Track improvements, Kohler title partnership key for Road America return

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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – The Road America that the Verizon IndyCar Series returns to for this weekend’s KOHLER Grand Prix (Sunday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) is a slightly different place than the last time a North American open-wheel series raced here in 2007, with what was then the Champ Car World Series.

Between a new victory lane, a new Paddock Shop and Fan Engagement Center, a new concession and a new main gate, the latest capital improvements have freshened up the 4.048-mile road course that retains all of its character as, it’s been dubbed, “America’s National Park of Speed.”

“You’ve gotta keep doing things to stay ahead in the industry for the fans, the drivers, and the participants,” track president George Bruggenthies told NBC Sports. “You have to create an experience – a wow.”

The other important element of the weekend proceedings comes from a title sponsorship standpoint, with Kohler Co. signing on as title sponsor.

At the time of the release in late May, President and CEO of Kohler Co. David Kohler said, “Kohler shares this passion and enthusiasm and we are excited to welcome Verizon IndyCar fans to our home to take part in the return of IndyCar racing at Road America, one of the most beautiful and unique tracks in the world.” The company was founded in 1873 and, headquartered in Kohler, Wis., is one of America’s oldest and largest privately held companies.

Bruggenthies expanded on the relationship, noting how much of an impact Kohler Co. has already had on the track over the years in a variety of events.

“Historically Kohler has been a big partner at a variety of events for a long time. We just reengaged them, and things worked out,” he said.

“They’ve been involved in our vintage event, sprints, the tunnel entrance, plenty of partnership activity. Their employees do a lot of things at the motorplex; their engineers, they go karting, we use Kohler engines. It’s a local company. It’s a natural thing.”

Bruggenthies said there’s been “very strong interest” on advance ticket sales, with camping also selling quite well.

Leave it to racing legend Mario Andretti to describe the importance of the track coming back to the calendar after the nine-year hiatus.

“This venue, this facility carries a lot of tradition for good, honest road racing in America,” he said.

“The glory days for IndyCar, this was part of it. It can be again.”

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.