Ogier set to clinch 3rd consecutive World Rally Championship

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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) After a Volkswagen sweep of the podium in last month’s home race of the German manufacturer, Sebastien Ogier can clinch his third World Rally Championship in a row with a victory on Sunday over the forestry and farmland roads which make up Rally Australia.

France’s Ogier and his co-driver Julien Ingrassia have 207 points in the standings with three races left after Australia. He could also clinch the 2015 title if he finishes ahead of his Volkswagen teammate Jari-Matti Latvala of Finland, who is in second place with 114 points.

Andreas Mikkelsen of Norway, who finished third in the Rally of Germany, has 98 points after nine rounds.

After a ceremonial start on Thursday night, the rally officially begins Friday with three new first-day speed tests. The new stages of Utungun, Bakers Creek and Northbank, south of the event’s Coffs Harbour base, will be run in the morning and repeated in the afternoon.

“They are fast, technical, set in magnificent countryside and truly some of the best roads in the rally world,” clerk of the course Adrian Stafford was quoted as saying on the Rally Australia website.

The stages are split between the Coffs Coast state forests and open farmland, with many of the country shire roads lined by trees that leave little room for error.

There will be two passes on Saturday through the 50.80-kilometer (31.35 mile) Nambucca stage, one of the longest and most difficult stages of the season. The 7.94-kilometer (4.9-miles) Valla stage is also driven twice, the second after dark.

Five more tests north of Coffs Harbour on Sunday complete the rally. The 17 stages cover 311.36 kilometers (192.20 miles).

Norwegian driver Mads Ostberg and co-driver Jonas Andersson, who sit in fourth place in the overall standings, sustained minor injuries after their car crashed with a truck during a reconnaissance drive on Tuesday afternoon.

The head-on crash with the heavy vehicle occurred on a narrow section of roadway as the Citroen crew prepared pace notes.

“It took some time getting out of bed today,” Ostberg posted Wednesday on his Facebook page. “We had quite the impact yesterday, but we were lucky. It could have been much worse when you look at our recce car.

“We’ve been cleared to continue by the medics. Luckily there were no fractures, only two bruised ribs causing me a bit of discomfort. So we’re going to recce again today.”

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.