Photo: Tony DiZinno

New Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18 revealed at PRI Show

Leave a comment

The new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18 car has been revealed today the PRI Show in Indianapolis. See the release below for more information; we’ll have more to come later on NBCSports.com.

The middle rung of the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel driver development ladder, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, will gain a significant upgrade in 2018 with the introduction of the brand-new Tatuus PM-18. The prototype car was unveiled today during the annual Performance Racing Industry Show at the Indianapolis Convention Center by Dan Andersen, Owner/CEO of Andersen Promotions, John Doonan, Director of Motorsports for Mazda North American Operations, and Chris Pantani, Director of Event Marketing and Motorsports for Cooper Tires.

The PM-18 represents the completion of an entire overhaul of all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy, which offers scholarships at every step to assist drivers in progressing all the way from the grassroots of the sport to the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500. It follows the introduction of the Dallara IL-15 to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Tatuus USF-17 to the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda. The PM-18 will replace the venerable Elan Pro Mazda chassis which was introduced in 2004 and provided the basis for a long list of talented young drivers, including Marco Andretti, Conor Daly, James Hinchcliffe, Spencer Pigot and Graham Rahal, to make their way toward the pinnacle of the sport.

For cost-effectiveness, the PM-18 shares the same carbon and aluminum honeycomb monocoque chassis as the USF-17, which made an impressive debut during the recent Mazda Road to Indy Chris Griffis Memorial Test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Grand Prix circuit and will form the basis of the USF2000 series beginning next season. The car meets all current FIA safety standards, including side-impact panels, front and rear impact structures, HANS compliant IndyCar head restraint, front and rear wheel tethers, upgraded uprights and front bulkhead structure for USA-specific oval racing. The initial order of 35 USF-17 cars has sold out.

“We are very excited to unveil the next generation Pro Mazda chassis,” said Andersen. “Scot Elkins [Project Manager and Race Director Pro Mazda and USF2000] and Tatuus have done a great job in augmenting the USF-17 base car to provide everything drivers on the second step of the ladder need to continue their career development. We currently plan to begin prototype testing in March of next year, with the first shipment of cars delivered to teams in June to allow for a summer test program. With the success of the USF-17, I can’t wait to see this car on track.”

Enhancements over the USF-17 include more sophisticated aerodynamics with an adjustable dual-element rear wing and single-plane carbon fiber front wing with adjustable flaps and Pro Mazda-specific front and rear endplates; larger American Racing forged Technomesh monoblock alloy wheels with Cooper Tires (13″x10″ fronts and 13″x12″ rears); and a 275 HP 2.0-liter Mazda MZR-PM18A motor developed by Elite Engines, utilizing a fly-by-wire throttle system and Cosworth SQ6 engine management system. The power will be delivered via a Sadev SL82 sixspeed sequential transmission and limited-slip differential.

“It’s a pretty good next step based on all the work that we have done so far,” said Elkins. “We know that the performance level is going to be a lot higher than the USF2000 car and the aero is going to be more like the Indy Lights car which fits within the ladder quite well. It will allow drivers to transition to the next step much easier. We obviously have more horsepower and more aero than the USF2000 car, which was the entire intention, and we are excited about it.”

The PM-18 will be the series’ standard for at least the next five years.

“We talk frequently about the global growth of the Mazda Road to Indy program, and having topline, modern race cars on each step of the MRTI ladder increases the likelihood of seeing the finest young drivers in the world at each step,” said Doonan. “We also talk about providing value for our teams and drivers, and the PM-18 is a wonderful example of an affordable race car that is safe and fast. We’ve already seen the huge interest in the new USF2000 car for next year, and we expect much the same for the Pro Mazda series in 2018.”

With the PM-18 in the spotlight when prototype testing begins, there are an array of incentives for drivers to experience this vital step during the 2017 transitional year. The champion’s Mazda scholarship to advance to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires in 2018 has been increased by $200,000 bringing the total award to $790,300. The champion will also receive a Cooper Tires Tire Award valued at $75,000 and a series entry award valued at $24,000. Year-end prizes will total over $1.1M.

Additional enhancements include 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.

“The new look of the PM-18 is amazing,” stated Pantani. “With the launch of the IL-15 and the recent introduction of the USF-17, the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tire is now completely revitalized. Cooper Tire is proud to be associated with every step of the only dedicated driver development program that leads directly to a seat in an Indy car.”

NASCAR America: Newgarden recaps rise to IndyCar title (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

Newly crowned Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden joined NBCSN’s NASCAR America on Tuesday to reflect on his rise to the top of the series.

Newgarden chatted with show host Carolyn Manno about his championship season, integration to Team Penske and bonding with his three teammates, Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud.

Pagenaud won Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma season finale but it wasn’t enough to overcome Newgarden’s points lead.

 

Report: Verizon likely to drop IndyCar title sponsorship after ’18

Getty Images
2 Comments

One of the under-the-radar elements that’s percolated in the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock this year is Verizon’s activation strategy itself, in its fourth year of its first five-year deal as title sponsor of the championship.

Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, head of INDYCAR’s parent company, told the Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern while he thinks it’s likely Verizon will end its title sponsorship of the series after 2018, they hope to continue the relationship in a different capacity.

While Verizon got in before 2014, IndyCar was a viable platform for the wireless company to activate in a way it couldn’t in NASCAR, when Sprint was the Cup Series’ title sponsor.

That’s since changed with Sprint’s contract ending after 2016. Verizon still activates within the paddock, working with CSM Sport & Entertainment, but its activation outside the paddock has seemed rather limited this year.

Verizon’s primary point of access or reference point of digital technology has been the Verizon IndyCar Mobile app, which was initially only for Verizon Wireless users but was later expanded to other carriers. That provides some app-specific exclusive content as well as a compilation of written, photographic and video content from IndyCar.com.

Even in the paddock, a Verizon-sponsored “Lunch with Legends” series – where some of IndyCar’s stars from the past had lunch at tracks with fans to provide some exclusive access – was not retained for 2017. Verizon hosted an event at a 5G-outfitted house in Indianapolis this year, prior to the Indianapolis 500, to showcase some of that network capability and virtual reality (VR) technology.

Provided Verizon does not continue as title sponsor past 2018, it would leave the IndyCar series in almost the same situation as prior title sponsor IZOD was in 2013, with a lame duck year.

The absence of a Verizon contract renewal has lurked beneath the surface all year in a year when INDYCAR (sanctioning body) has announced several long-term extensions with key manufacturer partners Dallara, Firestone, Chevrolet, Honda and many of its race tracks.

The competition side of IndyCar has done rather well and has enough momentum with Jay Frye at the head of its President of Competition and Operations for the last two years.

But it’s imperative for IndyCar’s sake its commercial side does as well too, which will make the 2018 season an interesting one from a “how to progress” and find a partner that can truly activate to lift the series’ profile even bigger than it is now.

The title sponsor evolution and the series’ new TV contract, with the current one set to end after 2018, enter as the early leaders in the clubhouse for biggest off-track stories to follow over the winter and into the start of 2018.

Vettel loses huge ground in title race after Singapore blip

Getty Images
2 Comments

SINGAPORE (AP) In the space of three races, Sebastian Vettel has dropped twice as far behind Lewis Hamilton as he was ahead of him.

After winning the Hungarian Grand Prix in late July, Vettel led by 14 points, with both drivers on four wins heading into the summer break.

But after crashing out on the first lap in Sunday’s Singapore GP, the Ferrari driver trails Hamilton by 28.

“That was very disappointing and it was definitely not the result we were expecting,” Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene said. “But it doesn’t mean that the battle is all over, just that it has become more difficult.”

Yet it might seem to Mercedes that, for all of his experience, Vettel is throwing away the Formula One title.

“Clearly we would not feel comfortable in Ferrari’s shoes,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “But this is not the time for cheering.”

Hamilton has won all three races relatively comfortably since the championship resumed in August, and with only six GPs remaining Vettel faces a huge task to stop Hamilton.

“We guarantee that we will be fighting right to the final corner of the very last Grand Prix of the year,” Arrivabene said.

Mercedes is still expecting a challenge.

“This result doesn’t change a thing in the big picture,” Wolff said. “If anything, it’s a stark reminder that there are six more opportunities for the luck to go against us this season, just as it happened to Ferrari.”

But it will be abundantly harder now for Vettel because, unlike last season, Hamilton has so far not retired from any races. Although he has failed to finish on the podium four times for Mercedes this season, that is the same number as Vettel’s finishes outside the top three.

After winning three of the first six races, Vettel’s grip has loosened with only one win in the past eight.

Points have been thrown away, too.

At the British GP in July, Vettel looked at least assured of a podium finish until an unexpected tire problem at the end of the race bumped him down to seventh.

On Sunday, he had a great chance to win starting from pole position on a hard-braking track much more suited to Ferrari than Mercedes.

A few seconds later, he was out of the race.

Vettel made a hasty error of judgment trying to cut off Max Verstappen heading into the first turn and ultimately caused a crash that also took out Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen – who had made a blistering start – Verstappen and Fernando Alonso.

Vettel apologized to his Ferrari team afterward.

With both Ferraris out, Mercedes had a clear path as Hamilton won his 60th career race and teammate Valtteri Bottas took third.

Mercedes faced a similar scenario at the Spanish GP last year, when Hamilton and then-teammate Nico Rosberg collided on lap 1 and both went out. Mercedes was livid with both drivers that day, and came perilously close to imposing team orders on them.

“You kind of feel for Ferrari. I have been in the situation of losing both cars,” Wolff said. “I know how bitter this is.”

The difference was that Hamilton and Rosberg were fighting each other for the title and, with no main rival from another team, it effectively cost them nothing.

Within Mercedes, Hamilton’s title charge is now the priority.

Although team orders are very unlikely to be imposed, it is clear – unofficially at least – that Bottas will be racing to help Hamilton equal Vettel on four world titles.

Wolff confirmed as much when he inadvertently referred to Bottas as “our second driver” in his post-race debriefing on Sunday, before quickly correcting himself to say “ah, other driver.”

Bottas has had a fine first season since joining as an emergency late replacement for Rosberg, who retired days after winning the 2016 title. Bottas has even exceeded expectations with 10 podiums in 14 races, including two wins, and sits in third place overall.

With a new contract for next year already signed, the Finnish driver has no need to impress Mercedes management and can play an ideal support role to Hamilton in the closing part of the campaign.

Still, he has a little bit of ambition left.

“There are plenty of races to come and plenty of opportunities,” said Bottas, who is 23 points behind Vettel. “Definitely Sebastian is the next target.”

With Hamilton ahead and Bottas closing behind, Vettel is under pressure to deliver at the Malaysian GP in two weeks’ time.

Ocon confirmed for another year at Force India

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Sahara Force India will keep the same driver lineup in 2018, with Esteban Ocon confirming Tuesday he’ll stay alongside Sergio Perez next season.

Although the two drivers have occasionally been at odds this year as Ocon has threatened Perez’s place as team leader, both have been instrumental in keeping Force India a clear fourth place in the Constructor’s Championship, at the top of the crowded midfield behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.

Ocon’s had a very strong year, with 56 points scored and having made the points in all but one race (Monaco) this season. His best finish is fifth at the Spanish Grand Prix.

Being confirmed for 2018 means like others, the jockeying for spots in 2019 will be fascinating to watch.