Jamie Chadwick’s first run in an Indy Lights car with Andretti Autosport was met with positive takes by the two-time W Series champion, and Andretti’s 2021 Indy Lights title winner Kyle Kirkwood.
The Briton logged 210 miles of learning in the 450hp turbocharged four-cylinder Dallara IL15 chassis around Sebring International Raceway’s outer loop on Wednesday, and after catching a flight home and having some time to think about the experience, Chadwick was filled with encouragement.
“I was happy with how it went, not really knowing what to expect as such, but just wanting to experience as much as I could, and to get to know the team as best as possible, learn the car, understand what Indy Lights is all about,” she told RACER. “For that side of things, I got a good feeling for the car and I understand where I need to work, where I need to improve. And I also felt like I had a really good rapport with the team, which fills me with good confidence going forward.”
Benchmarking Chadwick’s performance was a challenge due to her being the only driver on track. Another significant obstacle in that regard comes from the track itself. Wild swings in temperature and humidity at the Floridian road course, and variances in the rubber being applied to the circuit with multiple cars in motion — or the inverse, with a lackof grip during a single-car test — makes comparing Chadwick’s unofficial best lap of 56.950s all but impossible to compare to lap times turned earlier in the year.
In the absence of other drivers, Kirkwood, who returns to Andretti Autosport to takeover Alexander Rossi’s No. 28 Honda IndyCar in 2023, assessed Chadwick’s output.
“I thought she did really well,” said Kirkwood, who dominated his Lights season as the winner of 10 races from 20 rounds. “She got to grips with the car a lot faster than I think most people do, and after her first run, she was quicker than me from my first-ever run in a Lights car. She had very similar comments about setup, and she did over 120 laps, and physically, she seemed to be in a good place because this place can beat you up, especially first time driving with the bumps.
“From what I saw, she’s a very professional and good driver who got into the car and was quick right off the bat. It wasn’t like she got in the car and then kept ticking away and taking off a second each session. She got it right away on used tires; she was fast and maybe got a little bit quicker by the end of the day, but there wasn’t much speed left to find from the start. I think she did a good job.”
Among Chadwick’s various skills, she’s become an expert at adapting to a wide variety of cars and formulas in a short amount of time, which Kirkwood witnessed at the test. The Dallara IL15, with its big wings, big tires, high power, and higher weight, were all new attributes for Chadwick to master.
“I wanted to go out and try and adapt as quick as I could,” she said. “But it was only a one-day test, so you want to make the most of it. And yeah, that’s where I’m lucky; I’ve had quite a lot of different experience in different cars, so whilst it’s still a good step up for me, I felt comfortable just to jump in and try and adapt as quick as possible. When I first went out, I thought bloody hell, this is fast!
“It definitely felt like a big step up. And the way you drive it is quite different to what I’ve been taught. You do hustle the lap, you slide quite a lot on the rear tires. It’s a lot busier than I was expecting on the steering wheel. But it’s fun in that sense. It’s quite progressive with the rear tires; they allow you to lean on them without compromising too much lap time or hurting the tire, which in anything I’ve done before, isn’t the case. So that’s good fun. Trying to get the absolute best lap out of it isn’t the easiest thing, and to be consistent, it’s tricky as well. It’s quite a hard car to tame for a single lap. But at the same time, it’s a lot of fun.”
Chadwick spent time before the test working out at PitFit in Indianapolis, where most IndyCar drivers build strength and endurance to withstand the rigors of racing high-downforce cars with no power steering. If she redirects her career to Indy Lights next year, the intense physical regimen will continue.
“The thing I was worried about going into the test was, to be honest, not being able to turn the steering wheel, and it being too physical for me and the level that I was at, but actually, that wasn’t the case,” she said. “It’s definitely physical. I’ve definitely got to get a lot stronger. The Indy Lights races are very long. We didn’t do any really long runs over the day, but we did do a lot of laps. And I think that’s really encouraging that I was able to drive the car, at a level that I was physically happy with.”
Andretti Autosport president J-F Thormann, the longtime leader of the team’s junior open-wheel programs, has expressed his desire for Chadwick to join the Indy Lights program next season. And so do her growing legion of fans, both international and domestic, as she learned after seeing numerous social media posts from those who want to see her on the Road To Indy.
“It’s really cool, and something that I’m really surprised by,” she admitted. “I didn’t think that the test would get the reaction it got. From everything that I’ve spoken to people about and seen, it’s been really positive. And I think the Indy Lights series and the Road To Indy package is really, really popular. It has an amazing fan base. So to have that crossover, potentially, with some of the people that support me, it’s great. It’s something I think could be quite exciting.”