Series has engine partner for the first time since Infiniti quit in 2006.
Mazda is adding to its impact on the Mazda Road to Indy project -- essentially a stepping-stone from karting, up through several open-wheel series, all the way to Indy Lights -- by agreeing to be the official engine supplier for the all-new Indy Lights cars in 2015.
This is a major coup for series head Dan Andersen's attempt to revive the series for next year, with an all-new Dallara car and Mazda's turbocharged four-cylinder engine, similar to the AER engine that Dyson Racing ran in the last year of the P1 class in the American Le Mans Series. It is difficult for a series to be considered a major player without manufacturer backing, and the Indy Lights series hasn'thad that since Nissan/Infiniti pulled the plug after the 2006 season.
No longer a lame-duck powerplant
That left Indy Lights running the lame-duck Infiniti V-8 up through 2014. With the change to Mazda, Indy Lights can expect online, print and television support, on-track activation and technical help. An insider said the series has long sought Mazda's help, asking that it brand the Infiniti V-8 as a Mazda, but Mazda declined because Mazda doesn't build a V-8, and because putting its name on another manufacturer's product wouldn't be a good business practice.
Similarly, the IROC series, left with generic cars and engines after Pontiac pulled the plug on its backing, struggled with no manufacturer help until it finally expired, despite its attempts to get a new manufacturer involved. This means Indy Lights won't have to continue with a comparable situation.
So with the announcement made today at the Performance Racing Industry (PRI) Trade Show in Indianapolis, Mazda is solidly entrenched in the North American open-wheel world. While most noted for success in sports cars, Mazda has been active in open-wheel, formula-car racing since 1984. In recent years, that has developed into the Mazda Road to Indy, where aspiring racers can advance upwards along a logical progression from karts all the way to the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 2014, Mazda powered both the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires. For 2015, Mazda adds Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.
The all-new Dallara IL-15 Indy Lights chassis will be powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged Mazda MZR-R. Originally developed in conjunction with Advanced Engine Research (AER), the MZR-R was first campaigned by Mazda in the ALMS and by Mazda customer teams in the European Le Mans Series. The engine enjoyed several milestone victories, among them were Mazda’s first-ever major North American overall sports car racing win and the 2011 LMP1 engine manufacturers championship. The engine, further developed by AER, will be designed to produce 450 horsepower and last an entire season without a rebuild.
“The Mazda Road to Indy is a great showcase for what Mazda represents," said John Doonan, director of Mazda Motorsports. "Our strength is in helping drivers move up the ranks. Almost a third of the Indy 500 field traces their roots to Mazda. Adding the Indy Lights series allows us to have an even longer, more productive relationship with the Indy stars of the future. We were among the first to recognize the on- and off-track talents of racers like Simon Pagenaud, James Hinchcliffe, Marco Andretti, Graham Rahal, and many others. We can’t wait for the season to start at St. Pete, all the way to autumn in Monterey at our own Mazda Raceway for the season finales.”
“From the onset of my involvement with Indy Lights, it’s been my hope to have our longtime partner, Mazda, join us in this effort," said Dan Andersen, owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. "My decision to select AER as our engine provider was consciously made knowing the substantial Mazda involvement with the engine proposed by AER, and today I am delighted to confirm that the IL-15’s engine does indeed have deep Mazda roots. Mazda does more for open-wheel racing in North America than any other manufacturer, and its full involvement in the Mazda Road to Indy is great news for all.”
The 2015 Mazda Road to Indy schedule will kick off with the fifth annual pre-season Cooper Tires Winterfest at NOLA Motorsports Park, just outside of New Orleans, La., on February 18-20 and will move to Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham, Ala., on February 24-26. The official season will open at St. Petersburg on March 27-29 and conclude at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on September 11-13.