IndyCar: Hinchcliffe completes “get to know you” first test with SPM

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James Hinchcliffe embarked on his first full day of testing this offseason Tuesday at Sebring International Raceway, which marked his first time in a car since the end of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season in August.

The Canadian has had a busy offseason that’s included his signing with new team Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and a host of other off-track events. But with IndyCar’s limited testing time and a two-month acquaintance period since his SPM signing in October, it was only Tuesday he could actually get in a car.

“It’s been way too long,” Hinchcliffe told MotorSportsTalk. “These testing rules are killer. With the new team, we were all anxious to get on track.

“A lot of those things were done to keep my mind off the fact I wasn’t in a car,” he added. “Keeping busy was the plan all along. Now we can start to get into the swing of things. But having that first test was big. We can debrief from that and bugs we found.”

Hinchcliffe worked with veteran engineer Allen McDonald for this test. McDonald has not been publicly confirmed yet to engineer the No. 77 Honda for 2015, but is likely to do the job after being on SPM’s second car for rookies Mikhail Aleshin and Tristan Vautier the last two years.

He’ll follow from Hinch’s past engineers Nathan O’Rourke (2014), Craig Hampson (2011, 2013) and Tino Belli (2012). Hinchcliffe was full of praise for McDonald after just a single day together.

“I’m really lucky to be able to work with him,” Hinchcliffe said. “I saw him at Andretti in 2012, and I know what his CV is. The fact we have worked on the same team before gets you past the ‘get to know you’ phase.

“We spoke a lot of the same language. So he was prepared. It all went pretty smoothly and seamlessly, and I hope to learn to a lot from him.”

For Hinchcliffe, it was a necessary and good day getting integrated with the SPM crew and team in a track day setting.

“That’s all you can do for now, since we’re not on the new bodywork or engine yet,” he said. “It was a ‘get to know you’ day. Get to know how the engineering stuff operates.

“It was a good day. You see what a well-polished team it is. We went through some procedural and mundane stuff, like fuel saving or things of that nature.”

Hinchcliffe banked what he called “a bunch” of laps – pushing if not exceeding 100 around the Sebring short course would provide a good estimate. There’s plenty upside of testing at the same place, as Sebring’s trademark bumps and character always provide a good baseline setup.

“The nice thing is, this track hasn’t changed since 1952,” Hinchcliffe joked. “That’s the good news about it. From that side of things, we’ve run so many laps. You’ll always roll off normal unless you’re testing experimental parts, so we didn’t have a ton in the pipeline planned. It was a standard test.”

Hinchcliffe’s next test should be late January or early February after the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Meanwhile SPM is spending Wednesday continuing its audition of GP2 veterans for the second seat.

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.