Mazda to end sponsorship of Road to Indy program after nine years

MRTI
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The Mazda Road to Indy (MTRI) racing program will continue to go forward despite Tuesday’s announcement that Mazda will end its affiliation with all three of IndyCar’s developmental series, effective at the end of this season.

Those series are: Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

“The time has come for Mazda to focus our resources into other areas of our motorsports footprint,” John Doonan, Director of Mazda Motorsports, said in a statement. “We have truly enjoyed our role in developing young racers into Indy 500 hopefuls, and we look forward to continuing our relationship with Andersen Promotions through the Battery Tender Global MX-5 Cup.

“The 2018 USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights champions will receive Mazda Advancement Scholarships for the 2019 season and the annual $200,000 Mazda Road to Indy Global shootout will also be held in December of this season.

“Motorsports is at the core of Mazda’s DNA and the company remains committed to its variety of motorsports programs in the coming years including our grassroots club racing initiatives, the Battery Tender Global MX-5 Cup presented by BF Goodrich, the Mazda Road to 24, and Mazda Team Joest.”

Dan Anderson, owner and CEO of Anderson Promotions, chief promoter of MRTI, issued the following statement:

“We would like to thank Mazda for nine tremendous years in supporting and headlining the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires. They have been a great partner and their scholarships have helped so many drivers achieve their dream of progressing to the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“Mazda has been a key player in establishing and helping to grow our driver development system into the unparalleled program it is today. They remain with us through the end of this season and will once again be awarding each of our series’ champions a scholarship to move up to the next step in 2019 as well as the winner of the USF2000 $200K Scholarship Shootout in December.

“As their marketing objectives pursue new horizons, we at Andersen Promotions are committed to maintaining the outstanding ladder structure we have in place for 2019 and beyond. We are currently in discussions with several potential companies as we actively pursue a new partner.”

The big question now is who will step in to fill the sponsorship void left by Mazda’s departure.

One thing is certain: The three-pronged Road to Indy program will continue forward, according to IndyCar.

“The Road to Indy program has staged great racing over the years while developing teams and drivers for the Verizon IndyCar Series, and that will continue with plans soon to be announced,” the series said in a statement. “Mazda has been a transformative partner, and IndyCar is appreciative of its many contributions.”

The MRTI was established in 2010 and provided a platform for young up-and-coming racers to earn scholarships – and notoriety – as they worked their way up the ladder of the various series in hopes of eventually culminating with an IndyCar or Indianapolis 500 ride.

Last season, the scholarship program provided over $3.5 million to drivers across all three developmental series.

The MRTI ladder system was particularly popular because it attracted drivers during its nine-year existence from nearly two dozen countries, including the U.S., Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, France, Mexico, Spain, the United Kingdom and Venezuela.

In essence, the three series are microcosms of the IndyCar Series, racing on the same racetracks and at many of the same events that IndyCar competes upon, including permanent road courses like this past weekend’s racing action at Mid-Ohio, temporary street courses like Long Beach and Toronto, and ovals such as Indianapolis and Texas.

Among notables who have graduated through the program and went on to the IndyCar Series include Josef Newgarden (2011 Indy Lights champion), Sage Karam (2013 Indy Lights and 2010 U.S. F2000) Gabby Chaves (2014 Indy Lights), Spencer Pigot (2015 Indy Lights and 2014 Pro Mazda), Ed Jones (2016 Indy Lights), Mathew Brabham (2013 Pro Mazda champ and 2012 U.S. F2000)), Conor Daly (2010 Pro Mazda) and Jack Hawksworth (2012 Pro Mazda). Another notable that also graduated from the program was current IndyCar star James Hinchcliffe.

Newgarden became the first MRTI series graduate to win the IndyCar Series championship in 2017.

Tuesday’s announcement came as somewhat of a surprise.

For example, 19-year-old Kyle Kirkwood won the 2018 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda last Friday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Kyle Kimball, Mazda Motorsports operations manager said after Kirkwood’s championship-winning run: “The Mazda Road to Indy is not only about training inside the car, but also outside the car.

“We tell the young men and women that their behavior and attitude and the way they conduct themselves outside of the car is more important than what they do inside the car and on the track.

“We saw his shining personality in 2016 (at the shootout) and to look forward to 2019 and know that Kyle Kirkwood will be representing the Mazda brand puts us very much at ease.”

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Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi bring their storied rivalry to a new level at Rolex 24

Ganassi Penske Rolex 24
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – To measure the impact of Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi squaring off for the first time in overall sports car wins (starting at the Rolex 24), look at the auto racing titans’ lineups.

There are 12 combined drivers across four entries representing Chip Ganassi Racing (competing as Cadillac Racing) and Team Penske (as Porsche Penske Motorsport) in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona.

And with the possible exception of six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, none of those behind the wheel is as famous and accomplished as the U.S. motorsports icons who will be sitting atop the pit stands at Daytona International Speedway.

In the NTT IndyCar Series, Penske and Ganassi are synonymous with success, having combined for 23 Indy 500 victories and 30 championships. They also competed in the NASCAR Cup Series for two decades with several signature wins for each.

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FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN GTPRolex 24 at Daytona kicks off new golden era for sports cars

Until now, the rivalry never extended to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, where they competed in different classes from 2018-19 and have competed in the top category in differing times over the years.

But the 2023 season opener at Daytona will mark the beginning of a new era in which Ganassi and Penske will compete for sports car overall victories on two continents. A Ganassi Cadillac Racing V-LMDh and Porsche Penske Motorsports Penske 963 will run full time in both the premier prototype divisions of IMSA and the European-based World Endurance Championship – whose crown jewel is the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Having two of the world’s biggest sports car races welcome the Ganassi-Penske battle seems only fitting in a season in which IMSA’s new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class is expected to introduce a stiffer level of competition.

“We obviously like beating each other,” Ganassi told NBC Sports. “I think if you beat Penske, you know you’ve beaten someone. You’ve accomplished something great. It’s going to be the same as always. Just another platform at another track, but the rivalry will be just as heated I’m sure.

“On one hand, he’s always the first guy to call us out for a penalty or something. On the other hand, he’s also the first guy to congratulate me on a win, so I think it’s a healthy rivalry, but we certainly pound each other’s heads into the ground on race day. Monday through Friday it switches to more of a good relationship.”

After starting his career in sports cars, Penske also is looking forward to having a new arena to race Ganassi.

“There is a lot of anticipation and excitement about the Rolex 24 and the upcoming sports car season overall,” Penske said in a statement to NBC Sports statement. “With the new hybrid prototype formula ready to make its debut, and some great competition expected on the track between teams, drivers and manufacturers, there is a lot of momentum building right now. Porsche Penske Motorsport is excited to compete in both the IMSA WeatherTech Championship, as well as the FIA World Endurance Championship, this season and I can’t wait to see the No. 6 and No. 7 Porsche 963s in action at Daytona this weekend. We also look forward to bringing some new rivalries and storylines to the sport.

Roger Penske confers with Chip Ganassi before the 2013 Honda Indy Toronto (Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports Images).

“In the new IMSA GTP class, there should be a good competitive balance between Porsche, Cadillac, Acura and BMW. We have seen how the rivalry between Team Penske and Ganassi Racing has developed in the NTT IndyCar Series in recent years, and that could certainly extend to sports cars as our teams and drivers continue to develop the new formula and push the production on track in both IMSA and WEC. We will see how the competition plays out, starting this weekend, as we always enjoy racing against Chip and his teams.”

Though there have been some fiery moments over the years (Dario Franchitti vs. Will Power, anyone?), Ganassi vs. Penske mostly has been a story of respect between two organizations whose main strengths are people.

“It’s just the depth of the organizations going up against each other,” Ganassi said. “It’s not just he and I. It’s at every level of the organization.

“We’re smaller. I’d like to think we’re a little more nimble. This is all I do is race cars. I don’t have 200 car dealerships or a truck rental company or a transportation company. I just have racing is all I have.”

Heading into Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, here are the thoughts of Ganassi and Penske drivers in the Rolex 24 at Daytona:


Earl Bamber, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “When I grew up as a kid, I remember watching Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske battle each other for many years, obviously following Scott Dixon and his career in IndyCar (Bamber is a New Zealand native like Dixon). And when the opportunity came up to come and race for Chip, it’s a no-brainer. It’s one of those teams you want to drive for in the world. It’s one of the biggest and most successful teams in the world. And then we’ve got Porsche, where I used to drive, with Penske. It’s going to be a phenomenal rivalry over the next couple of years and that rivalry continues between two absolute legends of our sport. Two people who have been the most successful. I hope we can get Cadillac and Chip their first Le Mans win. That’s obviously the ultimate goal for us and beat his old rival, Roger.

“Those two powerhouses of the sport, they definitely raise the bar. You’ve seen it in IndyCar for years and years. One finds something and the next pushes it forward and forward. You’ll see the same in sports car racing. We all saw what Chip Ganassi Racing did back in the day with the GT program. So no doubt we can do the same again. It’s the ultimate highest level of motorsport when it comes to sports car racing, and there’ll be no stone unturned to make sure that we’re winning these races. It will be a really great fight, great for the fans and great for the sport, because both of them love winning.”

Dane Cameron, No. 6 Porsche Penske: “I think anytime you have Chip and Roger come to town to start fighting for wins, it raises the profile of the whole thing. Hopefully it brings a few more eyes to everything. Certainly brings a lot of expectation with it as well, and I also think it reflects really strongly on the championship to show how competitive it is. They respect the championship and challenge, but when they come to town, they come to win for sure.”

Scott Dixon, No. 01 Ganassi Cadillac: “The battle between Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske is always a fierce one. I obviously know it well from the IndyCar side. But I think it’s a lot more than that. It’s impressive to see a lot of the manufacturers that have come in for this battle. I imagine if it’s not from the first race but during the season that Penske and Ganassi will fight it out pretty hard.

“I think the rivalry between Chip Ganassi racing and Penske has always been strong and in a good way. There’s been some battles and the 2010s for me and other drivers when it gets fierce. Some disagreements here and there. But it’s always been a great pure battle, which is what I think these championships are made of and what brings the fans to the track. So I’d sum it up as a very healthy rivalry.”

Alex Lynn, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “Even as a little boy (growing up in England), you knew exactly who Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi were. You knew what their teams represented. For me to represent Chip and his team is a huge honor. I’m extremely motivated to try to add to his legacy and be part of the fabric of this team. I think having the battle between Penske and Ganassi is iconic. Also Porsche and Cadillac as brands, respectively, just adds to the occasion. Makes me smile even thinking about it knowing what we get to represent when the flag drops.”

Felipe Nasr, No. 7 Porsche Penske: “I think it’s fantastic especially because we’re merging the IMSA and WEC Series and giving the opportunity for teams like Penske and Ganassi to fight for overall victories. You look at the history of those teams, they’ve been on top. We always hear it from the IndyCar guys or the NASCAR side, you’re talking two big names in motorsports. You expect nothing but them fighting for wins. For sure Ganassi has strengths, and we have strengths as well. I’m pretty glad I have the opportunity to be representing Team Penske and continue to write history with them and Porsche is a great opportunity.”

Richard Westbrook, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “The chance for the two most famous teams in America to go head to head in the Daytona 24 Hours and also the Le Mans 24 Hours. I expect that rivalry to keep going up more notches.”

Renger van der Zande, No. 01 Ganassi Cadillac: “Obviously, it’s such the big houses of racing in the U.S. Penske and Ganassi are taking it at each other. The rivalry is big. The best of the best. The most famous ones in the U.S.

“Ganassi is part of Cadillac. We’re the race team that runs the factory program for Cadillac. Penske is running it for Porsche, obviously a high brand as well. Those teams have their little rivalry, but they’re working for a bigger company, a bigger brand, which is Cadillac and Porsche. So those two premium brands taking on each other and then two of the best teams in America taking on each other. It’s very simple: Cadillac got the best team in the U.S. and Porsche got the best team in the U.S. So let’s see what happens. It’s going to be a cool fight.”