Scot Elkins, director of competition for the Mazda Road To Indy, says the new Tatuus USF-17 will be crash-tested next month and will be on track two weeks after its May unveiling at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Based around the Tatuus Formula 4 tub, the USF-17 is the 2017 USF2000 car, and will also form the basis of the new Pro Mazda car to arrive in 2018.
Elkins told Motorsport.com: “First we have to go through the same process everyone has to go through for the FIA crash test, with the car at a specific weight at a specific speed.
“Although we’re using the F4 tub, we’ve changed it because obviously this car will have to race on ovals [Lucas Oil Raceway, Ind., for USF2000, and both LOR and Iowa Speedway for Pro Mazda in 2018]. So we’ve made a big change to the front bulkhead to be more structurally sound. That, and the different weight from the F4 car is why we need a separate crash test.
“Once that’s done, we’ll officially launch the car at IMS leading up to the 100th Indy 500, and then test that prototype probably two weeks after the '500.' We’ll do a road course and an oval test.”
Elkins said the testing would involve personnel not currently in the Cooper Tires USF2000 powered by Mazda series, in similar fashion to the process used to develop the Swift 016 Atlantic car, Champ Car Panoz DP01 and Dallara IL15 Indy Lights car.
“We’ll pull in independent people and run the test independently of any team, so no-one has an advantage with the new car once it starts racing,” he says.
“Driver-wise, our primary focus will be finding someone who has been successful on the Mazda Road To Indy, so a guy like Matt Brabham is a good choice – he’s won in all three MRTI classes. Spencer Pigot would be another great asset. And neither of them have full-season commitments in IndyCar.
“We haven’t picked anybody yet, but they’re the type of driver we’d use.”
Elkins stated that Andersen Promotions, which runs Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000, will be similarly even-handed when it comes to delivery of the USF-17 chassis, so no teams are favored by receiving them early.
He said: “We’ve got the cars coming in two phases, with first phase of 15 arriving in September/October and another 15 around December.
"And then we’ll do what we’ve traditionally done, which is make the first test an open test so everyone will be running the car for the first time together. That way, any little niggling problems can be discovered at the same time and solved at the same time – seamlessly and transparently.”
Pro Mazda plans
Although the 2017 USF2000 car and 2018 Pro Mazda car will share a platform design, Elkins explained they would in fact be easily distinguishable.
“We’ll run different sidepods, potentially a different engine-cover and it will definitely have a different look to its wings because the Pro Mazda will have more aero. The USF-17 has just a two-element rear wing and a single-element front wing, whereas the PM-18 will have a three-element rear wing and we’ll at least add flaps to the front wing.
“We’ll also change the undertray and definitely change the diffuser to give it a different aero balance that best prepares drivers for Indy Lights.”
The reason the engine cover design could be noticeably different is because an engine has not yet been chosen for the 2018 car.
“The engine cover could be low with an exposed rollhoop like the USF-17, or it may have an intake through the rollhoop – we’re not sure yet, although that should be defined pretty soon.
“The MZR engine in the USF2000 car makes about 170hp, and it could have a turbocharger added – that’s been done before.
"But we’re aiming for 270-275hp for the Pro Mazda and we’re not sure we can get that from the MZR without spending a lot of money to make it a purebred race engine. We’ve really got to keep it a production-based engine because it’s important to Mazda to have that link to its road-car engines.
“So we’re still talking with Mazda about a couple of engines that they have in their SKYACTIV range, which can comfortably produce that kind of power. Mazda will help us decide which way we go.”
National Class future
The recently announced National Class within USF2000 may become a potential outlet for the current breed of USF2000 cars, according to Elkins.
He said: “Yeah, I think that’s a real possibility. Currently the National Class is for essentially the SCCA-spec F2000 cars which run regionally, so whenever we go to their region, there’s an opportunity for local drivers to come run in a pro race and in front of IndyCar teams.
“How that plays out once the new Tatuus chassis is introduced, I’m not sure, but we’ll definitely try to find a place for those guys, just like we’re doing now with the National Class.”
Formula 4 comparisons
There is an element of irony in the Tatuus USF-17 having a Formula 4 foundation, since in the U.S., the Mazda Road to Indy car appears to be in direct competition with the Honda-backed U.S. F4. Even the power outputs of Honda’s F4 and Formula Lites cars, which are built by Crawford Composites, will be very similar to the USF2000 and Pro Mazda cars.
Elkins explained: “I think that’s coincidental. To be honest, I don’t see the purpose in creating another series, when one has been proven to be pretty successful.
“I do know that our cars are dramatically different from the F4 cars. Like I said before, we’ve changed some of the safety aspects of the car, and we’ll have totally different brakes, engines, damper setups, data system… And obviously our aero package is completely different from the F4 car.
“If we have a car that is clearly a step up from Formula 4, then that increases our appeal to drivers in all the F4 series around the world. That and the fact that we race almost entirely alongside IndyCar and the other two series on the Mazda Road To Indy, I think gives the USF2000 a unique appeal.”