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Pro Mazda announces incentives, transition plan before PM-18 debut

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The Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires series has been undersubscribed this season, but the series and Andersen Promotions have announced incentives to help change that ahead of a transition year in 2017.

See the release from the series below:

The Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires has long served as a vital step for today’s top drivers, counting Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe, Graham Rahal, Conor Daly, Matthew Brabham, Jack Hawksworth, Sage Karam and Spencer Pigot amongst its many graduates. Approaching a transition year until the debut of the new Mazda-powered Tatuus PM-18 in 2018, Andersen Promotions – in conjunction with its partners Mazda and Cooper Tires – today announced a series of enhancements to the current program.

Next season, the Pro Mazda calendar will see a reduction in the number of events from eight to six and the number of races from 16 to 14, to reduce budgets while still providing a proper mix of circuits for driver training with one oval, one street circuit and four road course events. The PM-18 will be made available to teams as early as June 1, providing an opportunity for a summer testing program with the new chassis in preparation for 2018. Andersen Promotions will also offer teams a $5,000 discount on the PM-18 for each driver who commits to running the entire 2017 season in addition to its almost 20 percent full-season entry fee discount.

The Pro Mazda champion’s Mazda scholarship to advance to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires in 2018 will be increased from $590,300 to $790,300 next year bringing the total event and year end prizes to over $1.1M. The Cooper Tires Pole Award will be increased to $1,500 per race. A new National Class prize package, for drivers 20 years of age and older competing in cars running in Pro Mazda specification and meeting the older Star Mazda technical requirements by SCCA FA Class competition rules, also will be introduced.

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.

With three venues remaining on the 2016 calendar, Andersen Promotions is offering extra financial incentives for drivers to gain valuable seat time in advance of next season.

An additional $52,500 has been allocated to the 2016 prize structure. Championship Class finishing positions of sixth through tenth will now earn an increased purse of $1,000 for each race. In the National Class, $17,500 has been added with $1,500 for a race win, $750 for second and $250 for a third-place finish.

For non-points entrants for the remainder of this season, race entry fees will be reduced by 50 percent for the Championship Class and will be free for all National Class entries. A team bonus in the form of a $500 credit off of 2017 team registration fees will be issued for each new car/driver added for one or more races in 2016 up to a total credit of $2500. Teams adding a new driver for all remaining events will also receive one free set of Cooper tires.

“All of us at Andersen Promotions, Mazda and Cooper Tires are fully committed to the Pro Mazda class and to securing the healthy grids we have seen the past few years,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “With the PM-18 making its competition debut in 2018, we felt the need for a fresh and strong commitment now and I have to thank our great partners in Mazda and Cooper Tires for their increased support.

“We believe the opportunity to reduce budgets with a shortened season next year combined with a summer testing program of the new car and an increased prize package and program incentives will open the door for more drivers to join the series. Our 2016 incentives are designed for drivers to have the opportunity to jump in now and compete at three great venues.”

Seven races remain on the 2016 calendar with doubleheader events on the streets of Toronto (July 16/17) and at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (July 30/31), and a tripleheader round at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca season finale (September 9-11).

“Mazda shares Dan Andersen’s enthusiasm for the Pro Mazda category, and we believe strongly in providing value to our entrants,” said John Doonan, Director of Motorsports for Mazda North American Operations. “A large increase in the champion’s scholarship amount, along with so many other enhancements – like a brand new Mazda for the Rookie of the Year – will add to the value of the entire Mazda Road to Indy ladder system. This is also good for our fans, as we strive to put a larger field of cars on the track while anticipating the new PM-18 chassis.”

Alex Palou fastest as several go off course during IndyCar practice at IMS

IndyCar Harvest GP practice
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Alex Palou paced the opening practice Thursday for the IndyCar Harvest GP at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

The Dale Coyne Racing rookie turned a 1-minute, 10.177-second lap around the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course in his No. 55 Dallara-Honda.

Jack Harvey was second, followed by Colton Herta, points leader Scott Dixon and Max Chilton.

PRACTICE CHART: Click here to see the speed rundown from Thursday’s session

FRIDAY AT IMS: Details for watching Race 1 of the Harvest GP

Qualifying for Friday’s race will be at 6:20 p.m. ET Thursday on NBC Sports Gold.

Will Power, who won the pole position for the July 4 race at the track, spun off course with just more than a minute left in the session after the left rear of his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet made slight contact with the right front of Alexander Rossi’s No. 28 Dallara-Honda.

Power was among several drivers who went off track, but there were no damaged cars during the session. Marcus Ericsson missed the final 5 minutes of the practice after being penalized for causing a red flag with a Turn 8 spin.

Arrow McLaren SP drivers Pato O’Ward and Helio Castroneves, who is driving for Oliver Askew (who is recovering from concussion-like symptoms), also veered off course as did rookie Rinus VeeKay and Santino Ferrucci.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson was in attendance at the session before racing Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. Johnson will be driving a partial schedule of road and street courses in IndyCar next season for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“Literally, the smallest of details, I can pick up on,” Johnson told NBC Sports pit reporter Kevin Lee. “It’s been really nice today just to see how a session starts and obviously to jump on the radio and listen to how the systems work and then obviously you get into the car and the setup and such. I’m at ground zero right now, a 45-year-old rookie trying to learn my way into a new sport essentially.”

Johnson told Lee his sponsorship hunt to run a Ganassi car “has gone really well. The fact that I’m here today and ingrained so deeply in the team is a great sign of where things are going. Looking forward to getting behind the wheel of a car soon and hopefully having some announcements for the world to see soon, too.”

Fans were in attendance Thursday for the first time this season at IMS, which is allowed a limited crowd of 10,000 for its races this weekend.