Webber, Hulkenberg prepped for week ahead at Le Mans

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LE MANS, France – Arguably the two biggest names, driver-wise, at Le Mans this week are Mark Webber and Nico Hulkenberg, the latter of whom makes his race debut.

The two are part of Porsche’s three-car assault with their Porsche 919 Hybrids. Of course while Webber is a full-time convert to the FIA World Endurance Championship, Hulkenberg is now set for his second race in his cameo appearance this season in the team’s third car.

Both are undeniably focused on the task ahead.

“Le Mans is brutal and requires an amazing team effort,” Webber said in Porsche’s pre-race release. “The biggest challenger you have to fight is the race itself. We have to survive these 24 hours, we have to be technically reliable and get everything right.

“It is extremely demanding. The track is incredibly quick and the pace of the 919 around there is phenomenal. There are some really iconic locations around the track like Dunlop, the Mulsanne straight and the Porsche Esses.

“There are different phases of the race and the changing light; sunset, twilight, racing in the dark before dawn, sunrise and a new day with still a long way to go. Le Mans is like nothing else.”

Webber shares the No. 17 Porsche with Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard, in what is likely a pole contending car.

As for Hulkenberg, who shares the No. 19 Porsche with fellow LMP1 rookies Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy, it’s an important week as he looks ahead to his race debut.

“I’ve got my first taste of the track during the pre-test and I found it really cool,” Hulkenberg said in the release. “You can get yourself driving in a great rhythm. I’m looking forward to the long stints in the race.

“I feel comfy in the Porsche 919 Hybrid in Le Mans, but I’ll learn a lot more during the race week. Therefore I don’t like to speculate about the outcome. My first wish is to do well over the distance, as this is the experience I want more than anything.”

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.