MOTOR SPORTS

With Andretti, Jamie Chadwick has the chance she wants: To prove she belongs in IndyCar

Nathan Brown
Indianapolis Star

For all her success and the attention that came with it the last three years as she won 11 of 21 races and three consecutive championships in the all-female driver W Series, Jamie Chadwick looked as if she’d might be living out the worst fears of the circuit's detractors when it launched in 2019.

With only three non-podium finishes (and 10 poles to boot), there was nothing left for her to achieve as the 2022 season came to an early end due to lack of funding. The W Series gave Chadwick a platform to dominate with even equipment across the board but what good was it if there wasn’t another open-wheel racing chapter to write?

After three consecutive titles in the W Series, Jamie Chadwick has landed a full-time INDY NXT ride with Andretti Autosport that could lead to a future in IndyCar in the near-future.

For the British driver, Formula 1 has always been the goal and that comes with the often slow, unrewarding slog up the European ladder system. But powerbrokers in Formula 3 – which Chadwick hoped would be her next step – were not inclined to take a chance on one of the best female talents in the sport in the nearly half-a-century since a woman sat in the cockpit on an F1 starting grid. More than anywhere in racing, money makes the world go round in the European junior categories but her success in the W Series had not been able to deliver the funding.

On the European stage, at least.

Because Michael Andretti -- also battling the barriers into F1 -- and longtime partner DHL -- with a dedicated platform to promote diversity and change – are handing Chadwick a coveted ride in INDY NXT (the newly rebranded Indy Lights) in 2023 to put her talent to the test.

Chadwick says what she wants out of her 2023 INDY NXT ride is a shot to succeed or come away proud, yet dejected, each time she misses the mark. At least then, she’ll know where she stands.

“I want to be in a position where I can be a front-runner every weekend,” Chadwick said Thursday after her program with Andretti in the No. 28 DHL-branded car was unveiled. “I want to be in a position where I’m disappointed if I’m not on the front row or not competitive.

“The opportunity I have here is far greater than anything I would’ve been able to achieve in F3. I’ve always wanted to put myself with the best team in the best environment. To be in that with the likes of Andretti in INDY NXT was a big opportunity and a big chance for the future.”

After three consecutive titles in the W Series, Jamie Chadwick has landed a full-time INDY NXT ride with Andretti Autosport that could lead to a future in IndyCar in the near-future.

Chadwick wouldn't set any goals in terms of podiums, poles or wins. When asked if this was a multi-year deal, whether that be for two years in INDY NXT or a pre-planned promotion into IndyCar as with current driver Devlin DeFrancesco, Andretti said it was too early to tell.

“But I think she can be a winner in this series, and if you’re going to win in INDY NXT, you’re going to be able to go win in the big cars,” he said. “The first thing she brings is talent. We’ve had many, many women drivers over the years and gave (Danica Patrick) her first win. We’ve always supported that, but in the end, I’m still looking for the best talent to drive our cars, and Jamie’s showed that.”

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Chadwick said she’s increasingly kept an eye on American open-wheel racing, attending her first Indianapolis 500 in 2019. Chadwick maintained Thursday her F1 dreams are still in view but not the one she's most serious about in the short-term – even as she maintains a role with the Williams Racing Driver Academy in 2023 as a reserve driver.

“Performance is everything, and if I’m having success and winning in INDY NXT, I feel like I deserve the opportunity to progress,” she said. “To have this chance to be with a top team in a top environment is key, but ultimately in my opinion, it boils down to performance. If I can perform, then hopefully that gives me the chance to race in the likes of IndyCar.

“We’ll see about F1, but it gives me that chance.”

After three consecutive titles in the W Series, Jamie Chadwick has landed a full-time INDY NXT ride with Andretti Autosport that could lead to a future in IndyCar in the near-future.

It’s been 10 years since a woman ran full-time in IndyCar: Simona De Silvestro’s finishing 13th in points and top 10 in her last five starts with KV Racing in 2013. Unfortunately, the Swiss driver found herself out of a ride a year later, and since, she’s managed all of eight IndyCar starts – four of them last season. The goal by her latest team owner, Beth Paretta, on a full-time campaign appear to have slowed.

The drought is longer in what is now INDY NXT: 13 years since Pippa Mann took 5th in the championship in 2010 with a win, a runner-up and two more top-5s. Despite her best efforts while running with four different teams, Mann has logged just 17 starts in her IndyCar career – seven of them in the Indy 500.

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Chadwick said Thursday that those 10- and 13-year gaps in a consistent woman's presence in IndyCar and INDY NXT were better odds than she’s faced toiling in Europe. Lella Lombardi’s 12th-place finish in the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix remains the last start by a woman driver on the racing world’s largest stage. If she still were alive today, Lombardi would be a year younger than the 82-year-old Mario Andretti.

By comparison, Chadwick pointed to the likes of Patrick, De Silvestro, Mann, Katherine Legge and Ana Beatriz Figuereido, all of whom have raced in IndyCar in the last decade. “You see that women are capable of being successful in the likes of IndyCar and Indy Lights," she said. "I want to use that as an encouraging thing.

“It’s not like I’m trying to achieve something that’s never been done before, so it does change my perception on things and makes it easier in that sense.”

After three consecutive titles in the W Series, Jamie Chadwick has landed a full-time INDY NXT ride with Andretti Autosport that could lead to a future in IndyCar in the near-future.

The only thing that got a rise out of Chadwick on Thursday was a question on the barriers she’d face next year that had nothing to do with her gender. Referencing how Indy Lights has grown into a proving ground for teenagers while she turns 25 next May, Chadwick was asked how she felt about making this step in her career in a series where drivers are often winning by her age.

“I think it’s one of my biggest frustrations in motorsports that you have to be everywhere yesterday,” said Chadwick, who other than Ernie Francis Jr. (just a few months older) stands to be the oldest driver on the INDY NXT grid in 2023. “I feels like it’s come as the ‘Verstappen effect’, that the younger you are, the better you are, and I look at that very different.

“I started in the sport quite late, when I was 12 years old and only then did club karting," Chadwick said. "I’m three years into the W Series, which is at a lower level than F3, so I see I still have a lot I need to learn and develop in the sport before I’m capable of anything like IndyCar. I need to be fully-focused on what I need to do to be as best-prepared as I can, regardless of my age, and when I’m ready for the next step, I’m ready.”