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.”

Ricky Brabec wins 2017 Sonora Rally (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Ricky Brabec wins Sonora Rally. Photo: Sonora Rally
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Honda rider Ricky Brabec, who won a stage at this year’s Dakar Rally, has captured the victory in last week’s Sonora Rally, held March 21-24 in Sonora, Mexico.

He led all four of the special stages in a start-to-finish romp for victory.

Despite Joan Barreda and Steve Hengeveld’s injuries that ruled them out of the rally, Brabec still had to focus on the job at hand.

“You are really racing against yourself out here, against the terrain,” he said in a release.  “I’m much more familiar now with open up a course than I was back in January at Dakar when I had to do it for the first time.”

Fellow Honda riders Mark Samuels and Andrew Short completed the podium. Samuels won the Sonora Rally’s Dakar Challenge, which presents a free opportunity for a rider to enter the 2018 Dakar Rally.

“The hard work of getting to Dakar is still ahead of me, but I will do everything in my power to make America proud,” Samuels said.

Polaris ATR rider Dave Sykes won the UTV class, with Eric Pucelik and Mike Shirley winning the Cars class.

On background, the Sonora Rally is the only event of its kind in North America. The rally raid format requires street legal vehicles to transit along untimed “liaison” sections and timed “special stages” over multiple days, with the lowest combined time winning the event. Now in its third year, the Sonora Rally realizes the vision of founders Scott Whitney and Darren Skilton to bring a world class rally raid event to these shores (2016 recap).

Brabec’s winning ride is captured in the below video, via Race-Dezert.

Meanwhile, because photos do this event more justice than words do, those are below (All Photos: Sonora Rally)

Webber: Alonso may not see out the season with McLaren

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Mark Webber never had the easiest time in Formula 1, particularly his latter years as the number two driver at Red Bull Racing to Sebastian Vettel.

That being said, he was never on the verge of leaving it directly until he announced his plans to move to Porsche’s LMP1 Team, where he raced for three years from 2014 to 2016 before retiring at the end of last season.

But the Australian pondered whether Fernando Alonso might not be able to see out the season with McLaren Honda, if the team and manufacturer’s woes continue.

“Alonso may not stay with the team,” Webber told Belgian outlet Sporza. “Maybe Stoffel (Vandoorne) soon will have a new teammate.”

“I could see it happen that Alonso does not drive out the season. He is very frustrated. Fernando doesn’t start for a sixth or seventh place; he wants to fight for the podium.”

Webber added that for Vandoorne’s sake, starting in a team with lower expectations might not be the worst thing for him. It may allow the Belgian rookie to learn without extra pressure, since the onus is focused on the team.

For Alonso though, time is of the essence for what’s left of his career in F1. This is his last season under contract with McLaren Honda and he made no secret of his frustration for how well he drove at Melbourne, yet the car wasn’t up for it.

“Well the race was good, one of my best races driving like that,” Alonso told NBCSN post-race. “The car’s uncompetitive and to be close for a point was a nice surprise. It was good fuel saving as well. I was surprised to keep it in the points. A suspension (issue) stopped us from getting this point.

“I feel very well prepared, driving at the best of my career, and I’m fighting for one point. That’s disappointing and frustrating. But so long as I’m driving at my best, it’s a problem for the team… not me.”

Rosberg, Button soak up their first weekends out of F1 (PHOTOS)

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Since 2008, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have won seven World Championships. The two drivers that won titles in that period not named Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel – Nico Rosberg (2016) and Jenson Button (2009) – were both enjoying their first weekends not on a Formula 1 grid as full-time drivers for the first time in more than a decade this weekend as the 2017 season commenced at Melbourne’s Albert Park.

Rosberg made a visit to preseason testing in Barcelona a few weeks ago for his first appearance as spectator since winning the World Championship. But he watched from home this weekend with his family and posted a few thoughts during both qualifying and the race:

We’re now quite familiar with Rosberg’s home TV set and coffee table. This is the first time Rosberg has been out of an F1 race since 2005, the year he won the first GP2 championship.

Button meanwhile paid a visit to California for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana… once he got off his couch. He checked in with seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson at Fontana.

Do you guys know if there's anything good to watch on tele this weekend? @storm_and_rogue_pomskies

A post shared by Jenson Button (@jensonbutton_22) on

Given McLaren Honda’s struggles, Button is probably smart to have got out when he did. He’d been on the grid since 2000, save for a couple races out in 2005 when BAR-Honda was barred from competing after being disqualified from the San Marino Grand Prix.

Meanwhile for Rosberg, he watched as Mercedes was unable to win the season opener for the first time since 2013.

DJR Team Penske wins three of four Supercars races at Melbourne

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DJR Team Penske has won its first Virgin Australia Supercars Championship races over the weekend during the Australian Grand Prix, with Scott McLaughlin and Fabian Coulthard taking the first three wins in the four-race, non-championship race weekend.

While Penske’s teams have long succeeded in North America and have had some international success, notably a Formula 1 win at the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix with John Watson, success has thus far eluded them since arriving in Supercars two years ago as majority shareholders of Dick Johnson Racing.

McLaughlin had the honor of beating Coulthard to the first win in race one of the weekend, before Coulthard doubled up with wins in races two and three. The first two races were one-two finishes, though, and McLaughlin said he’d received a text from Roger Penske in the wake of the victory.

“I got a text from Roger straight away and they’re all pretty happy,” McLaughlin told Supercars.com.

“They’re thanking me but I should be thanking them for giving me the opportunity.”

The first race was marred by this incident between Nick Percat and Lee Holdsworth, Percat having lost his brakes entering Turn 1 and crashing into Holdsworth, who was an innocent bystander.

But once the race resumed, McLaughlin held off Coulthard for the victory.

Coulthard led from start-to-finish in race two after his second straight pole position. He did the same in race three, albeit not in a Penske 1-2 as Jamie Whincup came second for Red Bull Holden Racing Team Commodore. McLaughlin was third.

A left-front puncture stopped Coulthard making it three in a row in the fourth race, and with steering damage, McLaughlin was resigned to 17th. Chaz Mostert took the win his Supercheap Ford, ending his own winless spell that dated to August of 2015.

Also of note from the weekend, ex-IndyCar driver Simona de Silvestro in her Team Harvey Norman Nissan Altima finished 13th in race one, her best finish yet in her first full season in the series.

The Supercars series is back in action at Symmons Plains Raceway on April 7-9.  Coulthard sits second in the series championship, 51 points back of Whincup’s teammate, Shane van Gisbergen.