Eighteen drivers representing nine countries will embark on the challenge of their young careers this week at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif.
The group will contest the inaugural Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200K Scholarship Shootout, bringing together talent from around the globe with the winner receiving a $200,000 scholarship from Mazda to assist in graduation to the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda, the first step on INDYCAR’s Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires developmental ladder.
“This is the next step in the worldwide growth of the Mazda Road to Indy,” said Kyle Kimball, operations manager at Mazda Motorsports. “It allows young drivers from around the world to see a direct path to the program, beginning with championships in their own country. Our hope is to continue to see the finest young drivers in the world choose the Mazda Road to Indy and to represent their country on a path to the top rungs of open-wheel racing."
The shootout format is designed to include the champions of select junior level open-wheel and karting series. In total, 20 championships were granted Shootout "entry tickets" to award their champions, with an eligibility requirement that drivers be between the ages of 14 and 25 as of Sept. 30. Three drivers were unable to attend due to prior commitments.
A panel of seven judges, led by led by Mazda factory sports car driver and USF2000 driver coach Joel Miller, will select the inaugural winner, who will be announced Friday at the Performance Racing Industry Trade Show in Indianapolis. Also among the judging panel are Scott Goodyear, the former Indy car driver and current ABC commentator on Verizon IndyCar Series broadcasts, and Spencer Pigot, a 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series rookie driver, 2015 Indy Lights champion and four-time Mazda scholarship recipient as he ascended the MRTI ladder.
“The MRTI Shootout at Mazda Raceway will be the first of its kind taking champions from around the world and introducing them to the MRTI ladder,” said Miller. “The goal is to find the next driver that can win at each level of the ladder and move on to (the Verizon IndyCar Series). Mazda and its partners have put together a clear path which does not exist anywhere else and this shootout is the first step.
“Each judge on the panel has been part of various shootouts in their own motorsport careers and thus know what is needed to find the best during the on-track sessions. It will be fun to help bring in the new group of talent to the Mazda Road to Indy and I’m thankful for the opportunity.”
Drivers will showcase their skills on Mazda Raceway’s 2.238-mile permanent road course in equally prepared cars from the Lucas Oil School of Racing, which features Ray GR-RSC open-wheel cars on Cooper tires powered by Elite Engines’ 2-liter, 140-horsepower powerplants and sequential gearboxes controlled by Pro Shift paddle shifters.
Shootout activities kick off today with orientation featuring an overview of the Lucas Oil School of Racing cars, as well as car selections, driver fittings, a driver’s meeting and an introduction to the judging panel.
Track activities will begin Tuesday following track orientation. Drivers will be divided into four groups, each receiving three on-track sessions interspersed with instructor feedback. Following an initial on-track session Wednesday morning, the judging panel will narrow the field in the first elimination round. The continuing drivers will take part in a qualifying session followed by a 30-minute race, after which judges will convene for a final time to select the $200,000 scholarship winner.
While outright speed will be a factor in the judges’ decisions, other criteria is in place to select a candidate who will make a good overall Mazda and series representative. The full list of scholarship shootout contestants (with age and hometown) and their affiliation: