New Mazda Road to Indy shootout goes global across double-digit series

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Cool news from the Mazda Road to Indy announced today here at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. See the full release below:


The Mazda Road to Indy has attracted drivers from around the globe since its launch in 2010. For this weekend’s seven rounds of competition at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, 13 countries are represented across the three development series’ grids in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Now the quest for a Mazda scholarship to enter the USF2000 ranks will have more global appeal following today’s announcement that the Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200K Scholarship Shootout will include the champions of select junior level open-wheel and karting series in 2016 from around the world.

The Shootout will be an unprecedented event, bringing the champions of North American and international series together for the first time in a knockout-style format. Each participating series will be able to offer its 2016 champion an “entry ticket” to the Shootout, which will be a hotly contested event in the fall of next year. The winner will be awarded a $200K scholarship from Mazda to enter USF2000 in 2017.

A total of 15 drivers will be invited to take part in the Shootout program. Each participating series will be designated as an Official Feeder Series of the Mazda Road to Indy. Series currently confirmed include:

• BRSCC F1600 (England) sanctioned by BRSCC
• Formula Car Challenge Presented by Goodyear (USA) sanctioned by NASA
• Pacific F2000 (USA) sanctioned by SCCA/NASA
• Australian Formula Ford (Australia) sanctioned by Formula Ford Association Inc.
• F2000 Championship Series (USA) sanctioned by SCCA Pro Racing
• F1600 Formula F Championship Series (USA) sanctioned by SCCA Pro Racing
• ROTAX MAX Challenge (USA) sanctioned by MAXSpeed Group
• Skip Barber Race Series Champion (USA) sanctioned by Skip Barber
• Team USA Scholarship (USA)
• SCCA Runoffs – F1600 and FC (USA) sanctioned by SCCA

“Mazda prides itself on providing the most comprehensive scholarship and ladder system for drivers in open wheel and sports cars,” said John Doonan, Director of Mazda Motorsports in North America. “Now, with the Scholarship Shootout, we can expand the Mazda Road to Indy entry-level opportunity to young champions from around the world. From an aggressive grassroots program to a well-defined ladder system to the top levels of racing in North America, Mazda strives to help develop superstars of the future.”

Current drivers who have moved up the ladder with scholarship programs from Mazda include Luke Gabin, who entered USF2000 with a $200K scholarship in 2015 after winning the Skip Barber Championship Shootout; Florian Latorre, the reigning USF2000 champion who graduated to Pro Mazda; 2014 Pro Mazda champion Spencer Pigot, who has four wins and four poles to date this season in Indy Lights, the most by any driver; and Gabby Chaves, who drives for Bryan Herta Autosport in the Verizon IndyCar Series after capturing last year’s Indy Lights crown.

“The response from the various series about this new program has been incredible and we are thrilled to have them as partners as we help the rising stars of the sport take the next step in their career in USF2000 on the Mazda Road to Indy path,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “I have to thank our terrific partner Mazda for thinking outside the box and opening up this opportunity to so many more drivers. It will be exciting to bring together all of the series champions and watch them compete.”

Full details on all the series involved in the Shootout and competition details will be distributed in the coming months. A current and regularly updated list of all participating series can be found on the usf2000.com website under the “About” section.

The battle for supremacy on the Mazda Road to Indy – the only driver development program of its type in the world offering a clear, scholarship-funded path to the Verizon IndyCar Series and Indianapolis 500 – is poised to come down to doubleheader title fights at the scenic and challenging Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for its season finale on September 11-13. All three series will be in action with over $2.3 million in season-ending prizes and awards on the line.

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.”