Hinchcliffe marks return to podium after strong Indy GP

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INDIANAPOLIS – It’s not quite conquering the oval part of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway yet, but a podium in his first start at the iconic track since his accident in practice last year marked a great result and comeback to the track for James Hinchcliffe.

Even better was the fact it came following a breakthrough weekend from a performance standpoint, as the driver of the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda was consistently one of if not the fastest Hondas all weekend, and a regular in the top three. This came after the team recovered from diagnosing a mechanical issue – a small fire – which sidelined them all of first practice and into second practice.

Hinchcliffe and the SPM team had been close with three prior top-10 starts on the other three road or street course events this year.

But a fourth place qualifying effort, which became third on the grid once Graham Rahal was sent to the back, would set him up nicely to deliver on Saturday.

“I’m super proud of the No. 5 car, everybody on the Arrow Electronics team has done such a good job the last few races,” Hinchcliffe said post-race. “The momentum has really been rolling with us. We had a great race in Long Beach, great race in Barber, better race here. Missed all of first practice and still managed to get the car out there and qualify in the second row, race our way to a podium.

“Wasn’t easy. There was a lot of back and forth there. Some great racing, great work in the pits. Can’t thank the guys enough for the pit stop. That second stop was just killer. Unfortunately I couldn’t quite stay in front of Simon there.

“But had a great battle with Charlie a couple times there side-by-side for a few corners, and it was nice not having to save fuel. Just getting to go and drive a race hard and push this thing every lap and have some great battles along the way. Huge credit to Honda; obviously there’s a big upturn in form there, and really proud of the effort those guys have done.

“Big congrats to Simon. Three in a row is pretty impressive, and Helio coming from where he started, he was doing decent, came back at the end. We caught up to him but couldn’t quite get by him. As you said, catching him is one thing, passing him is another. But no, great effort from the guys all around.”

It marks Hinchcliffe’s first podium since his win at NOLA Motorsports Park last year. It was admittedly strategy and weather aided while this result spoke directly to the performance improvements from both driver and team in their second season, and first full season together.

“A win always feels better, I’ll be honest,” he laughed. “Helio can agree with that one.

“But no, for sure, to start in the second row was great and to be able to stay up there all day long, to have good pace at the end of the race there, like I said, I don’t think we had quite enough to do anything with Simon. But we maybe could have at least kept up with him, and that’s huge. It shows huge gains on the team’s side, on the manufacture’s side, and in certain ways, it’s more rewarding, but a win is still a win, let’s be honest, you know.”

The other good element of the day for the “Mayor of Hinchtown” – who with his third successive top-10 result now moved up to eighth place in points – was that he donated his prize winnings to the victims of the wildfires in Fort McMurray.

“It was a good day to have a good day with, what was happening up there, it was tough to watch, and with Ric Peterson, one of my team owners, his business is based kind of up in that part of the country. And Petro-Canada has a lot of people on the ground in Fort-Mac, and it’s terrible what happened to that place.

“It’s small, but like I said, it’s a good day to have a good day and hopefully the little bit that we are contributing, it’s obviously going to a good cause and hopefully it can help out.”

Hinchcliffe and the rest of the IndyCar field will return to action on Monday with oval practice at IMS.

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.