Castroneves paces opening practice in Sonoma

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SONOMA, Calif. – Helio Castroneves paced the opening 75-minute practice session for this weekend’s Verizon IndyCar Series season finale, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma (Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

The driver of the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet posted a best time of 1:17.3298 around the 2.385-mile Sonoma Raceway road course, as the Brazilian remains in search of his first win since Detroit in 2014.

Castroneves also enters the weekend tied with Scott Dixon for third place in the points standings, although neither has a shot at securing the championship. Simon Pagenaud has a 104-point lead over both of them.

Pagenaud was only 10th, and Team Penske title rival Will Power in 17th, in the opening session.

Hondas had a better session with second through sixth in the session with Marco Andretti having easily his best session of the year in second in the No. 27 Snapple Honda, at 1:17.4611.

Graham Rahal was third, Jack Hawksworth fourth and Ryan Hunter-Reay fifth, with Hunter-Reay doing the best he can under adverse circumstances this week.

While Hunter-Reay and wife Beccy had their third boy earlier in the week, with the bundle of joy that brought to the family, Beccy and brother Robby Gordon lost their father Bob on Thursday and are dealing with that.

Mikhail Aleshin, who is fighting a cold this weekend, made it five Hondas in the top six in sixth. A late spin at the end of the session brought no damage; just a light up of his tires.

Times are below. The 75-minute session ran without a red flag.

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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.