MRTI: Griffis test moves to COTA; 2016 preseason testing dates, locations set

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It’s going to be a busy testing schedule for the Mazda Road to Indy after the 2015 season concludes and in preparation for 2016. Here’s the full breakdown, below:

Even though all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy are currently engaged in championship battles which are unlikely to be settled until the final rounds at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, near Monterey, Calif., in September, Andersen Promotions already is planning toward the 2016 season. Confirmed today are a series of off-season testing dates, starting with the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test at the renowned Circuit of The Americas near Austin, Texas, on November 21-22.

The fifth annual test, held in honor of accomplished Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian team manager Chris Griffis, who passed away unexpectedly in September 2011, will feature all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy – the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.

In addition to serving as a jumpstart on 2016 for established campaigns, the outing provides an “audition” opportunity for teams and drivers working on new programs and will see many drivers turning their first laps in their respective next steps on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder. The challenging 20-turn, 3.427-mile road course has drawn rave reviews since hosting its first United States Formula 1 Grand Prix in 2012.

Series officials also confirmed a two-day test for Indy Lights at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida on January 25 and January 27, 2016, as well as a four-day Cooper Tires Spring Training test at Barber Motorsports Park, featuring all three series, on March 5-8, 2016.

The first day of testing for the Indy Lights teams at Homestead will take place on the 2.3-mile, 11-turn road course. After a day to change over the cars’ specifications, the teams will take to the venue’s 1.5-mile oval for an additional day on January 27.

A tradition will be renewed on March 5-8 with the reintroduction of the popular Spring Training test, supported by Cooper Tires. All three series will be in action on the undulating 2.3-mile Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham., Ala., providing teams and drivers a low-pressure opportunity to gauge themselves in relation to their competition in advance of the racing season.

“We are excited to announce that our fifth annual Chris Griffis test will take place at COTA and will give our current drivers and newcomers to our series the opportunity to drive this state-of-the-art circuit,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Numerous teams and drivers have used this as a ‘try-out’ and we are pleased to continue to offer this now traditional test.

“Based on the input from our team owners, we have decided to replace our pre-season Winterfest event with Spring Training at Barber, and will once again return to Homestead-Miami Speedway for a two-day Indy Lights test. Our 2016 schedule is coming together nicely, and we look forward to unveiling this in the coming months.”

Following this weekend’s race at Iowa Speedway for Indy Lights and Pro Mazda, two events remain on the current calendar with all three series heading to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 31-August 2 prior to the season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on September 11-13.

Oliver Askew: ‘I was starting to lose confidence’ after ‘hardest hit I’ve had’

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Oliver Askew knew something was medically wrong in the days after concussion-like symptoms began from “the hardest hit I’ve ever had” in the Indianapolis 500. He’d been evaluated and cleared to race after the Aug. 23 crash, but he just didn’t feel right.

The IndyCar rookie told The Associated Press on Thursday he has been experiencing dizziness, sleeping difficulties, irritability, headaches and confusion since he crashed in the Aug. 23 race. He continued to race in four more events as he tried to “play through it” until friends and family encouraged him to seek medical treatment.

He since has been diagnosed with a concussion and is working on a recovery plan with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s sports medicine concussion program, the same place NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. received care after concussions in 2012 and ’16. Askew will not compete in next weekend’s doubleheader on the road course at Indianapolis, and Arrow McLaren SP will put three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves in the No. 7 Chevrolet.

“This is all I’ve worked for,” the 23-year-old told AP. “I don’t come from money, and I’ve worked my way up and have finally gotten my shot in a good car. And then all of a sudden, the results just weren’t there in a car I knew should be performing. And I just didn’t feel like myself, you know?

“So initially I felt like I needed to stay in the car and continue to improve. And then I didn’t feel like I could do that with my condition and what was going on. I was starting to lose confidence in myself.”

Earnhardt praised Askew for going to Pittsburgh to see Dr. Micky Collins.

“Oliver is in the best hands when it comes to taking care of this problem and getting back on the racetrack. It was very smart of him to get in front of Micky so that he could understand the seriousness of the situation and begin the process of getting well,” Earnhardt said. “You can absolutely heal from this but not without taking the step of getting help. Often that’s the most difficult step.”

Athletes often hide injuries to continue competing, and even Earnhardt admittedly masked concussions during his driving career. Askew didn’t know what was wrong with him but was frightened to get out of the car.

He is a paid driver who brings no sponsorship money to the team (but did bring a $1 million scholarship for winning last year’s Indy Lights championship), and owner Sam Schmidt holds the option on his contract.

As he tried to race on, his performance suffered. Askew had finished third and sixth at Iowa — the previous two races before Indianapolis. After the crash, he was part of a multicar accident the next week at Gateway and has not finished higher than 14th in the four races since Indy.

A year after winning seven Indy Lights races, Askew has fallen from 12th to 18th in the standings and slipped considerably off the pace. He said he struggled in team debriefs, had difficulty giving feedback and has gone through a personality change that was noticeable to those close to Askew.

Spire Sports + Entertainment, which represents Askew and was among those who pushed the driver to see a doctor, noted Arrow McLaren SP did not reveal that Askew was suffering from a concussion in its Thursday announcement he would miss next week’s race.

“Oliver clearly demonstrated his talent until Lap 91 of the Indianapolis 500, and I hope this does not become another case study of why athletes do not tell their teams they are injured,” said agent Jeff Dickerson. “The reason they do that is because more often times than not they are replaced. In motorsports, there is always somebody to replace you, and whether it was Dale Jr. or Oliver Askew, there is always another driver available.

“I hope this is not a barrier to progress for other drivers — especially young drivers afraid of losing their job — to notify their teams they are hurt. I hope the team proves me wrong because the good news is, the kid has had a head injury for the past month and has still run 14th in IndyCar.”

After finally seeking medical treatment, Askew said he was relieved to learn there was something wrong. He said doctors told him the injury has a “100% recovery rate” and he believes he will be able to race in the IndyCar season finale next month at St. Petersburg. He’s been rehabilitating with exercises and tasks that strain the brain such as deliberately going to grocery stores and the airport.

“Honestly, you know, if I had not gone to see medical professionals I would probably stay in the car,” Askew said. “But now after hearing what’s wrong and that it could get worse, God forbid I have another hit, I know I did the right thing. I think I can be an example for young drivers now in stepping up and saying something is wrong, I need to have this checked out.”