Honda drops sponsorship for IndyCar at St. Pete (UPDATED)

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UPDATED (4:05 p.m. ET): Honda has issued the following statement regarding its decision to drop title sponsorship of the IndyCar Series’ Grand Prix of St. Petersburg after nine seasons:

“We continually evaluate our marketing promotions to assure that we have a portfolio of programs which reaches Honda’s broad customer base. The 2014 season will mark a strategic shift for American Honda in the allocation of its motorsports and marketing resources, in order to amplify its visibility at key events on the IndyCar Series schedule. We believe race sponsorships provide a unique at-track opportunity to reach racing enthusiasts and expose them to our brand and products. Moving forward, we will focus our efforts on the goal of providing the best fan experiences possible.”

In a Friday evening report from Danielle Paquette of the Tampa Bay Times, race president Tim Ramsberger seemed to indicate that the event was caught off-guard by the decision.

“To say we’re surprised is an understatement,” Ramsberger told the Times. “It’s a tough thing to experience but I don’t think it’ll damper the race. It won’t affect us going forward.”

Honda had been the race’s title sponsor since its first edition under Indy Racing League/IndyCar sanction in 2005; it had been a Champ Car race for its inaugural running in 2003.

However, both Ramsberger and St. Petersburg mayor Bill Foster were bullish about the race’s long-term future in comments made for the Times’ report.

“Sponsors come and go,” Foster said. “No one’s married to Honda. We’re married to the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.”

In a press release, Ramsberger said he learned last week of Honda’s decision, but that the race is “grateful for their support over the years and are pleased by the way in which the event has grown during this time.”

The release also expressed confidence about the race’s ability to attract new sponsors that can augment the current support of the race from local and national partners, such as Firestone.

“They’ve all experienced first-hand the many benefits of the event both on-site and through the visibility of a global television audience,” Ramsberger said. “We’re at the cusp of a new era for our event and I’m confident new and existing partners will step up and enjoy the growing benefits the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg has to offer.”

Three-time W Series champ Jamie Chadwick joining Andretti in Indy NXT Series for 2023

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Jamie Chadwick, the three-time W Series champion, will drive for Andretti Autosport in the Indy NXT Series next season.

Chadwick will make her debut in an American racing series in March, driving the No. 28 for Andretti Autosport with sponsorship from DHL. The 24-year-old will become the first female driver in 13 years to compete full time in the Indy NXT championship.

Chadwick joined the female free-to-enter W Series in its inaugural 2019 season, winning two races and the first of three consecutive championships. She has been a reserve driver for the Williams Formula One team and will continue in that role in 2023. She also has driven in the Extreme E Series.

Despite her success, Chadwick hasn’t landed a bigger ride in F3 or F2, and her break didn’t come until Michael Andretti contacted her and offered a test in an Indy NXT car.

The final three races of this year’s W Series schedule were canceled when funding fell through, but Chadwick still believes the all-female series was the right path for her.

“W Series has always been and will continue to be an opportunity to be racing for every female driver, so for my side, I looked at it while perhaps I would have liked to step up maybe earlier, at the same time being able to have that chance to race, get that experience, have that development, seat time… I was constantly learning,” Chadwick told The Associated Press.

“In that sense, I wasn’t frustrated at all. But on the flip side of it, now I’ve had that experience testing in the United States in Indy NXT and this is something I’m really excited about.”

Chadwick also is expected to have an enhanced role as a development driver next season with Williams, which chose American driver Logan Sargeant to fill its open seat on next year’s F1 grid.

“Andretti Autosport is proud to be supporting Jamie alongside DHL,” said Michael Andretti. “Jamie’s successful career speaks for itself, but Indy NXT gives Jamie the opportunity to continue her development in a new type of racing.

“We’ve turned out five Indy NXT champions over the years and look forward to continuing our role in developing new talent.”

Indy NXT is the new name of the rebranded Indy Lights Series, the final step on the ladder system before IndyCar.

Andretti will field two drivers next season in IndyCar that were developed in Indy NXT: Kyle Kirkwood, the 2021 champion, will return to Andretti after one season in IndyCar driving for A.J. Foyt Racing, and Devlin DeFrancesco is back for a second season.

Chadwick will be teammates in Indy NXT with Hunter McElrea and Louis Foster. She becomes Andretti’s second full-time female driver alongside Catie Munnings, who competes for Andretti United in the Extreme E Series.