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Road to Indy and Toyota GAZOO Racing New Zealand Announce Partnership – Series Join Forces to Offer International Opportunities to Young Drivers

ELKHART LAKE, WIS. (June 21, 2019) – The Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires and Toyota GAZOO Racing New Zealand today announced a partnership that will see up-and-coming drivers afforded new opportunities in both series to further their racing careers. Several drivers in the Road to Indy have already taken advantage of the opportunity to sharpen their skills in the off-season by participating in the January/February Castrol Toyota Racing Series.

The new partnership will offer the top-three finishers in the Road to Indy ladder series – the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires – a waived entry fee (NZ$5,000, approximately $3,300 USD) for the 2020 Castrol Toyota Racing Series season to hone their skills with significant track time at five circuits on New Zealand’s North and South Islands aboard the newly unveiled state-of-the-art Tatuus FT-60.

For drivers who have competed in all five rounds of the 2019 Castrol Toyota Racing Series, an opportunity to test the waters in either USF2000, Indy Pro 2000 or Indy Lights is on offer with entry fees waived for the traditional two-day Chris Griffis Memorial test this fall or the two-day Spring Training outing the beginning of next year. All drivers will also receive one set of Cooper tires for the test event they select.

In addition, joint marketing programs will be implemented to showcase the Road to Indy as an excellent career option for aspiring young drivers who want to follow the path of New Zealand racing legend Scott Dixon, five- time NTT IndyCar Series champion, Indianapolis 500 winner and former Indy Lights champion, and to highlight the benefits of off-season training in the Castrol Toyota Racing Series in preparation for full-season campaigns.

“We are very pleased to announce our new partnership with Toyota GAZOO Racing,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “This is a great opportunity for our drivers to compete against some of the best young competitors in the world. With their schedule of five triple-headers in a row, our drivers will have plenty of track time in equipment that is relevant, further strengthening their skills and helping to prepare them for the next step on our ladder.

“We are also excited to offer the opportunity for their drivers to come and see what the Road to Indy is all about. Both the Chris Griffis test and Spring Training provide an excellent opportunity for plenty of seat time, and drivers can decide what level on the ladder is appropriate for them. With USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 using the Tatuus chassis and Sadev six-speed sequential gearbox – which are also used by the Toyota series – drivers will be quick to adapt to our equipment packages.”

The Castrol Toyota Racing Series 2020 schedule will kick off on January 17 at Highlands Motorsport Park followed by Teretonga Park (January 24-26), Hampton Downs Motorsports Park (January 31-February 2), Pukekohe or Taupo – TBC (February 7-9) and Manfeild – Circuit Chris Amon (February 14-16).

“Scott Dixon is a shining light for many young drivers in New Zealand and indeed many who come and compete in the Castrol Toyota Racing Series,” said Nicolas Caillol, Castrol Toyota Racing Series Category Manager. “Any initiative that eases the path into the U.S. racing scene or creates potential opportunities will be a welcome one. Other IndyCar drivers like Indy 500 Rookie of the Year Santino Ferrucci and Jordan King have also benefitted from their time competing in New Zealand in January and February and we’d love to see more coming to develop their skills in our series as part of their development path. It’s now a little bit easier for drivers on that development path.”

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The Road To Indy (RTI) Component of the 2019 IndyCar Series schedule announcement.

The Road To Indy (RTI) Component of the 2019 IndyCar Series schedule announcement.

With today’s IndyCar Series 2019 schedule announcement, it’s time to start piecing together the schedules for Indy Lights, Pro (add new name here?) and USF2000.

What we know so far.

On August 29, 2017, Andersen Promotions and Green Savoree Racing Promotions signed an agreement that all three rungs of the RTI ladder will be in action at the Green Savoree promoted events on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Streets of Toronto and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

It’s not a stretch that the Freedom 100 will once again take place on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval on “Carb Day.”

At last night’s Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires banquet, Andersen Promotions CEO announced that the 2019 finale for the three series would be held at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

Indy Lights confirmed events
March 4 – Spring Training – Homestead-Miami Speedway (Homestead, Fla.)
March 8-10 – Streets of St. Petersburg (St. Petersburg, Fla.)
May 24 – Freedom 100 – Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Speedway, Ind.)
July 12 – 14 – Streets of Exhibition Place (Toronto, Ont.)
July 26 – 28 – Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (Lexington, Ohio)
September 22 – 24 – WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca (Salinas, Calif.)

Pro (add new name here?) confirmed events
March 2 – 3 – Spring Training – Homestead-Miami Speedway (Homestead, Fla.)
March 8-10 – Streets of St. Petersburg (St. Petersburg, Fla.)
July 12 – 14 – Streets of Exhibition Place (Toronto, Ont.)
July 26 – 28 – Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (Lexington, Ohio)
September 22 – 24 – WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca (Salinas, Calif.)

USF2000 confirmed events
March 2 – 3 – Spring Training – Homestead-Miami Speedway (Homestead, Fla.)
March 8-10 – Streets of St. Petersburg (St. Petersburg, Fla.)
July 12 – 14 – Streets of Exhibition Place (Toronto, Ont.)
July 26 – 28 – Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (Lexington, Ohio)
September 22 – 24 – WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca (Salinas, Calif.)

Beyond the Freedom 100 and the four events that have had all three series confirmed.

Assuming double-headers at each event (not the Freedom 100), there are eight confirmed USF2000 races; eight confirmed Pro (add new name here?)races and nine confirmed Indy Lights races.

It would be surprising to see the oval component of the RTI change much for 2019, meaning you ’ll very likely see Indy Lights back at Iowa Speedway and Indy Lights /Pro (add new name here?) at Gateway Motorsports Park.

The Lucas Oil Raceway Carb Night classic makes a lot of sense for the lone USF2000 and second Pro (add new name here?) oval events.

Barber Motorsports Park, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Lucas Oil Raceway Park, Road America, Iowa Speedway, Gateway Motorsports Park and Portland International Raceway all held Road To Indy Races this year, but have not been confirmed at venues in 2019. Long Beach, Detroit, Texas Motor Speedway, and Pocono Raceway didn’t hold events this year. Circuit Of The Americas is a new venue.

This year, Indy Lights had 17 races at ten events, Pro (add new name here?) had 16 races at nine events, and USF2000 had 14 races at seven events, and it would be surprising to see those numbers change.

Numerous sources have told TSO that the demand for the RTI content at IndyCar Series events has exceeded the number of races available. That’s a good problem to have.

So, what’s the solution?

Have fewer events with all three series competing and spreading the series across more race weekends with one or two of the RTI series competing.

Long Beach and Detroit, the two double-headers with the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will most likely remain free of RTI content.

That leaves newcomer Circuit Of The Americas, Barber Motorsports Park, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Road America, and Portland International Raceway to fight for five USF2000, six Pro (add new name here?) and six Indy Lights races.

Dan Andersen, CEO of Andersen Promotions and Michelle Kish, COO of Andersen Promotions do not have an easy job of putting together a schedule that makes sense for them, the teams and the promoters.

MRTI Feature – XtremeTM keeps Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires rolling at home state race

By Steve Wittich

After six months of transcontinental travel, the members of the XtremeTM crew end their Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires season with a more comfortable 90-mile trip from their home base in Corvallis, Ore. to Portland International Raceway.

As the tire service provider for Cooper Tire, XtremeTM literally keeps the USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights teams rolling. The crew consisting of at least a dozen Oregonians, led by Nikki Stauber, mounts, dismounts and services all of the Cooper Tire slicks and rain tires for the Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires.

The XTremeTM crew in action and play this week at their home race (Photo Courtesy of XTremeTM)

XtremeTM began their exclusive relationship with Cooper Tire when the 104-year-old Findlay, Ohio tire manufacturer started providing tires for the Atlantic Championship.

Outside of the open-wheel racing world, Cooper Tire and XtremeTM have also worked together on IMSA Prototype Lites, Global Rallycross, and Americas Rallycross.

“Excellent,” said Stauber when asked about working with Cooper Tire. “And, I’m not just saying that because I’m sitting in front of a Cooper (Tire) trailer. What I really love about working with Chris Pantani (Director of Marketing; UHP Marketing, Event Management, Sponsorships & Motorsports at Cooper) and Cooper Tire, in general, is that they are very passionate about finding great solutions and win-win scenarios for the racing world.

“I really appreciate that Cooper Tire are continually trying to think of ways to keep improving and to find new ways to keep racing in front of the public eye.

“Chris is a great networker, so he’s really good at finding ways to cross-market and bring people together in ways that are beneficial to everyone. I really appreciate that when they make a decision, they follow through. They are great partners!”

If you spend any time in the Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires paddock, it quickly becomes evident that the XtremeTM crew are friends and have a lot of fun at the race track during their “workcations.” In a hyper-competitive racing paddock, an infectious and fun attitude goes a long way.

Stauber told TSO Ladder: “One of the comments that people often make about our crew is that it looks like we are always having fun. I don’t know if it’s an Oregon thing, or what. We do have a crew that gets along really well. A lot of them call this “workcation.” We try to mix in some work and fun. These guys have great attitudes, and they do work very hard. They get everybody their products on time with very few mistakes (we’re not perfect), they do it with a great attitude; keeping in mind that everybody that is here is on the road especially at this time of the year everybody is tired. Even if you get somebody that is less than pleasant, they are very good at letting that fall away. They have a great attitude, and I do appreciate them. We have a great team!”

So about that “home” race?

“I’m really excited about it,” said the always smiling Stauber. “It is really great. I love being in Oregon. Oregon is so beautiful. I do feel like the Northwest has a fanbase that is untapped. To get to have a big race like this here. I think we’re going to have some really great support from the fans. So, I’m really excited about that. It’s a beautiful setting. And, it’s going to be fun because we have so many family and friends coming. It will be so cool to share with them what we do.”

Mazda leaves legacy of hope heading into MRTI finale weekend at Portland

By Tony DiZinno

As the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires heads into its final weekend at Portland International Raceway this weekend, it’s worth looking back at Mazda’s legacy it has left with the American open-wheel ladder system as it prepares for its final weekend as title sponsor and scholarship provider for the three series.

Steve has touched on it in a number of pieces here on TSO Ladder presented by Cooper Tires; here are some of my thoughts. The MRTI since 2010 and its informal predecessor in the Atlantic days prior to that have formed some incredible memories in my motorsports coverage career.

Hope doesn’t have an official color. But Mazda’s “Soul Red” came closest to fitting that bill.

The writing was on the wall for the end of the relationship between Mazda and the Andersen Promotions run and operated Road to Indy for months even prior to Mazda’s official announcement on July 31.

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

But before the sad and somewhat inevitable ending, there was hope. And the “hope” Mazda bestowed on a generation of young drivers, teams and other series personnel is something that will never be forgotten.

Mazda’s DNA in North American open-wheel racing’s ladder system came at just the right time to stabilize a fluid system while the top level of the sport was in disarray.

Neither the Indy Racing League nor Champ Car World Series was in a position of strength in the mid-2000s, and its support series were sagging.

Saddled with the loss of tobacco sponsorship that heavily sponsored Indy Lights and Formula Atlantic, both those series began to wither on the vine.

Indy Lights, in its first incarnation after the American Racing Series, slowly faded to its conclusion in 2001. The IRL’s Indy Pro Series that launched a year later would eventually carry on the Lights legacy, but only after a significant period of build-up.

Atlantic’s glory days that began in the mid-1970s also slowed by the mid-2000s and hit a relative bottom in 2005, when only four drivers competed the full season of races.

For 2006, the new Swift 016.a chassis, coupled with a Mazda-badged Cosworth engine, revitalized that series. Participation spiked to 15 drivers racing the full season and some 45 making at least one start. Three rookies stood out, in a then-unheralded Frenchman named Simon Pagenaud, a second generation Rahal named Graham, and a quirky Canadian called James Hinchcliffe. A $2 million prize to the year’s champion – Pagenaud – provided him his debut in Champ Car a year later.

So the foundation was laid by the MAZDASPEED brand that Mazda, in lieu of participating in the top level of open-wheel racing, would support the next generation of drivers who would go onto IndyCar or top level sports car racing.

Open-wheel’s merger of IRL and Champ Car in 2008 into INDYCAR threatened the ladder series at its core. Atlantics stayed in that incarnation for two more years through 2009, while the Indy Pro Series grew with a wealth of new entrants to the mid-to-high 20s in that same period.

Dan Andersen. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

There needed to be a way to bring the ladder all back together after Atlantic and Indy Pro failed to coexist. With USF2000 also resuscitated by Andersen – a former Indy Pro and Star Mazda team owner – in 2010, the unified ladder known as the Mazda Road to Indy was formally born.

The steps to bring both Star Mazda, now Pro Mazda, and the Indy Pro Series, now back to Indy Lights, under Andersen’s control are long and varied. But by 2013 all three were under one overall ladder umbrella, sanctioned by INDYCAR, and a staple on most if not all Verizon IndyCar Series weekends.

Mazda remained the constant, in the form of its Mazda Motorsports Advancement Scholarships that guaranteed the winner of each championship – Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000 – would have an opportunity to step up to the next series.

This brought the usual combination of elation and heartbreak, oftentimes in the same weekend.

As the early races passed, May’s run at Indianapolis occurred and the summer stretch produced the primary championship contenders, tensions rose in pursuit of the titles and that Mazda scholarship.

Races at Mid-Ohio often proved the tipping point between contending for a title and falling out of it in ignominious style.

The dramatic 2014 Pro Mazda title battle at Sonoma between Scott Hargrove (3) and Spencer Pigot (7) was one of many MRTI title deciding events that featured a wide range of emotions. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

The season finale weekends, particularly when in Northern California at either Sonoma (2014) or Laguna Seca (2015 and 2016, when the track was still known as Mazda Raceway), provided a combination of utter chaos, controversy, heartbreak and jubilation in all three series.

Those that won the championships, the scholarships and the chance to carry the Mazda “Soul Red” livery a year later have had a legacy of greatness to uphold. Those that didn’t would have to forge a new path forward to continue their careers.

Yet Mazda’s mark left on the fabric of junior open-wheel motorsports is indelible with the stories created and personnel blessed by their presence.

INDYCAR would consistently trumpet the Mazda Road to Indy’s legacy within the Indianapolis 500. For several years, well north of two-thirds of the 33-starter field started on this ladder.

Yet INDYCAR is not the only sanctioning body to have been blessed. Mazda’s legacy with the Road to Indy is also distinctly intertwined with sports car racing. The parallel “Road to” programs – either the Road to Indy or Road to 24 – have created a generation of sports car stars.

Look at most drivers in either INDYCAR or IMSA and it is difficult to draw the line between those who haven’t been part of the Mazda Road to Indy at some stage in their career, and those who have.

The mark of a Mazda Road to Indy alumnus is obvious. He or she has showcased an ability to communicate well about their ability behind the wheel and their advocacy for the partner or cause they represent. They have a dedication to the craft and a spirit to improve. And in most cases, they have their own unique personality developed over their time in these series that they take to the next level.

Any of Pipo Derani, Tristan Vautier, Dane Cameron, Joel Miller, Jonathan Bomarito, Gustavo Yacaman, Sebastian Saavedra and Stephen Simpson has a MRTI background. And that’s just one class of IMSA drivers, in the Prototype category.

The legacy stretches further when you go into IMSA’s GT ranks and find a John Edwards, Connor De Phillippi or Jack Hawksworth. It goes even deeper when you look at the entries in IMSA’s Challenge or one-make series, when you see the flock of MRTI alums that have shifted into sports cars.

Dan Andersen, Spencer Pigot, Mazda’s John Doonan and Cooper Tires’ Chris Pantani after Pigot won 2015 Indy Lights title. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Those in IndyCar? Josef Newgarden is the reigning IndyCar champion. The 2011 Indy Lights champion kicked off a run of seven consecutive series winners who’ve moved up to IndyCar at some stage, with Vautier, Sage Karam, Gabby Chaves, Spencer Pigot, Ed Jones and Kyle Kaiser all following in his footsteps. Either Patricio O’Ward or Colton Herta – or perhaps both – could join them in 2019 depending on who secures the title this weekend.

That’s before you factor in the other young guns such as Conor Daly, Zach Veach, Matheus Leist, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Max Chilton, Jack Harvey, RC Enerson, Matty Brabham, and others who’ve been up to IndyCar in the last few years.

Every year in MRTI has brought a wealth of new talents blended with veterans who have plied their trade here for several years. Drivers like Parker Thompson, Aaron Telitz or Santi Urrutia have excelled in MRTI for four or more years; while rookies or second-year drivers such as Kyle Kirkwood, Oliver Askew and Rinus VeeKay among others have clearly established their potential in these championships.

Although he’s not made it to IndyCar yet, it’s a member of this year’s short but stacked seven-car Indy Lights field – last year’s Pro Mazda champion Victor Franzoni – who described Mazda’s legacy best.

Victor Franzoni accepts trophy and scholarship at last year’s banquet. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

“Mazda doesn’t just give us prize money. They give us hope,” he said after accepting his trophy at last year’s championship celebration.

It was obvious from the outpouring of support from the racing community how much Mazda meant to the Road to Indy.

It’s a legacy for the Mazda Motorsports team to be proud of.