Championships participant.

In honor of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, On Her Turf sat down with Leung to talk about her journey with USAG, the challenges still to come and how being a member of the AAPI community has shaped the person she is today.

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This Q+A has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

On Her Turf: Let’s start by talking about your journey since joining USA Gymnastics in 2019. What have the last four years been like for you?

Li Li Leung: This was just an incredible opportunity to give back to the sport that has given so much to me. And I really mean that because I started in the sport when I was 7 years old and did it for 15 years. It’s taught me all of these different skills that I apply to my daily life, both professional and personal. It feels a little bit like I’ve come full circle, and honestly, never in a million years did I think I would find myself in this role. … I joined at a time when it was a tumultuous time for the organization. It’s been just a little a little over four years now, and it has been an incredible journey — and believe it or not, I have enjoyed it. While it hasn’t been easy, I actually have enjoyed it, because I’ve been able to make it not just me. One thing that’s important to note is that — I had even said on my first interview with the board — it will take a village to accomplish what we need to accomplish. This is not a one-person job. And I was lucky enough to be able to bring on a leadership team that has been incredible, and also retain the staff that we have retained, as well as hire other new staff members. And it’s because of them and some really key volunteers that we’ve been able to accomplish what we’ve been able to do.

OHT: Can you talk a little more about this cultural transformation that the organization has experienced and your approach to tackling this all-encompassing change?

Leung: When I was interviewing for the position, I actually met every single board member. It was really critical to both sides that they felt that I matched the role and their needs and also I had to be confident in the board believing in the ultimate mission of the organization and what we wanted to achieve. So that the culture really does stem from the well – from the top down and everything in between as well. And when I was looking for leadership team, … one of the characteristics I was really looking for was they couldn’t have an ego. The job couldn’t be about themselves or about what they would personally get out of the role. It had to be about them believing in the bigger picture and believing in what we collectively wanted to achieve. I knew that we would only be able to accomplish what we need to accomplish if people were willing to roll up their sleeves and just do whatever needed to be done, so that was one of the key things in terms of having no ego.

Since 2018, we’ve turned over more than 70 percent of our staff. We’ve been able to retain the really key members of our staff, who have been critical to our success, but also have been able to really bring in new thinking, new blood, new perspectives. Because the other thing I was looking for when I was hiring for the leadership team was diversity in perspectives. That was critical because I did not want to be surrounded by “yes people.” I wanted to be surrounded by people who would be willing to have really robust conversations and engage in difficult conversations, because ultimately, you end up in a better place because of that.

In 2020, we reset our mission to be about building a community and culture of health, safety and excellence, with athletes who thrive in sport and in life. So we were no longer about developing technically superior gymnasts who perform well in gym. We reset our focus to be about helping set our athletes up for success with the skill sets that you learn in gymnastics, and when we come to the office each day, that’s what we’re thinking about. …

The other piece is we also know from a community standpoint that our national team coaches are the most visible representation (of USAG), and a lot of coaches model them. So we’ve been working really hard in terms of working on educating our national team coaches. We work with Positive Coaching Alliance to do educational training with them as well. And we also have introduced training specifically for young coaches coming in, because we know when they come in and they’re new, that they’re eager to learn, and that’s when you can start training and moving them in a way. So our thinking is with this top-down and bottom-up strategy, eventually the middle will meet.

OHT: You noted how the coaches can be some of the most visible representatives of USAG. Regarding the addition of 2008 Olympic silver medalists Chellsie Memmel (USAG technical lead) and Alicia Sacramone Quinn (USAG strategic lead), how have those women impacted the program?

Leung: The addition of Chellsie and Alicia has been fantastic. They have been phenomenal to work with, and the fact that they have firsthand experience of having gone through it themselves – that also gives them a very good idea of what they would change and what they wouldn’t change, at the same time. It has been a phenomenal addition to be able to have this perspective of firsthand, high-level, high-performing athletes to be able to lead our high-performance team. And the athletes are saying it as well. They’re saying, “We trust them; we feel confident in their decisions; we can relate to them” — all of those things that historically haven’t really happened before.

Then in terms of the athletes who are going to college and coming back to compete with USA Gymnastics – there are so many aspects that I think are great about this. One: It’s showing a lengthened career in a sport that historically has not been very long because it’s so demanding on the body. So that means that our athletes are physically healthier, as well, that they can train and compete at a high level for a longer period of time. It also means that they’re enjoying it more because they’re staying in the sport. From an emotional standpoint, they’re finding a lot more joy in the sport, and they’re talking about it, too. And we love the fact that they’re talking about it. We want them to talk about it, and we want them to have voices and feel open and free about sharing what they’re thinking about. I have to say I’ve been really enjoying seeing almost like — I’m not sure if I can go as far as a new era in the sport maybe — but just this evolution of the sport and the athletes changing in front of my eyes.

OHT: What do you consider now to still be the biggest challenge or obstacle for USAG?

Leung: There are a couple of big initiatives on the list. One is we want to build a training and wellness center where all of our disciplines will train under one roof. This is a long-term project, obviously, but my vision around it is that it will be the heart and hub of gymnastics in America. And while this is where national team athletes will ultimately train to some extent, it is going to be a welcoming place for athletes of all different disciplines and all different levels. We want it to be a place where young athletes can come through and see their role models training. We want this to be a place of education for our community and judges. We want to be able to run clinics there for all different levels. We just want this to be a gathering place of gymnastics and to be able to celebrate the sport there at the same time.

We’re also going to reset our foundation. There’s been the National Gymnastics Foundation, but we are going to reset it and basically be much more proactive on fundraising and development to grow the sport and also to raise more money for athletes in their training.

OHT: Turning to AAPI Heritage Month and being named to the 2023 Gold House A100 List (the A100 is named each May honoring 100 Asian Pacific leaders who made the greatest impact on culture and society over the past year). What did that honor mean to you?

Leung: It was such an incredible honor to be recognized by them, and my fellow honorees — when I read the list, I thought to myself, “I don’t belong.” There are some incredible names on that list. But again, I go back to what I said earlier: I owe this honor to a lot of the other people who work [at USAG]. I think the really important thing to recognize is that this was not done by just me. It was done by a lot of other people who are on staff and who aren’t getting the accolades or the recognition. But it was an incredible experience to be, and I’m very, very touched and honored to be on that list.

OHT: How do you identify within the Asian American Pacific Islander community? Did you embrace your heritage growing up and how has that shaped who you are today?

Leung: So I’ll tell you a story that I’ve mentioned to other people recently. I grew up in a town called Ridgewood in Bergen County, New Jersey, and most of my friends had blond hair and blue eyes. When I was growing up, I wanted the name “Nancy Smith,” and I wanted blue eyes. I wanted to fit in. As a kid, you always want to fit in. Then when you get older and wizen up a little bit, you realize that it’s okay and it’s good to be different, that you can use that to your advantage. And so upon growing up, I realized that it’s pretty special to be Asian American and there are benefits to being Asian American, and you should embrace the fact that you are different. In fact, I recently lectured to a women-in-sports-business class, and one of the questions they asked me was about impostor syndrome. I said the same thing that I’m saying to you now, which is absolutely embrace who you are. Absolutely embrace your differences, because those ultimately are embedded advantages to who you are and make you stand out from the rest of the crowd. So that’s my philosophy now.

OHT: Do you or your family have any traditions that are especially important to you?

Leung: I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a tradition, but in the Chinese culture, food is really important. Food is what brings people together. It’s a sign of respect, and that is the ultimate unifying language in a way. So when we do get together as a family, it’s really important for us to get together around a meal, because that’s when we share our stories. That’s when we connect with one another.

OHT: You might have just answered my next question, but I want to ask: What brings you joy about your heritage and culture?

Leung: It’s funny, I was actually at a conference last week and you were supposed to find someone you didn’t know in the conference and share a secret talent that you have. I shared that I can eat a lot more than most people think. Food is a really important part of our culture and in my upbringing and family.

OHT: Lastly, I wanted to ask, as we’ve seen an increase in hate-filled actions toward the AAPI community, what does supporting the AAPI community look like for you?

Leung: Well, I think kind of going back to my other answer, it’s just about embracing who you are and embracing your differences. I think part of it is being unafraid of it at the same time, which I know is really difficult. But if you’re going to truly embrace it, and then you can’t be afraid about embracing it at the same time.

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2023 Mizuho Americas Open: How to watch, who’s playing in inaugural LPGA event at Liberty National GC

Pajaree Anannarukarn of Thailand tees off on the eleventh hole during Day One of the HSBC Women's World Championship.
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The Statue of Liberty is the backdrop for this week’s inaugural Mizuho Americas Open at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, New Jersey. The tournament boasts a theme of mentorship and education, and includes a girls’ 72-hole, modified Stableford tournament featuring 24 juniors to go along with the 72-hole stroke-play event for 120 LPGA professionals.

The field is led by seven of the top 10 players on the Rolex Rankings including world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, No. 3 Lydia Ko, No. 4 Lilia Vu and No. 5 Minjee Lee. Also teeing it up this week are the finalists from Sunday’s Bank of Hope LPGA Match-Play, where Thailand’s Pajaree Anannarukarn captured her second LPGA title with a 3-and-1 victory over Japan’s Ayaka Furue.

Michelle Wie West is serving as the tournament host, and she’ll be on hand to welcome fellow Stanford alum Rose Zhang, who’s fresh off her second straight NCAA individual title and turned professional just last week. Zhang will have her first go at an LPGA prize purse, which tops out at $2.75 million this week with the winner taking home $412,500.

How to watch the 2023 Mizuho Americas Open

You can watch the 2023 Mizuho Americas Open on Golf Channel, Peacock, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. Check out the complete TV and streaming schedule:

  • Thursday, June 1: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. ET, Golf Channel and Peacock
  • Friday, June 2: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. ET, Golf Channel and Peacock
  • Saturday, June 3: 5-8 p.m. ET, Golf Channel and Peacock
  • Sunday, June 4: 4:30-5 p.m. ET (streaming only on Peacock); 5-7:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel and Peacock

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Who’s playing in the 2023 Mizuho Americas Open?

The 120-player field features seven of the top 10 players (and 16 of the top 25 player) on the Rolex Rankings:

  • No. 1 Jin Young Ko
  • No. 3 Lydia Ko
  • No. 4 Lilia Vu
  • No. 5 Minjee Lee
  • No. 6 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 8 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 9 Georgia Hall

Also in the field are 2023 winners Celine Boutier (LPGA Drive On Championship), Ruoning Yin (DIO Implant LA Open) and Grace Kim (LOTTE Championship), plus several sponsor exemptions including reigning NCAA individual champion Rose Zhang and her Stanford teammate Megha Ganne. Ganne, a native of Holmdel, N.J., finished T-21 at the recent NCAAs and is playing as an amateur. Joining them as an exemption is fellow Cardinal Mariah Stackhouse, who has conditional status on tour in 2023. Monday qualifiers include tour rookie Alexa Pano and Australia’s Sarah Jane Smith.

Among the notable juniors expected to play are 2022 Augusta National Women’s Amateur winner Anna Davis, 2022 U.S. Girls’ Junior winner Yana Wilson and 2022 U.S. Junior Girls’ runnerup Gianna Clemente. The 24 junior players were invited through their standings in the Rolex AJGA Rankings.

What’s the format for the Mizuho Americas Open?

The professionals will play a 72-hole stroke-play competition, with a cut to the top 50 and ties after 36 holes. The 24 juniors will play a 72-hole, no-cut competition using the modified Stableford scoring format and a different yardage than the pros.

During the first two rounds, the AJGA players will all be paired together. During the final two rounds, one junior player will play with two LPGA pros with groupings based on scores. This unique format marks the first time the AJGA and LPGA have partnered to showcase junior and professional competitors playing together.

Stableford scoring refresher: “Stableford” is a scoring system that awards points for the number of strokes taken on each hole in relation to par, rather than simply counting strokes like in stroke play. Unlike in stroke play, where players want the lowest score, the goal in Stableford scoring is to have the highest score. Standard Stableford points values are:

  • 0 Points – Double bogey or worse (two strokes or more over par)
  • 1 Point – Bogey (one stroke over par)
  • 2 Points – Par
  • 3 Points – Birdie (one stroke under par)
  • 4 Points – Eagle (two strokes under par)
  • 5 Points – Albatross or double eagle (three strokes under par)
  • 6 Points – Condor (four strokes under par)

More about Liberty National Golf Club

Located on the shore of the Upper Bay of New York Harbor, Liberty National Golf Club was designed by Bob Cupp and Tom Kite and officially opened on July 4, 2006. After the course received mixed reviews following the PGA Tour’s Northern Trust in 2009, the course underwent a renovation led by Steve Wenzloff of PGA Tour Design Services. Of note, the course hosted an event during the PGA Tour Playoffs four times (2009, 2013, 2019 and 2021) as well as the 2017 Presidents Cup, where the U.S. defeated the Internationals 19-11 for the Americans’ seventh consecutive victory in the competition and its 10th straight win overall. For this week’s event, the course will play to a par of 72 with an unofficial scorecard yardage of 6,671 yards.

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