Helio Castroneves honored by Team Penske as IndyCar season begins

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Helio Castroneves will not be in the IndyCar field when the season opens for the first time he joined the series. His Team Penske teammates have not forgotten the popular driver.

Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power all wore special “Helio” stickers across the top of their visors in Friday’s practice sessions for the season-opening race through the streets of St. Petersburg on Sunday. Castroneves was moved out of Penske’s IndyCar organization at the end of last season and now leads its new sports car program.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner who started in the series in 1998 will be back in an Indy car in May when he goes for a record-tying fourth victory at the showcase race. On Friday, he was still trying to adjust to not being on the track and not seeing his familiar No. 3 making laps.

“I’m not going to deny it is difficult,” Castroneves said. “Leading up to the moments for the first practice and seeing the cars, I’ve been doing this for 20 years and it hasn’t yet sank in that I’m not there. Slowly it’s going to be normal. We adapt. We move on with life. We get over it. We `man up.”‘

Castroneves, a three-time winner at St. Pete, is the grand marshal for Sunday’s race. He joked his command might be directed only at the Penske drivers to start their engines.

Although he’s a spectator this weekend, Power said it felt like Castroneves was still part of the team. To learn the new car that IndyCar rolled out for this season, Castroneves will participate in team meetings. He’ll get his first seat time in the new Dallarra later this month in a test at Barber Motorsports in Alabama.

As for the dynamic within the organization, which went from four cars to three without Castroneves, Power said reigning champion Newgarden fills the void.

“I think Josef kind of takes his spot as far as energy and loudness in the engineering office,” said Power.

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.