2017 Mazda Road to Indy schedules revealed

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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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.

2017_SCHEDULES_USF2000

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

NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E and Ian James set to race ahead of electric motorsports’ curve

James McLaren Formula E
McLaren Racing
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As Formula E enters their ninth season and McLaren Racing is set to compete in last year’s championship winning car, Ian James is passionate about pushing electric motorsports forward at a critical stage as race technology begins surpassing that of the street cars.

Midseason, McLaren acquired the assets of the Mercedes-EQ team as they were already on their way to winning a second consecutive championship. With those assets in place and coming off a successful debut in the Extreme E series, James is set to usher in a new era in electric car racing.

Last week’s announcement that Jake Hughes will join Rene Rast behind the wheel of the NEOM McLaren Formula E team was the last piece of the puzzle.

McLaren’s electric portfolio is building with the Formula E team coming one year after they entered the Extreme E rally series in 2022 with Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour. There were a lot of lessons to learn in that series with growing pains during the first three of five rounds. Rounds 4 and 5 were a completely different matter with the team crossing the finish line first in Chile before being assessed a time penalty.

In the final round in Uruguay, they scored an elusive podium.

“McLaren kicked off the season in Extreme E at the beginning of this year, so our first [electric] race took place Neom, actually out in Saudi,” NEOM McLaren Racing Team Principal James told NBC Sports. “At the time, we were in very early discussions about opportunities with the Formula E team. I actually went out there to meet with Zak [Brown, CEO McLaren Racing] and that was my first taste of Extreme E.

“Since the transition, I joined them in Chile in Atacama Desert, and then Uruguay last weekend. [The second-place finish was] a lovely way to round out the season. The fact that they got that podium. It was very well deserved. It’s a great team and a great series actually. It’s just so very different from anything else. The team’s done a great job in getting set up, and it’s nice now to, we’re trying to use that momentum that we’ve got from Uruguay to get us into next season when it kicks off next year, which will be great. I think we’re mid-March is looking like the first race, so a little bit of time to get things prepped for that.”

 

James McLaren Formula E
The NEOM Mclaren Racing Formula E team was created through the acquisition of last year’s championship car from Mercedes-EQ. – McLaren Racing

Synergies exist between the single seater and rally series. Lessons learned about battery power and sustainability in the electric SUV carry over so long as one is mindful of keeping focus on the individual needs and nuances of each series.

Especially now that electric racing technology has caught up, and is ready to surpass, the existing technology that has gone into building street cars.

When internal combustion engines gained the upper hand soon after automobiles were invented, racing paced alongside. The pressure of competition pushed the development of their commercial equivalents. The same has not necessarily been true of electric cars. Street cars were not designed to undergo the same stress as racecars – and that vulnerability showed up on the racetrack.

“Formula E has come along a long way,” James said. “I think one of the most notable developments is in the battery technology. In Gen 1, you had the drivers jumping from one car to another car midrace because the battery technology and capacity simply wasn’t where it needed to be to do the full distance. That obviously changed in Gen 2 and we saw a power increase as well to the 250 kilowatts.

“Now going to Gen 3, we have 350 kilowatts in a smaller battery. But that means that we’re relying on the regeneration of energy and for that reason, we’ve got also the opportunity to regenerate on the front axle as well as the rear axle now. So, there’s all sorts of things that are developing in the right direction.

“In terms of throttle response, actually, we’re now in a situation with electric racing and the motors that it’s instantaneous. And one of the advantages of electric over combustion engine is that the torque is instantaneous as well, so that gives you a lot more room to play with.”

No matter the power source, racing has always been about resource management. Drivers and teams select tire strategies they believe produce the fastest elapsed time and fuel conservation comes into play.

On one hand, electric racing is the same, but there is a critical difference. With the battery as both the power source and an integral part of the engine, there are multiple reasons to manage it.

In electric racing, the brain of the car is the software – and that is where James sees the greatest room for advancement.

“As we are working with our drivers and engineers – and start to look at functionality to improve our efficiency and our performance, that’s something we’ll continue to push because that development is open throughout the season,” James said. “That’s going to be our focus going forward and provides enough of a challenge for us to get our teeth into.

“What’s going to be fascinating is as Formula E continues, is to really look at which areas of development on the car are going to be the most relevant and ensuring that we can focus on those together with the manufacturers so we continue and use the series as a platform for technical development that can then feed back into the road car side of things as well.

“At the end of the day, that’s what motorsports always been, a very powerful tool for, and I see Formula E as no exception.”

James McLaren Formula E
Jake Hughes and Rene Rast were chosen for their ability to drive fast and execute the necessary strategy for energy management. – McLaren Racing

Selecting Rast and Hughes as McLaren’s Formula E drivers was not simply because they know how to drive fast. James believes both drivers have the mental aptitude to execute energy management strategies throughout the race and squeeze maximum performance.

“As with many other motorsports, you’ve got a certain amount of energy that you’re able to deploy during the race and the management of that energy is absolutely crucial,” James said. “What we’re seeing typically in electric motorsports now is the hardware side of things. The efficiencies that we’re seeing in the powertrain as a whole, they’re getting up to the sort of 96%, 97%, 98% efficiency, so the gains that you get through that further and further become more marginal.”

With much more room for improvement, software is a different matter. To make the best decisions, the drivers need data, and that is where James believes McLaren Formula E will make their greatest impact.

“And then you really switch that focus to the software and that’s where you’re going to see the most the most improvement and the most gains,” James continued. “It’s then using that software to ensure that you’re deploying the energy in the most efficient manner during race, and thereby giving the driver the most performance. And that’s something which is incredibly complicated, but I find it a fascinating area to work in.

“The benefit of being involved in racing is you can really push the envelope in a way that you can’t do on road cars. And I think that that’s where that value comes in. It means that you accelerate the development a lot quicker. We will get ahead of the curve – and we are getting ahead of the curve now – and that will mean that the electric motorsports remain part of the overall development process.

“The key to that is also making sure that the racing’s exciting and fun for the fans. If we can, we can tick both of those boxes, then it’s got a very bright future ahead of it.”