Hulkenberg: Gap to field will become clear in Melbourne

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Nico Hulkenberg has remained upbeat despite only getting his first run in the 2015 Force India VJM08 today in Barcelona, some 26 days after the other eight teams debuted their new cars.

The German driver got the first chance to drive the car on Friday, completing 77 laps and posting a fastest lap time of 1:28.412 as he enjoyed a productive afternoon following the roll-out.

Force India is expected to be on the back foot come the first race of the year in Australia, and Hulkenberg believes that it will only then become clear how far behind the team is.

“I guess we’ll only find out once we’re in Melbourne,” he said. “In theory, it’s not ideal, and having had more test time with this car for sure would be better. The situation is as it is now as we know and we’ll just deal with it as good as we can from here.

“I think we have a good crew together and usually we learn quite quickly. In this case we have to learn quickly, and see where we can push ourselves into in Melbourne.”

Hulkenberg was pleased with the car’s initial performance, completing a good haul of laps with the biggest problem being a small puncture following his outlap.

“Just from a pure running point of view I thought it was very good,” Hulkenberg said. “Straight out of the box there was no issue, not one powertrain-wise, car-wise.

“We did 77 laps only in an afternoon. I think that’s quite remarkable. The boys have done a good job, they’re pushing really hard obviously.

“I don’t know what we could have done differently. With our backs against the wall there’s not much we could do. It is as it is now. We’ll just deal with it as best we can.”

Hulkenberg returns to the wheel of the VJM08 on Saturday in Barcelona before handing the car over to teammate Sergio Perez for the final day of pre-season testing on Sunday.

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.