Fiona Leggate - Latest News
The Following article can be found across a 4 page spread in the December/January 2007 Silverstone Magazine.
Bob McKenzie catches up with the BTCC’s only female driver, Fiona Leggate
Fiona Leggate hopes she has just crossed the startline in her motorracing career – but check out the Guinness Book of World Records and her achievement at the wheel is already proclaimed for her efforts at Silverstone. “We tried the most races in 24 hours, all in an MG, and despite a couple of problems we managed it,” says the 26-year-old, who has competed in the British Touring Car Championship for the past two seasons and is now looking for a more competitive drive in 2007. It is not just the fact that she is the only female in the series which has brought her attention. There is also the bio-ethanol which has powered her Vauxhall Astra, and she is genuinely proud of having promoted the use of environmentally-friendly fuel in motor-racing.
Yet none of this saved the daughter of former 70s BTCC racer Malcolm Leggate from the curse of motor-racing – lack of funds. Her season came to an abrupt end with three races to go when she was hit with a bill for £30,000 for engine rebuilds. To her frustration, Fiona had to step back from her drive with Thurlby Motors with Tech-Speed, and the Astra Coupe was handled by Paul O’Neill, returning after more thantwo years out with illness. “It was a disappointing end, for sure, but we couldn’t just keep putting money in,” says Fiona at the family-run bowling alley in Boston, Lincolnshire. “It was a tight budget because we were a small independent team. We went to Donington Park and the engine, which we had just paid to have a rebuild on, blew up after a couple of practice laps. “It put a big strain on our budget and so we decided to miss the next two rounds and finish off at Silverstone – but we never got back because of problems with the car. If it had blown again we would have struggled to pay for it. “A new engine cos t s around £30 to £40,000,” she continues, reflecting the difficulties facing smaller teams everywhere. “Our rebuild cost around £20,000 and the one we had just before was around £10,000. That’s £30,000 for not much running, so you can see how fast the money goes. We just decided to call it a day, which was a huge decision for me and my sponsors. I felt I was letting them down, but obviously I would rather be racing than watching.”
Fuel of the future
It was certainly bad luck for the young driver and her team. But could Fiona’s engine misfortunes have been caused by her decision to promote the use of greener fuel? She is cer tain that this had nothing to do with it: “One thing for sure is that we had absolutely no problems with the bio-ethanol at all, and that was not a contributing factor to the engine blowing. “My car has run on bio-ethanol from mid-2005, and we brought the engine up from starting with a 30% mix of bio to 90% by the end of the year. We went for an 85% mix for this season. I think it’s great. At the beginning of 2006 on a test there was a lack of the fuel, so we switched to petrol and I couldn’t tell thedifference. It’s not yet widely available, but it’s way forward for road cars.” This year she finished 21st with three points after a trio of third places early in the season. Down on the half season she managed in 2005, but far from downbeat, Fiona is filled with enthusiasm and determination for the future. “I think the season had been as good as we could expect with the car we had. It had not been developed since 2004, so it was never going to be competitive enough to run at the front end of the field. That was proved when Paul took over from me for the last three rounds. He had driven this shape Astra for three years with good results. It put my mind at ease, because sometimes you wonder if it is you or the car – but it was comforting to know that someone who has done quite a bit of BTCC driving wasn’t better than me as he should be, but was limited by the car as I was.”
Fiona’s abilities aren’t in question. Still, though, the fact that she’s the only female competing in the BTCC series must make some sort of difference to how she’s treated? Not particularly, says Fiona. “The other drivers are friendly, but it’s still very different to the MG ZRs I started with in club racing. That’s like a big family where everyone helps each other out, very chatty, very matey. BTCC is much more serious, as you would expect. It’s very professional but even so Yvan Muller, Colin Turkington, Rob Collard and the people I was running against near the back were all good. “At the back is not where I want to be and it can be disheartening. I wasn’t used to it, but BTCC is tough. It’s a massive learning curve and I’m trying my hardest.” So how’s the future in touring cars looking for Fiona? “I’ve been talking to teams and sponsors and it is looking positive right now,” she says. “With the right budget I hope to get into one of the top teams. I think I’ve shown enough potential to be taken on further up the grid, but the budget is huge: up to £250,000 for the season depending on who you’re with. My dream is to continue, to do as well as possible and try to win the title. That is the ultimate but there are no shortcuts and you have to go through the lows to get the highs.” Her father’s 17-year race career ended just as she was born, but they have raced against each other and his encouragement put her into the car. “I was always interested in going to tracks or watching rallying,” says Fiona. “I never dreamt I would be out there doing what dad had done, but then out of the blue one day he said ‘do you fancy going racing?’ I had a four-hour lesson at Silverstone and loved it. Then I did two years of MGs and then jumped into BTCC. “In 2004 I did the Britcar series with a factory-run ZR with Anthony Reid. I owe so much to him, he helped me out more than I could hope, even ringing if he was in a BTCC race and I was competing somewhere else.”
And, of course, there was the small matter of a world record to fit in too. “The record came about in 2004,” she smiles. “It was Silverstone’s big two-day MG event and I wanted to do something different, so we decided to do as many races as possible in 24 hours. “It didn’t quite work out. I did my first races at Silverstone and then got a helicopter over to Brands Hatch to race in a Britcar where I was due to be partnered by [rally star] Gwyndaf Evans. But unfortunately as I was landing he was crashing, so I never got out. In the end I did six on the Sunday, all in MGs. That was enough.”
“I was doing 112 mph at Eau Rouge and it kicked – left, right and off we went!
I absolutely totalled it”
It was an achievement almost matched by another of a very different kind. Fiona can count herself among the elite of those who have crashed heavily at Eau Rouge at Spa and walked away. “I thought I was invincible,” she says with a laugh. “We were there for a Britcar race in 2003 and I had the MG. I remember they said, ‘this car is a bit of celebrity, don’t crash.’ But I was doing 112 mph at Eau Rouge and it kicked – left, right and off we went! I absolutely totalled it. I was lucky to get away with bruising and a few friction burns.” As her continuing career shows, the accident didn’t put Fiona off in the slightest, and the future is full of interesting possibilities. A race in Dubai is a possible to keep away the winter blues, but right now the hard graft is being done in talks for next year. Let’s hope she finds the drive she deserves.
© Fiona Leggate - Latest News