Pato O’Ward leads final practice on Carb Day for the Indy 500

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Pato O’Ward became the first Chevrolet driver atop the speed chart at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, pacing Friday’s final Carb Day practice for the 104th Indy 500.

O’Ward’s No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet recorded a 225.355 mph lap to lead the two-hour session, which was an hour longer than the traditional final Carb Day warmup. Scott Dixon’s No. 9 Dallara-Honda was second at 224.646 mph, followed by Alexander Rossi (224.599) and Takuma Sato (224.580).

Oliver Askew, O’Ward’s Arrow McLaren SP teammate, was next at 224.128, giving Chevrolet two cars in the top five after Hondas had led the previous six practice sessions on the 2.5-mile oval and took eight of the top nine spots in qualifying.

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“It’s just been really important to try to get the best car we can under us for race day,” said O’Ward, who will start 15th in his Indy 500 debut. “Traffic running is going to be key, and it’s my first 500, so it’s important to have a car that’s able to follow closely and get runs on people and ultimately move forward. Today was a good step forward. We’ll have to go with our gut and hope this works like it did today on race day Sunday.”

Rossi, the 2016 Indy 500 winner who finished second last year to Simon Pagenaud after trading the lead several times in the last 15 laps, was the leading driver Friday for Andretti Autosport, which has had four of its six cars starting in the top nine and has been the team to beat so far.

“This whole team has really showed up this week,” Rossi told NBCSN pit reporter Marty Snider near the end of practice. “I’m really proud of everyone, Honda’s done a phenomenal job. Everything is trending in the right direction. We struggled a lot in the beginning week to find a balance in traffic we were happy with, but right now I think we’ve got it, and we’ll just rub on it and pray all the stars align on Sunday.

“Ultimately, I think it’ll come down to the last 10 laps and be a dogfight between a couple of drivers, and we just hope to be one of them.”

There were no incidents in the practice, and drivers seemed stable in traffic, which defending NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden attributed to improved grip from cooler track temperatures.

“I feel cautiously optimistic we have a car to fight with and challenge the frontrunners,” the Team Penske driver, who was seven fastest in the final practice after qualifying 13th, told NBCSN’s Kelli Stavast. “I think we’ve got a good shot. It’d be amazing to win at this place.

“You can’t force this place. But to win one for ‘The Captain’ (track owner Roger Penske, who also owns Newgarden’s No. 1 Dallara-Chevrolet), especially in these trying circumstances, we’re going to do our best to put on a great show for everyone. I still think it’s going to be a magical Indy 500. It’s obviously going to be different without fans, but to win it for Roger in this place, this year, would be really special.”

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.