Webber’s protege, GP2’s Evans, adapting well to sports car world ahead of Le Mans

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LE MANS, France – New Zealand hasn’t had a top-flight Formula 1 star in many years.

One day, 20-year-old GP2 driver Mitch Evans of Russian Time might become that man.

But for now, he’s making a brief side step into sports car racing and has already delivered on debut.

Evans shared the No. 38 Jota Sport Gibson 015S Nissan with Harry Tincknell and Simon Dolan at the FIA World Endurance Championship Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps last month, and won in his first ever sports car start.

“It was quite bizarre to be honest,” Evans told MotorSportsTalk at scrutineering in Le Mans this week. “It was my first WEC race I was at. I know Spa very well, but it was a new environment with teams and cars. It’s all a bit strange.

“But to come home with a win was fantastic. I didn’t expect it, didn’t have any reference to have a great debut. It’s the whole team that did it. Hopefully we can continue that into Le Mans.”

With Tincknell moving into the factory Nissan GT-R LM NISMO for Le Mans, Oliver Turvey will rejoin the team’s lineup for Le Mans. For Evans, another single-seat rising star branching out, he’s adapting well to the multiple driver, multiple class format.

“Fortunately I’ve had a lot of experienced people tell me the differences,” he said. “I was sort of anticipating that type of change to adapt to. A lot of drivers struggle with sharing cars, with the compromise of sports car racing. In Spa I found it was pretty straightforward.”

Evans didn’t hide his impressions of how much he appreciates the sports car paddock.

“It’s a lot more positive, with a lot less egos. It’s very friendly,” Evans said. “With the manufacturers involved, that makes it great.

“It’s all the top manufacturers in the world. There’s such a different vibe. There’s much better interaction with the fans.

“We don’t have that in GP2. We’re sort of locked away in our cage. In a way, it sucks a bit to be honest. The vibe in sports car racing seems to be very positive at the moment.”

Evans draws much inspiration and support from Mark Webber, his mentor. Webber has played an integral role in Evans’ development as he transitioned from New Zealand into Europe.

“It’s been huge. It’s my fifth year here,” Evans said. “When I first made the transition to Europe from New Zealand, it was huge for his experience to give it to me.

“You fast forward all the preparation for the transition, GP2 when he was in F1, and now sports cars when he was in LMP1, I have so much experience even before I’ve driven in the championship. It’s been great. He’s one of the top guys and he’s very professional. I’m very fortunate.”

They’ll share the same track this week as Webber races in the No. 17 Porsche 919 Hybrid in LMP1, with Evans looking to go two-for-two in his first two sports car races.

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.