St. Petersburg notes: PWC, MRTI triple-dips heading into Sunday

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ST. PETERSBURG – While the Verizon IndyCar Series season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is the headliner this weekend on the streets of St. Petersburg, it’s not the only event occurring on the 1.8-mile street course – far from it.

Through Saturday, there have already been seven total races, three apiece from the Pirelli World Challenge and Mazda Road to Indy, and one from the Stadium Super Trucks (won by Sheldon Creed). Here’s some quick recaps of the trifectas:

PIRELLI WORLD CHALLENGE 

The opening GT/GTA/GT Cup presented by MOMO race of two, held earlier Saturday, was marred by a 25-minute caution to open the race following a multi-car pileup off the standing start. Then it ended under yellow after another crash in the final 10 minutes (all drivers were released after the accidents).

In the interim time of the 50-minute race, Ryan Eversley seized his moment to deliver a popular first GT win for both himself and RealTime Racing’s new Acura TLX-GT.

Eversley qualified on pole in wet conditions on Friday, held the lead off the line, survived a mid-race attack from his first name namesake Ryan Dalziel in the green conditions, and crossed the line under yellow for the win. It comes on Acura’s 29th anniversary in the U.S., to the day, and a day after Eversley’s father’s birthday.

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Eversley leads the podium. Photo: Pirelli World Challenge

“The thing that concerned me the most going into the race was the standing start,” Eversley told MotorSportsTalk. “We only had a short amount of practice time, and the two starts I did in practice I wasn’t really happy with. It turned out, my car has a software update, like my iPhone! We changed a few things.

“When lights went out I let the clutch out, easy, and the launch control took over. I saw (Kevin) Estre in my mirrors. The most common thing people do is overshoot their brake zone going into (Turn) 1, so I broke early, and they caught up. It immediately went yellow.

“On the restart, I could see Dalziel’s eyes! That kid put the older HPD on the front row at Sebring last week. He’s one of the fastest guys I could think to race. I’m living my dream this weekend.”

Michael Lewis (EFFORT Racing) and Phill Fogg Jr. (TruSpeed Autosport) were GTA/GT Cup class winners on the day.

The two GTS races, held on Friday and Saturday, respectively, saw utter domination by the Ford Mustang Boss 302 brand. Dean Martin took Friday’s win with Spencer Pumpelly, an endurance racing veteran making a one-off weekend return to Pirelli World Challenge, taking Saturday’s and matching Eversley as another Atlanta-area native who won.

“They appeared to go two wide, Dean drifted out wide. They moved out with the momentum, and I knew that hole would be open. We’ll chalk it up to a little bit of luck,” Pumpelly said of his win.

“Man I just had a blast driving this car and this series. I had a good time this weekend. As a driver I love endurance racing.  But this is a different world of sports car racing, a lot of similarities. I’ll remember this weekend for a very long time; this win is up there with a bunch of others.”

MAZDA ROAD TO INDY (INDY LIGHTS, PRO MAZDA, USF2000)

Each of the three divisions on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder – Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda – had their season-openers on Saturday. A full breakdown of the Indy Lights race can be found here.

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Eidson en route to win. Photo: USF2000

Both Jake Eidson (USF2000, Pabst Racing) and Neil Alberico (Pro Mazda, Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing) dominated their respective races. Eidson drove for Cape in USF2000 last year, and enjoyed a perfect start to his Pabst career with a flag-to-flag win from pole in the 18-lap race. Cape’s pair of Aaron Telitz and Nico Jamin completed the podium.

“You couldn’t really ask for much more!” Eidson said. “The Pabst team did a lot of work in the offseason to make sure we had the best opportunity to win. The yellows made it interesting – when you’re leading, you never want to see the safety car, you’d rather keep the gap as long as you can.”

In Pro Mazda, Alberico scored his first career series win after coming close but no cigar in 2014. The Californian beat Santiago Urrutia (Team Pelfrey) and Florian Latorre (Cape); both made their series debuts in this race.

“Half the battle on a street course is qualifying. We qualified first, so that’s half the work already done,” Alberico said. “Then it’s just a matter of keeping your head down and running a clean race, and that’s what we did.”

SUNDAY

PWC GT/GTA/GT Cup has their second race of the weekend, Round 4 on the season, on tap for Sunday with each of the Mazda Road to Indy divisions also in action once again 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.