PALMETTO, Fla. — The unique and highly acclaimed three-step Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel driver development program, which offers annual scholarships and awards worth over $3.6 million to assist drivers to progress from the grassroots to the pinnacle of the sport in North America, will run alongside the Verizon IndyCar Series on all race weekends next year.
A few highlights include the return of Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires competition to Gateway Motorsports Park, in Madison, Ill., just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Mo. (Indy Lights returns to the 1.25-mile oval for the first time since 2003 while the Pro Mazda series will be making its debut); the addition of Iowa Speedway to the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, which most recently hosted the first rung on the ladder in 2010; and a highly anticipated season finale for all three levels at the Watkins Glen Int’l road course in upstate New York.
Indy Lights will be featured on 10 weekends alongside the Verizon IndyCar Series headline event, marking a total of 16 races with doubleheader rounds on the streets of St. Petersburg, at Barber Motorsports Park, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (road course), Road America, on the streets of Toronto and at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Indy Lights will contest single rounds at Iowa Speedway, Gateway and Watkins Glen. The crown jewel in the series’ schedule remains the Freedom 100 on Carb Day of the Indianapolis 500.
Pro Mazda will feature a condensed, six-weekend schedule of 12 races in order to allow teams to dovetail their racing commitments with a concerted summer test and development program with the new Mazda-powered Tatuus PM-18 chassis which will be introduced in 2018.
Doubleheader rounds will be contested at St. Petersburg, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Road America and Watkins Glen with a tripleheader at Mid-Ohio and a single event at the Gateway oval.
Pro Mazda incentives for the transitional year until the introduction of the new chassis include an increase in the champion’s Mazda scholarship to advance to Indy Lights from $601,700 to $790,300, bringing the total event and year end prizes to over $1.1 million, plus a one-day Indy Lights test for each of the top-three finishers in the championship and a new Pro Mazda Rookie of the Year Mazda Car Award which features a new Mazda street car of choice to the winning driver. Entry fee discounts are also available.
A new National Class prize package, for competitors running in Pro Mazda specification and meeting the older Star Mazda technical requirements by SCCA FA Class competition rules, will be introduced and announced in the coming weeks.
USF2000 will mark the debut of the brand-new Tatuus USF-17 chassis, which sold out its initial inventory of 30 cars, and will comprise a total of eight weekends and 14 races. Doubleheader weekends include St. Petersburg, Barber, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Road America, Toronto and Mid-Ohio. Single rounds will be contested at Iowa and Watkins Glen.
“I am very pleased with our 2017 schedules,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Not only will they assist both teams and drivers with budgets, they allow us to showcase the Mazda Road to Indy ladder alongside IndyCar at premier venues while once again providing our drivers with experience on ovals, road and street courses.
“The Dallara IL-15 revitalized Indy Lights competition and I foresee our field counts growing significantly in 2017. We expect the same with USF2000 and the new car, where I do expect 30+ fields. With the in-between year for Pro Mazda before the PM-18, we’ve added what we feel is an excellent incentive package to attract more teams and drivers to the grid, including a summer testing program with the new chassis. Mazda and Cooper Tires’ commitment to the ladder is as strong as ever, and once again I have to thank them for being such tremendous partners.”