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“Hopefully it inspires more” - Jamie Chadwick’s rise to Indy NXT race winner

Written by Archie O’Reilly

As Jamie Chadwick sits in front of the microphone in the media centre at Road America after taking her first Indy NXT victory, a familiar voice comes over the sound system.

“I want to say congratulations,” the voice says. “I was watching at home, not at the track, this weekend. What a fantastic race. I hope you can hear it in my voice if you can’t see my face. I am so thrilled for you. This is mega. It’s so fantastic to see. Congratulations.”

The voice is that of Pippa Mann - the last woman to win a race in IndyCar’s premier ladder series after taking victory at Kentucky Speedway. Fourteen years ago.

After taking her first-ever pole position in her second year in the series on Saturday, Chadwick led every lap around the Wisconsin-based circuit to become only the third woman to win in the category and the first to do so in a non-oval race. Ana Beatriz was the first female victor with wins at Nashville Superspeedway in 2008 and Iowa Speedway in 2009.

But Chadwick does not want to look at herself as a history-maker, as much as she realises and hopes that her successes inspire future generations.

She wants success for women to be the norm. And rightly so.

“Pippa would have felt the same back when she was racing,” she said. “It doesn’t make a difference. I find the stat scary because there is no reason… it’s tough, it’s physical but there’s no reason why women can’t be competing at the highest level of motorsports. It shouldn’t be that. 

“I don’t think it’s something we should be proud of to celebrate in a way. I really want more women. Seeing Lindsay [Brewer] come to the championship is great but I think we should have more and more young girls starting in the Indy feeder series, getting through Indy NXT.”

Only three races prior to Road America, Chadwick took her maiden Indy NXT podium with a third-place finish in the first of two races on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. She qualified a best of fourth in Detroit in the race prior to Road America too, with an improvement to pole at Elkhart Lake evidence of the progress she has made this season.

She moved to Indy NXT with Andretti Global last year as a three-time champion in the all-female W Series, with 11 wins and a total of 18 podiums in 21 races before the series lost funding before the end of the 2022 season.

Her first season Stateside was a mixed bag. She finished outside the top 10 in each of her first six races before four successive top-10 finishes as part of a run of five top 10s in six races. Qualifying was more of an issue, with only two top-10 starts in her rookie year.

“Some rookies come in and do a great job straight away,” she said. “Someone like Caio [Collet] coming in, being fast… I wasn’t. Everyone gets better. Everyone can develop. I feel like we’re just getting better and better. I have a great group of people around me helping me [at] Andretti. 

“There’s no reason why we can’t keep improving. I don’t know why you get labelled something straight out of the box. We’re just getting stronger. That’s all I’m focusing on.”

But defying the doubts, things have taken a major upturn in Chadwick’s sophomore season, shown results-wise in qualifying, as well as her pair of podiums inside six races. She started 10th in St. Petersburg in the season-opening race and has not qualified outside the top six in the five races since. 

Sitting ninth in the championship standings after Road America, even if three places higher than her finish last year, is a harsh reflection on her true level. St. Pete saw her an innocent party in two separate early incidents, while she made a late error at Barber Motorsports Park; both races saw her classified 20th when on track for at least top-10 finishes.

Chadwick rebounded from her difficult start to the year with the podium on the Indy road course - early evidence of the attacking approach she has detailed reverting to into 2024. Even if there are bound to be mistakes, she has been keen to ‘go for it’ in her second year.

“We came into this year trying to be a little bit more aggressive with our approach, less conservative in each race, just trying to go for wins. We’ve had good pace this year - probably not good enough pace to challenge for a win until we got to yesterday. Yesterday I knew we had an opportunity. Then today sitting on pole, another opportunity.”

The two races after Chadwick’s maiden podium and leading up to her win were rough. A gearbox issue caused her to fall out of contention and finish 16th in the second race on the Indy road course before a puncture limited her to only a 13th-place finish in Detroit. 

But the ultimate vindication from tireless off-season work, and the faith placed in Chadwick by her Andretti team, came at Road America.

“Halfway through last year we started to really turn a corner,” she said. “Just to put that further into this season is the difference. I’m a lot stronger this year, I feel different, feel confident, have a really great team around me. I ask for different things in the car, I know what’s coming, I know the tracks. All that stuff makes a big difference.”

It has been a long road to this point for the 26-year-old from a car racing career that started in the Ginetta Juniors championship 11 years ago. Her resume includes stints in British F3, Asian F3 and the Formula Regional European Championship. But since moving on from W Series, it really feels as though she has found her feet on the IndyCar ladder.

And she is keen to be the start of a trend - already a trailblazer for women in motorsport.

“I think the whole Indy ladder is a really good opportunity,” Chadwick said in May. “I’m proud to play a small role in that. I think the thing we can do now is just encourage as many young girls through the ladder as possible. I want to see more girls in USF Juniors, USF Pro [2000] and Indy NXT. There’s still work to do but it’s very cool to see the progress.”

In the immediate aftermath of her maiden victory, it was hard for an “honestly overwhelmed” Chadwick to find the right words to encompass her emotions and gratitude for her Andretti team. It has been a true collaborative effort to reach this point.

“I don’t know… just happy,” she said. “Honestly just happy. Even last year, it was only the first half of the year we really struggled, then we got going. Last year was a super competitive year in this championship. It’s hard to make progress throughout the year. I felt like we’ve been coming at it stronger race by race. This year, we definitely made a big step. 

“But it’s where I feel like we should be now. Normally, before this weekend, I felt like there was a bit of a gap to [Louis Foster and Jacob Abel] especially. Now we’re closing that gap. After today especially I think we can try to always be up with these two as much as we can. If I can compete wheel-to-wheel with these guys, then I know I’m in a good place.”

While she occasionally came under pressure and had to overcome two caution restarts and a late red flag restart, Chadwick managed the race excellently to fend off compatriot and teammate Louis Foster and championship leader Jacob Abel. Foster had attempted a “heroic” move around the outside of Turn 1 at the start but ended up running wide.

All of the adversity thrown at her only added to the impressive nature of the win.

“I felt like when we were running, I had good control of the race,” Chadwick said. “But in this championship there’s always yellows, always things that can throw anything into the mix… the red flag at the end. I knew anything could happen. I just had to drive my race, go for the best. Fortunately we were a bit heavier on the push to pass, able to bring it home.”

Chadwick is accustomed to running at the front after winning over half of her W Series races. Though she had not done so in a while, it did not diminish her comfort.

“I felt a lot more comfortable out front than I’ve ever felt all year,” she said. “It’s kind of what I’m almost used to. It’s a different level but I felt pretty comfortable and happy. It’s a lot harder being in the pack because you’re attacking and being attacked. Making right decisions in a championship like this isn’t easy. I felt like I was in the best place.”

It was another case of “nothing to lose” for Chadwick amid her revised approach into 2024. She is aware she is not fighting the likes of Foster and Abel for the championship at this point, so wins matter more than anything.

“Well, everyone’s got something to lose,” she added. “I’m not necessarily in the championship battle... I knew I had to be aggressive. If you allow someone like Louis to get past you, you’re going to be on the back foot the rest of the race. I had to put up the fight where I could. 

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Louis, a lot of respect for his championship campaign that he’s building this year. I really wanted to win today. That’s all I was focusing on.”

Foster came into the Road America weekend having notched back-to-back wins to build on a pair of victories in his rookie year. He is only 18 points off Abel’s championship lead yet Chadwick proved a match and more as the fiercest of battles ended up coming between the top two in the championship. That should draw a lot of praise.

“I only had one opportunity [to pass Chadwick] really,” Foster said. “It was hard to get to her and even harder to pass. It was just into Turn 13, got a bit of a better exit, got on the button a little bit. I put my nose there… I’m never going to commit to that until they don’t commit to it. She just turned in - I would have done the same thing if I was her.”

Foster described Chadwick’s performance as “amazing” after heaping praise on his teammate following her pole position - also the first from a woman on a road course in Indy NXT - on Saturday. He admitted on Instagram that Chadwick is the “only person who I would be happy to beat me” as he had to settle for second in qualifying as well as the race.

And the camaraderie within the Indy NXT field shone through as nigh on every driver stopped to give a congratulatory gesture towards Chadwick on the cool-down lap.

“It all means a lot - everyone I race against but also the wider support,” Chadwick said. “Fighting where I think we should be fighting, it’s a great feeling. Grateful for everyone’s support. We’ll keep pushing. I appreciate how tough this championship is… just respecting the level. Coming at it this year with the speed we’ve had, I’m just super happy.”

The noise of the crowd was audible as Chadwick took the white and then chequered flag. The crowds surrounding the podium were equally as impressive.

“[It’s] special,” Chadwick said. “From my side, we kind of talk about not having too much pressure early on. At the same time, I really want to show what women are capable of in this sport. I strongly believe women are capable of getting to the highest level. 

“We have an amazing young generation coming through. There’s so many great women in the sport. We just need more. Hopefully it inspires more and that’s all I care about.”

The next step is, of course, for Chadwick to emulate the likes of Mann in reaching the heights of IndyCar. She is on a good course to achieve this at the moment and is proving those who have doubted her ability to compete in a mixed category wrong. 

For now, though, time should be afforded to revel in the scale of her achievement at Road America. A 14-year wait for a female winner in Indy NXT is a painstaking one. But Chadwick is showing that what some have mindlessly rendered as improbable is completely probable. And from that, one can only hope more opportunities for those like herself can arise.

“Female drivers can be just as talented as men, just as Jamie is proving,” Mann said. “With the opportunity and the equipment and the talent, we could win races and championships. This is why it means so much for me to see Jamie out there succeeding.”


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