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.”