Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

2017 Mazda Road to Indy schedules revealed

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The Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires schedules for 2017 have been announced and are condensed slightly from the 2016 calendars.

The key note on the overall standpoint is all seasons will finish at Watkins Glen International with the Verizon IndyCar Series, and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca will drop off the calendar after serving as the season finale site the last two years. Lucas Oil Raceway and Phoenix International Raceway

The full Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires will be on display at St. Petersburg, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Road America and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Here’s the quick bullet points before getting into the full release:

Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires

  • 16 races, down from 18, featuring three ovals (Indianapolis, Iowa, Gateway, with Phoenix dropped)
  • Single races occur at the three ovals and the Watkins Glen finale.

Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires

  • 12 races, down from 16, featuring one oval (Gateway)
  • All doubleheaders with exception of Mid-Ohio (three races) and Gateway (one)

Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda

  • 14 races, down from 16, featuring one oval (Iowa)
  • All doubleheaders with exception of Iowa and Watkins Glen, both one-race events.

Here is the full release:

The unique and highly acclaimed three-step Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel driver development program, which offers annual scholarships and awards worth over $3.6M to assist drivers to progress from the grassroots to the pinnacle of the sport in North America, will run alongside the Verizon IndyCar Series on all race weekends in 2017.

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A few highlights include the return of Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires competition to Gateway Motorsports Park, in Madison, Ill., just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Mo. (Indy Lights returns to the 1.25-mile oval for the first time since 2003 while the Pro Mazda series will be making its debut); the addition of Iowa Speedway to the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, which most recently hosted the first rung on the ladder in 2010; and a highly anticipated season finale for all three levels at the Watkins Glen International road course in upstate New York.

Indy Lights will be featured on 10 weekends alongside the Verizon IndyCar Series headline event, marking a total of 16 races with doubleheader rounds on the streets of St. Petersburg, at Barber Motorsports Park, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (road course), Road America, on the streets of Toronto and at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Indy Lights will contest single rounds at Iowa Speedway, Gateway and Watkins Glen. The crown jewel in the series’ schedule remains the Freedom 100 on Carb Day of the Indianapolis 500.

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Pro Mazda will feature a condensed, six-weekend schedule of 12 races in order to allow teams to dovetail their racing commitments with a concerted summer test and development program with the new Mazda-powered Tatuus PM-18 chassis which will be introduced in 2018. Doubleheader rounds will be contested at St. Petersburg, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Road America and Watkins Glen with a tripleheader at Mid-Ohio and a single event at the Gateway oval.

Pro Mazda incentives for the transitional year until the introduction of the new chassis include an increase in the champion’s Mazda scholarship to advance to Indy Lights from $601,700 to $790,300, bringing the total event and year end prizes to over $1.1M, plus 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. Entry fee discounts are also available.

A new National Class prize package, for competitors running in Pro Mazda specification and meeting the older Star Mazda technical requirements by SCCA FA Class competition rules, will be introduced and announced in the coming weeks.

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USF2000 will mark the debut of the brand-new Tatuus USF-17 chassis, which sold out its initial inventory of 30 cars, and will comprise a total of eight weekends and 14 races. Doubleheader weekends include St. Petersburg, Barber, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Road America, Toronto and Mid-Ohio. Single rounds will be contested at Iowa and Watkins Glen.

While Pro Mazda and USF2000 will not be competing in the lead up to the 101st Indianapolis 500 and Freedom 100, both series will have a presence around the famed race weekend with the Mazda Road to Indy Summit program featuring a variety of off-track training programs to complement the racecraft education on offer in the series including the now traditional Oval Clinic in advance of the oval events on the calendar.

Testing schedules for each series will be announced in the near future.

“I am very pleased with our 2017 schedules,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Not only will they assist both teams and drivers with budgets, they allow us to showcase the Mazda Road to Indy ladder alongside IndyCar at premier venues while once again providing our drivers with experience on ovals, road and street courses.

“The Dallara IL-15 revitalized Indy Lights competition and I foresee our field counts growing significantly in 2017. We expect the same with USF2000 and the new car, where I do expect 30+ fields. With the in-between year for Pro Mazda before the PM-18, we’ve added what we feel is an excellent incentive package to attract more teams and drivers to the grid, including a summer testing program with the new chassis. Mazda and Cooper Tires’ commitment to the ladder is as strong as ever, and once again I have to thank them for being such tremendous partners.”

This year, the Mazda Road to Indy became the first American racing series with a dedicated broadcast channel on demand via Apple TV, Amazon Fire and Roku. Road to Indy TV (Pro Racing Group) will be expanding this coverage in 2017 as well as continuing to feature behind-the-scenes content, race recap episodes, special features, live streaming and live shows of on and off-track activities on the Road To Indy TV App.

NBCSN will continue to host one-hour broadcasts of all Indy Lights events with live coverage on the IMS Radio Network to Sirius XM Satellite Radio, indycar.com, indycarradio.com and the INDYCAR App from Verizon. ESPN International holds the international broadcast rights with races airing in Canada, Colombia, Mexico and Australia amongst others.

All Indy Lights, Pro Mazda, and USF2000 races will be live streamed with full-length, post-race shows produced by Road to Indy TV available on the series’ respective websites and at indycar.com.

Three Soul Red cars representing the Mazda scholarship winners will be on the grids next year with reigning Pro Mazda champion Aaron Telitz graduating to Indy Lights and USF2000 champion Anthony Martin to Pro Mazda. In addition, the Mazda Road to Indy $200K Shootout in December will determine the Soul Red USF2000 entry as over 20 champions from around the world vie for the prize.

The full schedules:

2017 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires

March 11/12 Streets of St. Petersburg, Florida 1.8-mile street course*
April 22/23 Barber Motorsports Park 2.3-mile road course*
May 12/13 Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.439-mile road course*
May 26 Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.5-mile oval
June 24/25 Road America 4.048-mile road course*
July 8/9 Iowa Speedway .875-mile oval
July 15/16 Streets of Toronto, Ontario, Canada 1.755-mile street course*
July 29/30 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course 2.258-mile road course*
August 26/27 Gateway Motorsports Park 1.25-mile oval
Sept. 2/3 Watkins Glen International 3.37-mile road course

*Doubleheader Rounds

2017 Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires

March 11/12 Streets of St. Petersburg, Florida 1.8-mile street course*
May 12/13 Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.439-mile road course*
June 24/25 Road America 4.048-mile road course*
July 29/30 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course 2.258-mile road course**
August 26/27 Gateway Motorsports Park 1.25-mile oval
Sept. 2/3 Watkins Glen International 3.37-mile road course*

*Doubleheader Rounds
**Tripleheader Round

2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda

March 11/12 Streets of St. Petersburg, Florida 1.8-mile street course*
April 22/23 Barber Motorsports Park 2.3-mile road course*
May 12/13 Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.439-mile road course*
June 24/25 Road America 4.048-mile road course*
July 8/9 Iowa Speedway .875-mile oval
July 15/16 Streets of Toronto, Ontario, Canada 1.755-mile street course*
July 29/30 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course 2.258-mile road course*
Sept. 2/3 Watkins Glen International 3.37-mile road course

*Doubleheader Rounds

INDYCAR: Patricio O’Ward turns heads in Carlin debut

Chris Jones / IndyCar
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While the top story coming out of Sunday’s IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas is undoubtedly 18-year-old Colton Herta’s victory in only his third IndyCar start, another teenager made quite some noise during the first IndyCar race at the facility.

19-year-old Patricio O’Ward made an impressive start to his 2019 IndyCar campaign by starting and finishing in eighth position. It was the first of his 13 races this season for Carlin Racing.

“I think it was a pretty good race for us. We ended exactly where we started and didn’t go backwards, so I’d say that was a successful day” O’Ward said. “I know the No. 31 Carlin Chevrolet had a top-five finish in it today and even though we couldn’t make it happen, it’s nice to know that we have the pace and can be fighting up front with the veteran drivers.”

O’Ward, the 2018 Indy Lights champ, made his series debut for Harding Steinbrenner Racing at last year’s season finale at Sonoma Raceway, where he made it to the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying and finished ninth. O’Ward was scheduled to race for the team full-time in 2019, but left in early February to pursue other options due to a lack of sponsorship.

Pato found a new home with Carlin, and despite missing preseason testing, he proved to be competitive from the get go and pressured some of IndyCar’s more tenured drivers, including Graham Rahal.

In what was undoubtedly the most daring move of the race, O’Ward ended a great battle with Rahal by hitting a superb outside pass on Lap 15.

O’Ward may have likely earned a better result on Sunday, if he didn’t have to save fuel in order to make the finish.

But with only two IndyCar starts to his credit, he is already racing like a seasoned veteran. Sunday’s IndyCar Classic may be the first of many successful outings for him this year.

After the race, he tweeted to his team: “Well done gentlemen … This is only the beginning.”

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter