Photo: Tony DiZinno

New Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18 revealed at PRI Show

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The new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18 car has been revealed today the PRI Show in Indianapolis. See the release below for more information; we’ll have more to come later on NBCSports.com.

The middle rung of the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel driver development ladder, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, will gain a significant upgrade in 2018 with the introduction of the brand-new Tatuus PM-18. The prototype car was unveiled today during the annual Performance Racing Industry Show at the Indianapolis Convention Center by Dan Andersen, Owner/CEO of Andersen Promotions, John Doonan, Director of Motorsports for Mazda North American Operations, and Chris Pantani, Director of Event Marketing and Motorsports for Cooper Tires.

The PM-18 represents the completion of an entire overhaul of all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy, which offers scholarships at every step to assist drivers in progressing all the way from the grassroots of the sport to the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500. It follows the introduction of the Dallara IL-15 to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Tatuus USF-17 to the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda. The PM-18 will replace the venerable Elan Pro Mazda chassis which was introduced in 2004 and provided the basis for a long list of talented young drivers, including Marco Andretti, Conor Daly, James Hinchcliffe, Spencer Pigot and Graham Rahal, to make their way toward the pinnacle of the sport.

For cost-effectiveness, the PM-18 shares the same carbon and aluminum honeycomb monocoque chassis as the USF-17, which made an impressive debut during the recent Mazda Road to Indy Chris Griffis Memorial Test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Grand Prix circuit and will form the basis of the USF2000 series beginning next season. The car meets all current FIA safety standards, including side-impact panels, front and rear impact structures, HANS compliant IndyCar head restraint, front and rear wheel tethers, upgraded uprights and front bulkhead structure for USA-specific oval racing. The initial order of 35 USF-17 cars has sold out.

“We are very excited to unveil the next generation Pro Mazda chassis,” said Andersen. “Scot Elkins [Project Manager and Race Director Pro Mazda and USF2000] and Tatuus have done a great job in augmenting the USF-17 base car to provide everything drivers on the second step of the ladder need to continue their career development. We currently plan to begin prototype testing in March of next year, with the first shipment of cars delivered to teams in June to allow for a summer test program. With the success of the USF-17, I can’t wait to see this car on track.”

Enhancements over the USF-17 include more sophisticated aerodynamics with an adjustable dual-element rear wing and single-plane carbon fiber front wing with adjustable flaps and Pro Mazda-specific front and rear endplates; larger American Racing forged Technomesh monoblock alloy wheels with Cooper Tires (13″x10″ fronts and 13″x12″ rears); and a 275 HP 2.0-liter Mazda MZR-PM18A motor developed by Elite Engines, utilizing a fly-by-wire throttle system and Cosworth SQ6 engine management system. The power will be delivered via a Sadev SL82 sixspeed sequential transmission and limited-slip differential.

“It’s a pretty good next step based on all the work that we have done so far,” said Elkins. “We know that the performance level is going to be a lot higher than the USF2000 car and the aero is going to be more like the Indy Lights car which fits within the ladder quite well. It will allow drivers to transition to the next step much easier. We obviously have more horsepower and more aero than the USF2000 car, which was the entire intention, and we are excited about it.”

The PM-18 will be the series’ standard for at least the next five years.

“We talk frequently about the global growth of the Mazda Road to Indy program, and having topline, modern race cars on each step of the MRTI ladder increases the likelihood of seeing the finest young drivers in the world at each step,” said Doonan. “We also talk about providing value for our teams and drivers, and the PM-18 is a wonderful example of an affordable race car that is safe and fast. We’ve already seen the huge interest in the new USF2000 car for next year, and we expect much the same for the Pro Mazda series in 2018.”

With the PM-18 in the spotlight when prototype testing begins, there are an array of incentives for drivers to experience this vital step during the 2017 transitional year. The champion’s Mazda scholarship to advance to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires in 2018 has been increased by $200,000 bringing the total award to $790,300. The champion will also receive a Cooper Tires Tire Award valued at $75,000 and a series entry award valued at $24,000. Year-end prizes will total over $1.1M.

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.

“The new look of the PM-18 is amazing,” stated Pantani. “With the launch of the IL-15 and the recent introduction of the USF-17, the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tire is now completely revitalized. Cooper Tire is proud to be associated with every step of the only dedicated driver development program that leads directly to a seat in an Indy car.”

Lewis Hamilton takes F1 pole in dramatic Russian GP qualifying

Russian pole Lewis Hamilton
Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
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SOCHI, Russia — Lewis Hamilton took a step closer to equaling the Formula One win record Saturday by clinching pole position at the Russian Grand Prix, after narrowly avoiding early elimination when Sebastian Vettel crashed.

Hamilton charged to a track-record time of 1 minute, 31.304 seconds, beating the Red Bull of Max Verstappen by 0.563 for his fifth straight pole position. Hamilton can achieve his 91st career win in the race on Sunday, matching the record held by Michael Schumacher.

Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, was beaten into third by Verstappen’s fast run at the end of the session and was .652 off Hamilton’s time.

The long run from the grid to the first significant turn means Bottas could yet threaten to overtake Hamilton at the start Sunday using the slipstream from his teammate’s car.

“It’s nice being on pole but here is probably the worst place to be on pole,” Hamilton said.

“This year you’re seeing that our cars are more draggy and there’s more tow this year than we’ve seen in other years. So I generally expect one of (Verstappen and Bottas) to come flying by at some point. I think I’m just going to focus on my race and run the fastest race I can.”

Bottas earned his first win at the 2017 race in Russia after starting third and overtaking the two Ferraris ahead of him at the start.

Verstappen and Bottas both start the race on medium tires, which could give them an edge in terms of pit strategy over Hamilton, who is on soft tires, which wear much faster.

“I’m just going to have to nurse those tires for as far as I can. These guys, if they get by, they’re going to be pulling away,” Hamilton said.

Verstappen said he was delighted to start second.

“I wasn’t expecting that and of course it’s great for us. If we can get a good start tomorrow you never know what can happen,” he said.

Vettel lost control of his car over the kerb on the inside of the 90-degree, right-hand turn four and spun into the wall, before the Ferrari bounced back onto the track. Teammate Charles Leclerc was following closely behind and narrowly missed the wrecked car, driving over its discarded front wing.

“Oh my God, that was very, very close,” Leclerc told his team over the radio. Leclerc qualified 11th and Vettel 15th as Ferrari failed to reach the top-10 shootout with either car for the third time in four races.

Vettel’s crash meant the red flag was waved while Hamilton was trying to set his first valid lap time to make the third session – after his first attempt was earlier ruled out for going off the track.

After the track was cleared and the session restarted, Hamilton had to rush his out-lap to make it over the line in time for another flying lap with just a second to spare.

“It was horrible,” Hamilton said. “Heart in the mouth.”

Hamilton was also asked to report to race stewards over another incident in which he went off the track in the first part of qualifying. No further action was taken. It was found Hamilton didn’t gain an advantage because the lap time wasn’t counted.

Hamilton is the runaway championship leader with a 55-point advantage over second-place Bottas and 80 over Verstappen. If he can earn four more pole positions in the last seven races, he would be the first driver to 100 in F1 history.

Earlier in the third and final practice Saturday morning, Hamilton set the pace with a time of 1 minute, 33.279 seconds that was 0.776 better than his Mercedes teammate Bottas, who had been quickest in the first two sessions.