Yes, you read the title right! The Road to Indy program now has a title sponsor, Mazda. Late last off-season, INDYCAR put the final pieces together for a four-tier development system which clearly marked out a path for young open-wheel drivers to the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. The US F2000 National Championship presented by Cooper Tires and powered by Mazda was the last element to come into place. Dan Andersen of Andersen Racing revived the old F2000-based series with sanction from INDYCAR. Drivers would then graduate to the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear. Star Mazda still remains under IMSA sanction, for now. If successful at Star Mazda, the next step is to compete in the Firestone Indy Lights series, and then finally a driver might realize their dream of securing a ride in the IZOD IndyCar Series.
There’s been a lot of criticism of this system primarily for the lack of incentive for teams to search for talent directly from the various series within the ladder system. There was no scholarship in place for the Star Mazda champion to secure a ride in Firestone Indy Lights. If fact, the Star Mazda champion was offered a full factory ride, not in any open-wheel series, but in the Rolex Grand-AM GT series! There was also no financial incentive for the Firestone Indy Lights champion to be hired by an IZOD IndyCar Series team. The lack of scholarships and incentives that would move successful drivers up the ladder was a legitimate concern, but keep in mind that the entire system came about very late in the off-season and there wasn’t much time to be able to secure the sponsorship to make those connections happen.
Now there has been time, and the folk involved with the Road to Indy program have been working hard over the past year to address many of the faults of the system as it stood for the 2010 season. First we heard that an IZOD IndyCar Series team that hired the reigning Firestone Indy Lights champion would receive a $500k bonus through the T.E.A.M allocation. Now with Mazda sponsoring the entire program, there will be scholarships to facilitate a drivers ascension through the ladder system including a scholarship for the Star Mazda champion to Firestone Indy Lights and for the Firestone Indy Lights champion to the IZOD IndyCar Series.
“We want to strengthen our ladder system to further develop, reward and advance the best of the best,” INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard said at the announcement in Orlando, Fla. “The Road to Indy was designed to cultivate young talent for the IZOD IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500. In Mazda, we’ve found a partner that not only has a history of nurturing such drivers, but also shares our desire to groom the future stars of INDYCAR racing through its commitment of providing driver scholarships.” — IndyCar.com, Mazda to sponsor Road to Indy program
This is fantastic news and shows a serious level of commitment and devotion to the young developing open-wheel talent racing here in the US. Combined with the new scholarship to place the USAC champion in Firestone Indy Lights, this has the potential to attract more American talent to the series. Mind you, I’m not trying to be xenophobic or anything, but a greater portion of domestic talent blended in with the great diversity of international talent we enjoy would go a long way in helping to sell Indy car racing to a new group of race fans, and perhaps bring back some old ones as well. Be sure to check out the Road to Indy Weekly Wrapup later this week when we’ll have more information about the program and some details about the promised scholarships.
5 Thoughts to “Road to Indy – Mazda Sponsors the Road to Indy Program”
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Excellent! I think it’s an amazing that we’re seeing a ladder system put into place for the IICS, especially with some incentives for teams to look to the lower rungs for their next driver. This seems to me to be a similar setup to what NASCAR has with the Whelen/Truck Series/Nationwide/Sprint series. What are the chances though of seeing an expanded schedule and longer races for these lower series? Right now I think the Indy Lights are running a 12-or-so race season, and only 100 miles for the ovals. I would like to see it get to the point where some Indy vets are running both series like in NASCAR.
I’ve been told that there WILL be a thirteenth race in Firestone Indy Lights, its just not certain where it will be yet. We probably won’t hear final word until the Edmonton mess is finally wrapped up.
The reason why they don’t run longer races is because of cost. With the race durations as they are now, they can run a race to completion without needing to refuel or replace tires. Once you include the need for pitstops, the costs seriously escalate. Right now, the series cannot support that additional cost. Perhaps in the future as the Firestone Indy Lights series grows and the economics of motorsports grows a bit more favorable, races demanding a single pit stop could be added. Right now, though, it just won’t work financially.
This is great news. I wonder if Mazda might be considering moving up to running in the IICS. That would certainly makes sense given this news. We can only hope that they become involved in 2013 with an engine package.
Sorry, Mr. Analog, we can forget about Mazda joining the IZOD IndyCar Series. They were clear that they had no interest in the big cars, either in regards to engines or aero kits. They’re strictly a grassroots racing program.
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