Photo: Tony DiZinno

New Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18 revealed at PRI Show

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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.”

Wehrlein nonplussed by Sauber-Honda speculation

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Pascal Wehrlein is not paying any attention to speculation that Sauber’s planned Formula 1 engine deal with Honda for 2018 could be on the rocks, saying his future remains open as he focuses on his current duties with the team.

Mercedes junior Wehrlein was placed at Sauber for 2017, and led the team to its first points finish of the year at the Spanish Grand Prix in May.

Sauber had been given a boost two weeks earlier when it announced a deal to become Honda’s second customer team for 2018, including technical and financial support.

However, the deal was put in doubt following Sauber CEO and team principal Monisha Kaltenborn’s departure, leading to speculation that it had not been finalized.

Kaltenborn’s replacement Frederic Vasseur has made it a priority to resolve the matter, but it has made for a bleak outlook at Hinwil for the future.

With the 2018 driver market beginning to stir, Wehrlein has stressed he is not yet thinking about next season, nor is he paying any attention to the speculation about Sauber’s deal with Honda.

“I have no idea what is happening next year. Of course, I have heard all these rumors as well,” Wehrlein told the official F1 website.

“I cannot influence any of these things, so why worry about them? Whatever rumors there are in the air, it is no distraction for me – that is the bottom line.

“I have a contract for this season so I am only focusing on this year. Decisions are made by others and I am only here to drive, to perform as well as I can.

“Of course I want to see Sauber do well. They have the potential and have already been in good positions in the past and I want them to get back there. How and when? That is on another page.”

Wehrlein expressed his confidence in Vasseur’s leadership, although he expects the team to shift focus to its 2018 plans.

“I do have expectations of Fred and the team. I don’t know how fast Fred can change things or how he can change them, but we now have one race left before the summer shut down,” Wehrlein said.

“In the second half of the season the team will focus on next year, so I don’t think you will see his touch too much this year. So let’s see what we can still do with the tools that we have right now.

“I really respect Fred. I used to work with him in DTM. He had a team when I drove there in 2015. He has so much experience in motorsport and in many other ventures outside racing.

“He is a very successful man. He could help Sauber. He could be very good for the team.”

Keeping Grosjean, Magnussen for 2018 ‘a given’ in Gene Haas’ eyes

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Gene Haas is planning to field an unchanged line-up for his Formula 1 team in 2018, believing it to be “a given” that Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen will continue beyond the end of the season.

NASCAR team co-owner Haas took his eponymous F1 operation onto the grid in 2016, pairing Grosjean with Esteban Gutierrez.

While Grosjean scored a fifth-place finish in Haas F1 Team’s second race and picked up 29 points across the course of the season, Gutierrez failed to record a single top-10 result.

The Mexican was replaced by Magnussen for 2017, with the Dane taking 11 points through the first 10 races of the season.

Despite the fluidity of the driver market for 2018, Haas revealed in an interview with the official F1 website that the team is planning to race with Grosjean and Magnussen together once again next year.

“We will run with the same drivers that we have this year again next year. That is a given,” Haas said.

“And given the other continuity aspects, we should be better racers next season.”

Haas had been tipped to take on a Ferrari junior such as Antonio Giovinazzi or Charles Leclerc for 2018 given its technical ties to the Italian marque.

Grosjean is understood to be a target for Renault should it miss out on re-signing Fernando Alonso, while Magnussen penned a multi-year deal upon arrival at Haas at the start of the season.

Reflecting on Magnussen’s contribution, Haas believes the team has benefitted from his greater race performance that has allowed it to match its debut season points total in just 10 races in 2017.

“Esteban was a good driver. He was as fast as Romain in practice, but I think that Kevin has an edge in terms of race experience,” Haas said.

“He can score points and that was the key for bringing him on board. Kevin can grab points and Romain can too.

“We now have 29 points. Last year around this time we also had 29 points, but did not score for the rest of the season.

“So now if we can score another 29 points by Abu Dhabi, that would be a great position.”

Pirelli: Slow puncture caused Vettel’s British GP tire failure

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Pirelli has determined that a slow puncture was the cause of Sebastian Vettel’s Formula 1 tire failure towards the end of last Sunday’s British Grand Prix.

Vettel suffered a failure on his front-left tire on the penultimate lap of the race at Silverstone while running third, forcing him into a late pit stop that ultimately left him P7 at the checkered flag.

The incident was just minutes after Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen had also hit trouble with his front-left tire, although Pirelli stressed after the race that the incidents were unrelated.

Pirelli announced on Friday that, after conducting extensive analysis of the tire, it could confirm that its initial belief that Vettel had suffered a puncture was indeed correct.

“As appeared clear since Sunday afternoon, a full investigation has now confirmed that the original cause of the failure was a slow puncture,” Pirelli said.

“The consequent driving back to the pits on an underinflated and then flat tire led to the final failure.

“Kimi Raikkonen’s damaged tire shows less evidence of what occurred, so further tests and analysis are still ongoing in Pirelli’s laboratories and indoor testing facilities.

“It will take a few more days to reach a definitive conclusion.”

BMW completes first test with 2018 M8 GTE in Germany

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BMW has completed the maiden track test of its new M8 GTE car that will race in the FIA World Endurance Championship and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2018.

BMW announced back in September that it would be returning to the 24 Hours of Le Mans through the WEC in 2018, entering the GTE-Pro class.

The German manufacturer has since been developing its new M8 GTE car which will also replace the existing M6 GTLM in the IMSA-run series, where it is raced by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

BMW announced on Thursday that it had completed a three-day test last week at the Lausitzring in Germany, with factory drivers Martin Tomczyk and Maxime Martin both enjoying time behind the wheel.

“To see the BMW M8 GTE on the racetrack makes me very proud. Everyone involved has done a magnificent job in recent months to allow us to reach this milestone in the development of our new flagship for the GT racing scene,” said BMW head of motorsport Jens Marquardt.

“In the first instance, the purpose of a test like this is obviously to get to know the car. In this regard, greater emphasis is placed on the safety aspect than performance. However, the first impression of the BMW M8 GTE out on the track is a very positive one.”

“Firstly, I feel very honored to have been able to drive at the first real test of the BMW M8 GTE on the racetrack. I had great fun with the car,” added Tomczyk.

“The BMW M8 GTE is good to drive from the outset, and it is easy for us drivers to work out the way it handles, which is important. We got a lot of kilometers under our belt, and gathered a lot of data. We also took our first steps with regard to performance, which is by no means a given at a first test.

“We will obviously work more intensively on that at the coming tests, and will build on the strong basis we established here at the Lausitzring.”

The BMW M8 GTE is set to enjoy another on-track test next month, with Antonio Felix da Costa due for some lap time.