Welcome to TSO Ladder’s coverage of the Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200K Scholarship Shootout. Before we get started, we have to send a huge thank you to Mazda Motorsports and the Mazda Road To Indy presented by Cooper Tire for inviting me to cover this one-of-a-kind career making event.
After an uneventful flight from Indianapolis to Phoenix that arrived 45 minutes early on Friday evening, it was a quick shuttle trip to my hotel, the DoubleTree in Tempe, Arizona. After checking in, I hit the lounge for a quick bite to eat and a lone beverage.
As is often the case when I travel out west, I woke-up at my normal time, which equated to a way too early 3:30 a.m. I was able to fall back asleep until 4:30 a.m., at which point I got up and got ready for the 6 a.m. shuttle to the track.
Once arriving at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park after a quick 10 minute ride, the drivers signed the appropriate waivers and made their way to the Bondurant Museum for breakfast. After some coffee, fruit and pastries the 17 drivers received a tour of the Bondurant School Formula Mazda machines they would be piloting for the weekend.
After a quick seat fit, the drivers made their way to the classroom where school instructor Andy Lee conducted a “track walk” on a white board. The experienced instructor told the drivers where to expect bumps, pavement changes and more aggressive curbing.
Next up, was a ride around the track in a pair of vans to give the drivers their first in person look at the 1.65 mile, 15-Turn Bondurant Road Course.
When the two vans full of drivers arrived back at the classroom, they were greeted by Scot Elkins, the event’s race director. The experienced official, who is currently the FIA Formula E race director, went over the schedule for the day while also highlighting a few of the shootout’s rules. The drivers were then dismissed to get ready for their first session.
The 17 drivers were broken up into four groups (three groups of four, and one group of five) for their four practice sessions.
The first three of the 20 minutes sessions were run on Saturday, with the final session taking place on Sunday morning.
The six judges, Oliver Askew, Jonathan Bomarito, Andrew Carbonell, Victor Franzoni, Scott Goodyear, and Tom Long, placed themselves at various points around the circuit and took notes on each driver’s efforts through their particular portion of the track.
The judges and drivers convened after each of the sessions with judges giving each driver feedback on where they were losing time, and what they can do to rectify that.
Immediately following the first session, the judges and drivers convened back in the Bondurant Museum for lunch, and were given a pep talk by a special guest. School owner Bob Bondurant and his wife Pat welcomed the international field, and regaled them with the story of Bob’s incredible career.
The two afternoon sessions were completed just as the sun started to dive behind the South Mountains. The tired hopefuls took part in one last debrief session with the half-dozen judges before getting on the shuttles for the 10 minute journey to the hotel where after cleaning up, they joined the judges for a group diner.
Lap times are not distributed to the drivers, so we won’t share here, but TSO can confirm that the competition is very, very close.
The drivers have one more practice session on Sunday morning before the judges make their cutdown and the finalist take part in two mock qualifying sessions and a mock race.
We’ll be back with much more later.