To get Jamie Chadwick to smile wide, ask her about preparing for a second season in INDY NXT by Firestone with Andretti Global. To say she is more relaxed this time around is the understatement of her year.
“Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah,” she said. “I’m amazed at how different I feel.
“The familiarity, honestly – culturally, everything. There’s just so much adjustment last year.”
It was a learning year all around for the English driver, from where she laid her head at night to where she mashed the throttle during the day. Her first full U.S. experience literally began just 12 months ago, and the slow transition showed in her early on-track performance.
In the first half of the INDY NXT by Firestone season, Chadwick mustered just one top-10 finish with the season-opening street race in St. Petersburg particularly challenging. “A baptism,” she called that first series race. The second race, at Barber Motorsports Park, was on a road course that tested her strength.
Admittedly, the three-time champion of the W Series said she was slow to engage with this series.
“I felt like it took me too long – a lot of time – to adapt and learn what was required, and obviously all-new tracks, as well,” she said of finishing 12th in series points. “(I) felt like everything was just a new thing.
“Now just having familiarity with everything just feels more relaxing, a lot better going into it.”
Chadwick, 25, got her first taste of the 2024 season with the recent series open test on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. Her fastest lap was 11th among the 21 drivers, but it wasn’t a day for throwing big numbers on the board. For her, it was about continuing the progress she and Andretti Global saw in the second half of last season.
Indeed, there was progress. While results don’t always paint a proper picture, Chadwick clearly got more comfortable with her surroundings and confident on track with each lap she turned. She first secured a top-10 finish in her seventh series start, at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. She then strung together three more such finishes – a 10th-place finish at Iowa Speedway, an eighth-place finish on the streets of Nashville and another 10th-place finish on the IMS road course – as evidence of her progress.
The difference in her two halves of the season was clear. Her average finish in the first seven races was 13.0. She dropped to 10.4 in the second seven.
“I think toward the end of the season, (improvement) started happening with more consistency, (more) good performances,” she said. “Here (at IMS in August), we were (less than) two-tenths off being on the front row, which is the closest I’d been all year.
“I think there’s a few races – the Nashville race – where I felt comfortable racing within the pack and very much was competing in the thick of it. That’s obviously where I want to be, starting (near the front), being in the mix straight away and building. If we can progress like we did last (season), then there’s no reason why we can't be fighting at the sharp end of the grid.”
This offseason is only in its infancy, but Chadwick said she and the team have already begun preparations for next season. Together, they identified areas where she needs to improve – strength is one – and she figures the lessons she learned in the recently completed season will put her on firmer ground to start the year.
For example, she now has a firm grip on the nuances of the Firestone tire, which were new to the series last season. Also, the short qualifying format used by the series requires drivers to be ready to lay down quick laps quicker than in most series she has competed in previously.
“From a personal point of view, I think just understanding how the season looks,” she said of the experience she now possesses. “The tracks were new for me last year. The ovals were brand new. Having a year of learning all of that is one thing, also just the race format (and) how long the races are. The physicality of (them), what’s required and just from the driving point of view … all these things and I know exactly what I need to do going into the second year.
“I think the nice thing going into it this year is I know what to expect a little bit. Last year I had a million-and-one things to think about. What do I need to expect, and I didn’t know. So, I went in (trying) to take in everything I could from the first race. Now knowing what I need to work on, having that experience is going to give me clarity this winter, to be structured and work hard on what we can.”
Chadwick said she always planned for a two-year stint in INDY NXT by Firestone, and it isn’t lost on her that being with the same team for Year 2 is a plus. Andretti Global knows her; she knows them. And they know how to work together.
“That’s a big part of it -- a huge part of it, actually,” she said. “We started the journey with Andretti, and there were so many things that I was able to learn with them, (and I’m) particularly close with the team and my engineer and the team around me. A lot of that was with their support, so to come back with that and being able to refer to a lot of what we learned in this past year is going to be valuable, for sure.
“They obviously got a very fast car, capable of winning races and championships, so there’s no doubt on that side, either. I know that I’ve got the car and the team behind me for it.”