Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI: Trio of signings announced going into holiday period

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Three more driver signings have occurred for the 2018 Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires season in the last couple days, with a pair in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and one more in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires series.

Team Pelfrey, which won the 2015 and 2016 Pro Mazda titles with Santiago Urrutia and Aaron Telitz, respectively, has signed Sting Ray Robb for his second season. Robb shifts over from World Speed Motorsports, as the teenager occasionally impressed throughout the year. He will drive the No. 82 Trademark Dental, Munk Family Dental, / Team Pelfrey Mazda. Robb tested with Juncos Racing at the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test in October.

Photo: Team Pelfrey

“It’s hugely exciting to welcome Sting Ray back to Team Pelfrey,” commented Team Pelfrey General Manager, Jonny Baker. “I say back, because he tested with us a few years ago in F1600 and we immediately saw how much potential he possessed then. We have had Sting Ray in the new PM-18 for a couple of tests now, and we are convinced he will surprise a lot of people next year. He’s still only 16, and we will work hard together not only to keep developing the car, but also to get the most out of him. We are looking forward to an exciting year!”

Also of note in Pro Mazda was that Milan, Italy-based team RP Motorsport Racing has announced its intentions to race in the championship next season.

“After a successful experience in the World Series Formula V8 3.5, we immediately started looking around to fix our plans for 2018. We found a very interesting context in the Pro Mazda Championship,” said Fabio Pampado, RP Motorsport Racing team principal. “Thanks to its partnership with INDYCAR and to the new Tatuus chassis in 2018, it will receive a new boost. We believe it is the best choice for us to continue to guarantee our team the presence in a championship with international visibility, and the opportunity to compete on tracks full of charm represents a challenge with a unique flavor.”

The Pro Mazda grid includes Juncos Racing with three drivers confirmed (Carlos Cunha, Rinus VeeKay, Robert Megennis), Cape Motorsports with its first (Nikita Lastochkin, over from Pelfrey), BN Racing with David Malukas, and Oliver Askew (USF2000 champ, expected with Cape once Mazda announces). Exclusive Autosport and Pabst Racing are a couple of the other teams expected to race in the series, having tested extensively with the Tatuus PM-18 Mazda.

Photo: Team Pelfrey

In USF2000, Pelfrey has also been busy there. It has signed its first driver in South African Julian van der Watt. Pelfrey had at least one vacancy to fill with Robert Megennis moving up to Pro Mazda with Juncos Racing. The Cape Town native has tested a Tatuus USF-17 Mazda thus far and will move Stateside for his racing next year.

“Julian came over and tested with us in October, his first outing in a USF2000 car, and we immediately saw why he dominated the South African F1600 Championship,” Baker said. “Not only was he fast, but his consistency and work ethic were all on display for us to see.  Julian’s decision to move to the Mazda Road to Indy is fantastic news for Team Pelfrey and the series and we are looking forward to seeing how he gets on throughout the 2018 season.”

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Newman Wachs Racing has added its second driver in the form of Oscar DeLuzuriaga, a UK-born Singapore resident who joined the team for the first time in June, and also ran at the Griffis test in October. He joins Darren Keane in that team’s lineup.

“I’m really excited to add Oscar to our team for the 2018 season,” offered Brian Halahan, NWR Team Manager. “We began a testing program a few months back to see if he would be ready for next year and he has come a very long way in a short time. He has put in a lot of work in, so I feel he deserves a spot on the team.”

Two other drivers you can expect to see in the USF2000 field include Keith Donegan, who won the $200K Mazda Road to Indy Shootout, and will have his team revealed at a later date and Mathias Soler-Obel, a 15-year-old Bogota, Colombia native now living in Atlanta. He’s planning to move over after a year in the Formula 4 United States Championship.

‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’


NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”