- Associated Press - Thursday, May 23, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Katherine Legge didn’t know she’d have a shot at the Indianapolis 500 until it was time to qualify, when Schmidt Peterson Motorsports decided to put her in its second car at the last second.

Pippa Mann chatted with tire makers, dropped in on the folks from the television networks and even tried to get cozy with engine maker Honda in the hopes of landing a ride.

Both of them have overcome long odds to join Ana Beatriz and Simona de Silvestro in Sunday’s 33-car field, matching the record of four women starters. But in their minds, just starting the race is no longer a story: The next big story will be win a woman finally wins.

“Until somebody is competitive on a regular basis, and winning races, and then probably more than one, it’s still going to be a bit of a novelty,” Legge said Thursday. “And it stinks in a way, because there’s no reason for it.”

Especially given the history of women at the Brickyard.

Janet Guthrie was a pioneer when she qualified for the first time in 1977, eventually making three starts at Indianapolis. She finished ninth in 1978, and even put to rest much of the remaining machismo when she revealed that she had driven with a broken wrist.

Lyn St. James and Sarah Fisher were still considered unique when they started in the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” but it wasn’t until Danica Patrick’s arrival in the mid-2000s that more barriers began to fall. She qualified fourth in 2005, eventually led 29 laps during her open-wheel career and finished third in 2009 after challenging for the win.

Danica’s done a great job, and Danica’s made a lot of money in the way she’s marketed herself,” Legge said, “so nobody can blame her for that. She brings attention to it, for sure, which is a positive thing, but we’re all individual people trying to do it our own way.”

And now that Patrick is running fulltime in the Sprint Cup series _ she’ll start Sunday night’s race in Charlotte _ the focus has turned to who will take over for her.

Legge may be the longest shot in the field.

After losing her ride with Dragon Racing, she arrived at Indianapolis just to say hello to her old pal A.J. Allmendinger, who had hooked up with Penske Racing. But when she got wind of a seat in a second car for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports _ with no sponsorship money in sight, mind you _ Legge managed to get onto the track just in time for qualifying.

She’s run about 20 total laps, but her perseverance was rewarded: Not only did she qualify, but Angie’s List has come aboard as a sponsor for Sunday’s race.

“My whole career, I’ve never had the money or the backing on a regular basis to make it easier or to make continuity or anything like that,” she said, “so I had to keep fighting. My whole career, I’ve been fighting. I keep fighting for every opportunity to prove what I’m capable of.”

Mann understands what it means to fight for a ride.

She only joined up with Dale Coyne Racing a week before qualifying, and only after pestering just about everyone she could think of to give her a shot. Just like Legge, the gritty determination to get back in the driver’s seat finally paid off, and she’ll start 30th on Sunday.

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