Mazda Road to Indy Season Kicks Off with Spring Training
 February 22, 2018| 
  • Series News
Pro Mazda Homestead Preview 2018

Brand-New Tatuus PM-18 Pro Mazda Car Completes Feeder Series’ Rejuvenation

PALMETTO, Fla. – A new season of competition in the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires is almost set to commence. All three rungs on the world’s premier open-wheel development ladder – the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires – will be in action beginning Friday, February 23, for the annual Spring Training open test which will take place over four days at Homestead-Miami Speedway in South Florida.

At least 15 different nationalities are expected to be represented, highlighting the credibility of a program which offers opportunities for drivers to progress from the grassroots to the pinnacle of the sport in North America – with Mazda Scholarships at every level.

Spring Training will represent the first time a full field of the exciting new Tatuus PM-18 Pro Mazda cars will be on track at the same time. It will also provide one final chance to lay down a marker in advance of the opening races of the 2018 campaign on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., in conjunction with the Verizon IndyCar Series, on March 9-11.

New Car, Strong Rookie Crop Set for Pro Mazda
The introduction this year of the new Mazda-powered Tatuus PM-18 chassis to Pro Mazda completes the revitalization of the entire Mazda Road to Indy development ladder. The process began in 2015 when the Dallara IL-15 debuted in Indy Lights and continued last year with the Tatuus USF-17 in USF2000. In common with the other two new cars, early indications from testing suggest the PM-18, which replaces the Elan/Van Diemen/Crawford chassis first introduced in 2004 and utilizes the same basic chassis and components as the USF-17, will be every bit as popular with drivers, teams and fans alike.

“It’s a super-fun car,” says Robert Megennis, from New York, N.Y., who is stepping up from USF2000 to Pro Mazda with last year’s championship-winning team, Juncos Racing. “It’s really fast and the perfect transition up from USF2000.”

Positive comments have proliferated as new teams and drivers come to grips with the new car, and there is every reason to expect a far more open campaign than in 2017, which boiled down to a straightforward head-to-head battle between Victor Franzoni and Anthony Martin.

Three teams, BN Racing, DEForce Racing and Canadian-based Exclusive Autosport, have added Pro Mazda cars to their existing USF2000 stables, while the addition of Italian team RP Motorsport Racing, which has reaped much success in the Euroformula Open Championship and the World Series Formula V8 3.5 in recent years, adds even more depth to the field.

Also stepping up from USF2000 are the top three protagonists from 2017 – Oliver Askew, from Jupiter, Fla., Dutch teenager Rinus VeeKay and Canadian Parker Thompson – all of whom are expected to challenge for the championship.

Askew earned his opportunity in USF2000 after claiming the inaugural Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200K Mazda Scholarship Shootout in 2016. He then won seven races on his way to the championship last year and has every intention of continuing his winning ways with Cape Motorsports and chasing yet another Mazda Scholarship, worth $790,000, to ensure graduation to Indy Lights in 2019.

“Everyone has excitement built up from the long off-season, but I plan to keep a level head and approach the season like I have been since I entered the Mazda Road to Indy last year,” says Askew. “I have no doubt that we will have another competitive package to fight for the Pro Mazda championship.”

Los Angeles-based Russian Nikita Lastochkin will remain with the Cape team and has shown well in pre-season testing.

Fellow second-year Pro Mazda racers Carlos Cunha and Sting Ray Robb also return. Cunha, who placed third in 2017 as a rookie, has joined the equally talented VeeKay and Megennis at Juncos Racing. Idaho teenager Sting Ray Robb will represent Team Pelfrey, winner of the 2017 Team Championship, alongside young Mexican Andres Gutierrez, who showed tremendous promise last year in USF2000.

Thompson will remain with Exclusive Autosport for his graduation to Pro Mazda, while Chicago’s David Malukas also will make the step up with BN Racing alongside Pittsburgh, Pa.’s Kris Wright, who contested a partial season in 2017.

Other contenders will include English Formula Ford standout James Raven (DEForce Racing) and countryman Harrison Scott, a dominant winner of last year’s Euroformula Open series with 12 wins from just 14 starts, who remains with RP Motorsport – alongside Italian newcomer Lodovico Laurini – to share their first taste of the sport in North America.

Spring Training will begin on Friday, February 23, with an all-day test for Indy Lights on Homestead-Miami’s 1.5-mile oval, followed by two days of running for Pro Mazda and USF2000 over the weekend on the 2.21-mile road course and then a final day on the road course for Indy Lights on Monday, February 26. Live timing and scoring for all sessions will be available on the respective series’ websites, indylights.com, promazda.com and usf2000.com, on racecontrol.indycar.com as well as the Mazda Road to Indy TV App.

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