Mazda announces departure from “Road to Indy” program

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Mazda Road to Indy

In a blindsiding move, Mazda Motorsports announced today that it would end a nine-year partnership with the Road to Indy development series.  The final weekend of competition for the Road to Indy under the Mazda banner will be Labor Day weekend during IndyCar’s return to Portland International Raceway.  Each rung on the MRTI ladder – Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000 – will be present for competition.

This year’s Mazda scholarship winners (champions from each Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000) will still receive their scholarships for advancement to higher-level racing series in 2019.

The Mazda Scholarship Program has helped fund Juncos Racing’s IndyCar efforts in 2018, as without Kyle Kaiser’s 2017 Indy Lights championship and the scholarship, the team most likely wouldn’t have gone full-time this year.

Also of note, Mazda will uphold its commitment to award a $200,000 USF2000 scholarship to the winner of December’s “USF2000 Scholarship Shootout,” as previously agreed upon.  Recent winners of the scholarship shootout include Oliver Askew (who would win the 2017 USF2000 championship) and Ireland’s Keith Donegan.

“On behalf of Mazda, I’d like to thank Andersen Promotions and everyone involved with the Road to Indy for a wonderful nine years, but the time has come for Mazda to focus our resources into other areas of our motorsports footprint,” said John Doonan, the director of Mazda Motorsports.  “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 BFGoodrich, the Mazda Road to 24, and Mazda Team Joest.”

After Mazda’s exit as title sponsor of the Road to Indy, the owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions, Dan Andersen, also had a statement to release.

“We would like to thank Mazda for nine tremendous years in supporting and headlining the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires,” said Andersen.  “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.”

It is unclear at this moment who will provide engines for the Road to Indy in 2019.  Mazda’s departure actually offers many new opportunities for Chevrolet and Honda to expand their current involvement in American open-wheel racing.

If Chevrolet or Honda were to step up and provide more engagement with the Road to Indy, they could help build grassroots relationships with up-and-coming drivers before they reach IndyCar, which was one of the few knocks on the Mazda partnership.

In an outside scenario, it could also open Mazda up to its own foray into the IndyCar Series.  The manufacturer has strengthened its sports car racing efforts in recent years in an attempt to make a stronger mark in auto racing, and a move to IndyCar would most likely provide more exposure than they ever had as the Road to Indy title sponsor.

Upon the announcement today, INDYCAR released this statement:  “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. Mazda has been a transformative partner, and INDYCAR is appreciative of its many contributions.”

Stay tuned to Open-Wheels for updates and continued coverage on the Road to Indy.

Image courtesy of Mazda Road to Indy.

Tanner Watkins

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