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Chadwick INDY NXT

An in-depth look at Jamie Chadwick’s INDY NXT struggle

Jamie Chadwick has recieved criticism for failing to adapt to INDY NXT right away

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Jamie Chadwick, three-time W Series champion, has had a tough time adjusting to INDY NXT. It’s been a surprise for some people, who, given her previous success, expected her to dominate the category much like she dominated in W Series. But are those expectations fair, given the circumstances?

Chadwick INDY NXT
Chadwick at the INDY NXT by Firestone Grand Prix of Alabama (Image Credit: Joe Skibinski via IndyCar)

INDY NXT isn’t one of the more well-known feeder series, like Formula 2 or Formula 3. All well-informed motorsport fans and people in the industry know names like Oliver Bearman, Theo Pourchaire, and Jack Doohan. The same cannot be said of names like Linus Lundqvist, Christian Rasmussen, and Hunter McElrea.

So when Chadwick made the switch to the top step of IndyCar’s feeder series after three seasons in W Series, expectations were high for her to succeed. But three rounds in, it’s clear she’s been struggling to get up to speed in a new championship.

INDY NXT campaign so far

At the first round in Saint Petersburg Chadwick qualified second to last, eight-tenths off the pace of the polesitter, who also happened to be her rookie teammate at Andretti Autosport, Louis Foster. Things got worse in the race when she had three separate incidents at the same corner, two without any contact from other drivers. She ended up finishing 13th, one lap down and second to last of all the finishing cars.

The second round wasn’t much better for the British driver, qualifying over a second off the pace of polesitter Christian Rasmussen and finishing three laps down after more contact.

In her third round, Chadwick avoided any major incidents but still struggled with pace, qualifying 14th and finishing 15th.

It’s unusual seeing Chadwick, who only finished off the podium once in three seasons of W Series, struggling to keep it clean and finish in the top ten.

If Chadwick was getting beaten in a well-known series by well-known names in motorsport like the Formula 2 or Formula 3 drivers, we’d be having a totally different conversation. But INDY NXT and its drivers hold a lot of unknowns for many motorsport fans.

But before we can discuss what Chadwick’s issues in INDY NXT say about her and about the series itself, there’s a lot to unpack about where she came from, specifically the W Series championship.

W Series vs. F1’s Feeder Series

The W Series car was a Tatuus F3 T-318 with the same specifications as a Formula 3 car, but that doesn’t automatically put the two series on the same level. In fact, judging what level W Series actually was is quite a complicated matter.

W Series
The 2022 W Series grid (Image Credit: W Series)

Most categories classified as a feeder series have a set place on a ladder leading up to their main series. In Formula 1, it’s normal for drivers to go from some version of Formula 4, to Formula Regional, to Formula 3, to Formula 2. In IndyCar, the typical path goes from USF2000 to USF Pro 2000 to INDY NXT.

But W Series was unique: it didn’t have a specific series below it or above it. This structure was a large part of the reason the category came under so much criticism in its later years: it was set up as a way to promote female drivers in motorsport but provided no tangible way for them to progress out of it.

Level of experience

Part of W Series’ uniqueness came from the fact that it didn’t have a set place on a feeder series ladder, but the other part came from the fact that the main qualification to compete was, obviously, being a woman.

Since there has always been a distinct lack of women in motorsport (the problem W Series was created to solve), female racing drivers had to be pulled from wherever they could be found, resulting in a wide array of experience throughout the 18 drivers on the grid. 

In what other junior category would you get a situation where drivers in their 30s are racing against 16 year-olds? The oldest W Series driver, Emma Kimalainen, actually started racing before the youngest driver on the grid, Juju Noda, was even born.

Whereas in a series like Formula 2, Formula 3, or INDY NXT, drivers come in from (mostly) the same series with at least vaguely the same level of experience, the W Series grid was all over the place in terms of age and experience.

Where does Chadwick belong on the ladder?

Since determining what level W Series actually was is near impossible, we have to look elsewhere on Chadwick’s resume to determine where she might belong on a feeder series ladder.

W Series
Chadwick on the podium after winning the 2022 W Series race at Circuit Paul Ricard (Image Credit: Clive Rose – Getty Images)

The last time Chadwick competed full-time in a non-W Series championship was in 2020 when she took part in the Formula Regional European Championship.

After placing third in her first race in the category, Chadwick went on to have a few other respectable finishes to place ninth overall, albeit behind two drivers (Dennis Hauger and Juri Vips) who only raced in three of the eight rounds.

So other than W Series, a category that floats somewhere on the feeder series ladder vaguely between Formula 4 and Formula 3 level, the highest series Chadwick has ever competed in is Formula Regional. And while she had some good results, there wasn’t anything to indicate that she was fully ready to make the next step up the ladder.

But that was three years ago (and three W Series titles ago), so it’s fair to assume that Chadwick has improved since then. From Formula Regional, the next step up is usually to Formula 3.

That leads us to the next logical question: where does INDY NXT fit in these categories?

Judging INDY NXT

INDY NXT isn’t a particularly well-known series, a fact which has led many to labour under the belief that the level of talent isn’t particularly high.

But just a brief look at some of the drivers who have come out of INDY NXT in recent years proves that isn’t true. Drivers like Colton Herta, Pato O’Ward, Rinus VeeKay, and Kyle Kirkwood all graduated from INDY NXT (known at the time as Indy Lights) to IndyCar in the past four seasons and are now all race winners in one of the most competitive top series of all time.

All the INDY NXT graduates in the 2023 Indy 500 field (Image Credit: @INDYNXT on Twitter)

There’s no definitive way to prove exactly how INDY NXT compares to Formula 2 and Formula 3, but it’s fair to say, given the calibre of drivers that come straight into IndyCar from INDY NXT that it is at least above Formula 3 level.

The reigning INDY NXT (then Indy Lights) champion, Linus Lundqvist, actually has an FIA Super Licence. Granted, it’s well-known that the Super Licence system is flawed (given the drama that unfolded last year when 7-time IndyCar race-winner Colton Herta lost out on a Formula 1 seat because of his lack of a Super Licence), but the fact remains that Lundqvist has proven himself, in the FIA’s eyes, accomplished enough for Formula 1.

Not at all to diminish the talent of the drivers Chadwick had to beat to become a three-time W Series champion, but the fact is that most of the W Series drivers hadn’t reached the level of experience or success that many of the INDY NXT drivers have.

INDY NXT’s resume

In contrast to the relative inexperience of most of the W Series drivers, the INDY NXT grid is much more reminiscent of Formula 2 level talent, at the very least.

For 2023 Chadwick is up against drivers who, even outside of being successful within the Road To Indy ladder, have a comprehensive list of accolades.

Christian Rasmussen, the current championship leader, has only finished outside of the top three once in every single-seater series he’s raced in. He’s also coming into his second season of INDY NXT as a champion of both the prior levels of the Road To Indy ladder.

Ernie Francis Jr. is a seven-time Trans-Am champion, having won the series every year from 2014-2020.

Hunter McElrea was the 2018 Australian Formula Ford champion, a series he conquered by winning 13 of the 21 races that season.

Enaam Ahmed won the 2017 BRDC British Formula 3 series, a category Chadwick herself competed in that year and finished ninth overall.

Kyffin Simpson, age 18, is already a race winner in the IMSA SportsCar Championship and the Asian Le Mans Series. Already in 2023, he’s competed in IMSA, the Asian Le Mans Series, and the European Le Mans Series, and that’s on top of his INDY NXT campaign.

Matteo Nannini is a race winner in Formula 3 and even had a brief stint in Formula 2 before he had to pull out due to funding issues.

17 year-old Josh Pierson placed tenth overall in his first 24 Hours of Le Mans last year, one of the most prestigious motorsport events of all time. He was the youngest ever driver to compete in the race, and also the youngest driver to win a race in the World Endurance Championship.

INDY NXT Chadwick
The 2023 INDY NXT grid (Image Credit: @INDYNXT on Twitter)
Chadwick’s struggle revisited

Comparing series that have no relation to each other can get complicated quickly, and there’s no easy measure of equality when it comes to motorsport. 

But if it’s not realistic to expect a W Series driver to even be Formula 3 ready, and INDY NXT is at least close to Formula 2 level competition, it’s quite reasonable to expect Chadwick to take some time getting up to speed. It’s not as clear-cut an issue as if she had been thrust into the F1 feeder series ladder, but INDY NXT, given the evidence, is clearly a major step up for her.

Expecting Chadwick, who hasn’t competed in a normal feeder series category since 2020 and is making the switch to the step right below IndyCar, to be on the pace with experienced and fully competent drivers right away is hardly reasonable or fair.

Winning W Series three times in a row has its consequences, one being that expectations are (perhaps unfairly) very high for Chadwick, and everyone is watching her attempt to adapt to a brand-new car and a brand-new series in a brand-new country.

Only time will tell if Chadwick has it in her to succeed in and progress out of INDY NXT. For now, she’s just learning, something she shouldn’t be faulted for.

Feature Image Credit: Joe Skibinski via IndyCar

  1. Excellent article. It should be pointed out that Indy NXT cars are heavier and more physical to handle than F2 cars. Chadwick is attempting to add significantly more upper body muscle to be able to withstand the physicality of the car. Also the races are much longer. So strength and endurance seem to be only thing holding her back.

    Indycars are even more heavier and lack power steering. So she’s got a long road ahead of her in her training if she hopes to land in Indycar seat.

    I have been following her Indy NXT career, and I think she might need another 2 years to get herself assimilated with Indy NXT cars. So I’m guessing a 2026 Indycar entry might be possible with Andretti if she can be more competitive with the NXT series.

  2. Staggered by this article. Chadwick won a series for talentless individuals and now she should perform? This is the price you pay when everything is just hype and the problems of competing in a series solely for women.

    1. What credentials do you bring to the table to write this type of criticism?

      While Jamie’s future advancement is up for debate, you show no regard for the success she’s legitimately earned to date NOR the dedication it takes to get to where she’s at.

      Making the jump from a 270HP F3 spec car to a heavier, no power steering 420 HP car with limited testing is not easy.

      Be a smarter human being please. Thank you.

  3. Excellent article. As the previous commenter pointed out, Indy NXT cars are very heavy and the Indycar and Road to Indy doesn’t have power steering like Formula 2 and Formula 1 cars have. Many people don’t understand that Indycar is a very tough series to compete in and it often doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Also the fact that they race on ovals, streets, and road courses makes it difficult for drivers to reach a championship because they must master all of those disciplines.

    The appropriate series for Chadwick in single seater in the US would have probably been one of the Road to Indy series, whether it was the one most similar in speed to what she drove in the W series or one above that.

    I saw Kym Illman did a piece about another female driver named Lindsay Brewer in the series below IndyNXT and she mentioned struggling with strength in her first full season, her results seem to indicate she is middle of the pack in certain races and near the back in others, but it would be interesting to watch both of these females in these heavier Indycar type single seaters to see how they fare

  4. What credentials do you bring to the table to write this type of criticism?

    While Jamie’s future advancement is up for debate, you show no regard for the success she’s legitimately earned to date NOR the dedication it takes to get to where she’s at.

    Making the jump from a 270HP F3 spec car to a heavier, no power steering 420 HP car with limited testing is not easy.

    Be a smarter human being please. Thank you.

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