"It was a challenging race, but it was nice to be in the thick of it at the end" – Jamie Chadwick completed her rookie season in Indy NXT – her first racing campaign Stateside – with a P12 in the drivers' standings after the highly demanding Laguna Seca double header.
British racing star and three time W Series champion Jamie Chadwick completed her rookie season in Indy NXT – her first racing campaign Stateside – with a P12 finish at the highly demanding Laguna Seca circuit, which hosted a double header to round out the 2023 season.
Coming off five top ten finishes in the previous last six rounds, Chadwick was aiming to finish the year on a high, having been the protagonist of a highly positive second half of the season, where the driver of the #28 DHL-sponsored Andretti Autosport Dallara was consistently making progress and showing speed on road courses, street circuits and ovals.
A sixth place finish at Portland just one week before was one of the highlights of her campaign – in a strong second half of the race that saw Chadwick competing with the top cars on race pace – a further proof of her development from the start of the year.
With its 11 turns and its famous elevation changes including the iconic Corkscrew, the recently repaved WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca was expected to be one of the most physically demanding circuits on the Indy NXT calendar.
"Laguna Seca is one of the most iconic tracks in racing, so I’m really excited to go there and experience it for myself", Chadwick said before the season finale. "It’s an awesome-looking track, especially with the resurface."
"I’ve never driven it before, but have done a huge amount of practice on the simulators. So, I’m hoping that I can take what I’ve learned from that to go out there with the No. 28 crew and finish this season on a high."
Having finished nine races higher than she started for a total of 30 advanced spots, Chadwick was aiming to continue the trend at the Californian venue, where her Andretti Autosport team could count on a positive record of 4 wins and 10 podiums.
And she would soon display promising speed straight from the sole practice session, as Jamie set the ninth fastest time, seven tenths from the top of the leaderboard and just 0.02 off teammate Louis Foster.
While qualifying was initially on hold due to weather conditions in the area, the session went underway delayed; Jamie had a strong final lap, which put her in P14 in Q1, barely 1 second off pole. Hunter McElrea took pole for race 1, ahead of championship leader Christian Rasmussen and Danial Frost.
At lights out for the penultimate race of the season, Chadwick had a great start and was looking to make up positions, but got stuck on the inside line at turn 2 and lost a few places around the outside. Having to recover from P18, Jamie got back ahead of Christian Bogle after the latter made a small mistake at turn 6.
McElrea meanwhile opened a gap ahead, as Rasmussen and Frost were over 5 seconds down the road. Reece Gold battled with Nolan Siegel - who had started last after a tough start of the weekend. The race settled down until lap 18, when Louis Foster and Jacob Abel made contact as they approached the fast left-hander turn 6, and the Briton went off at speed, ending his race against the tyre barriers.
The Full Course Yellow allowed Chadwick to regroup and, at the restart, she gained a place to Kiko Porto after the latter went deep at the final corner. Pizzi also hit trouble: the Italian picked up a tyre puncture in a separate incident and had to pit, as the yellow flag was once again deployed. Jamie Chadwick had been quick to seize opportunities and moved up to P15.
The race was back underway with 10 laps to go and McElrea led Rasmussen - the former having to win to keep his championship hopes alive. Gold and Francis battled for ninth place – with a 5 car train that included Chadwick, ready to pick up the pieces. And Jamie did end up claiming several positions, passing Siegel, Sundaramoorthy and Abel, as she slotted into P12 just before the third caution of the day was deployed for debris with 8 laps to go.
Chadwick overtook Bogle at the restart with a smart move and then chased Reece Gold - while also having to watch her mirrors from Nolan Siegel. Gold and Jones swapped places just ahead, giving Chadwick the chance to have a look – but with two laps to go, Nolan Siegel misjudged the braking at turn 10 and hit Chadwick, ending both drivers' race in the gravel.
With the fourth caution of the race, Hunter McElrea took victory ahead of Christian Rasmussen – and postponed the Dane's title celebrations. Frost was third, ahead of Kyffin Simpson and Matthew Brabham. Classified in P15, Jamie Chadwick saw her uninterrupted streak of finishes halted with one race left on the 2023 schedule.
"I’m disappointed with how today's race ended", Jamie stated. "To be honest, I was holding on for the first half of the race. I was really struggling physically and just trying to stay in it."
"When the yellow came out I thought it could be an opportunity, and it was. There was a bit of carnage and we managed to pick off a few drivers. It’s a shame for it to end how it did, but I’m more concerned about making it through the race tomorrow."
Close to claiming his title, Christian Rasmussen started from pole position in the season finale, contested on Sunday morning. Race 1 winner Hunter McElrea lined up in second, as Foster and Gold shared the second row. Jamie Chadwick had a more challenging Q2 and was P16, which would force her to charge up the field to finish her rookie season on a high.
Chadwick battled with Victor Franzoni in the first corners and managed to get ahead of the #75 machine – but both were passed by Jagger Jones at the Corkscrew with a bold move. Rasmussen soon opened a gap on McElrea and Foster, but his margin was soon neutralized when Reece Gold and Kyffin Simpson made contact at turn 5, bringing out the first yellow.
Chadwick moved up to P17 and closed back in on Franzoni. She would jump ahead of both Simpson and Bogle at the restart on lap 8 and, while Simpson fought back in the following laps, she remained in the pack, waiting for her chance to move up. Franzoni had a trip through the dirt and lost P15 to Chadwick on lap 14, who was setting her fastest times.
Championship leader Rasmussen meanwhile had opened a gap once again, unchallenged by the rest of the field.
In the second part of the race, Chadwick was a few tenths per lap faster than the cars immediately ahead and continued to improve her personal best lap after lap. Jamie picked up another position when James Roe spun at turn 10, climbing to 14th place with 10 laps to go. After a trip to the gravel at the Corkscrew, Francesco Pizzi damaged his front wing and was shown the black flag, forcing the Italian to pit.
Up to P13, Chadwick had closed in on Kyffin Simpson – but also had to defend from Gold. Simpson was then also shown the black flag for a front wing damage and Jamie snatched P12 with 4 laps to go. As she set another personal best in 1:14.0425, Jamie Chadwick rounded out her first season in Indy NXT with a very positive second half of the race and a P12 that marked a step forward from her Saturday's performance.
"It was a challenging race, but it was nice to be in the thick of it at the end", Jamie said.
"We struggled a little bit for pace initially, but it came back to us at the end of the race. It was nice to have some battles out there and finish the year still on a relative high."
Christian Rasmussen was crowned champion with a victory in the final race, preceding Hunter McElrea, Louis Foster, Matthew Brabham and Jacob Abel.
Chadwick's Laguna Seca weekend allowed the British racer to reduce the gap to Christian Bogle for P11 in the championship standings, but finished 4 points short, thus completing her rookie season in 12th place, at 262 points.
"A big thank you to the Andretti team and everyone at DHL for their support this year. It was a big learning year, but I’ve enjoyed it a lot. Thanks to everyone and looking forward to, hopefully, being back next year."