What do Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, James Hinchcliffe, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball, Josef Newgarden, Gabby Chaves and Spencer Pigot have in common? All are graduates of series comprising the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires – one of the most successful driver development programs in the world, providing a unique, scholarship-funded path to reach the Verizon IndyCar Series and Indianapolis 500.
Since its launch in 2010, the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system has attracted competitors from around the globe. Drivers from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Finland, France, Ireland, Korea, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Spain, United Kingdom, Venezuela and Zimbabwe have been part of the grids, showcasing their talents at premier venues on a mix of road courses, temporary street circuits and ovals.
From “The World’s Fastest Spring Break Party” in St. Petersburg, Fla., to “one of the most beautiful race tracks in North America” named by Road & Track in Birmingham, Ala., and the famed Brickyard – the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – drivers compete on the Verizon IndyCar Series stage in front of large crowds and television cameras as well as team owners, sponsors and media.
Sanctioned by INDYCAR, the Mazda Road to Indy provides drivers, teams and sponsors an opportunity to gain valuable experience on and off the track while following a clear-cut path of progression through three development series: Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.
Spencer Pigot, 23, exemplifies the success of the Mazda Road to Indy platform.
Pigot, who began karting at age 9, made the move into car racing in 2009, winning the Skip Barber Shoot-Out Top Scholarship Award and a season of competition in the 2010 BFGoodrich/Skip Barber National Series Presented by Mazda as an official Mazda Development driver. He claimed the title as a rookie to secure another Mazda scholarship prize and ensure his graduation onto the first step of the Mazda Road to Indy, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, in 2011. After consecutive runner-up finishes in the USF2000 title-chase, Pigot capped another two years in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires by winning the crown and another scholarship prize in 2014 which enabled him to move on to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires in 2015.
Proving that the Mazda Road to Indy is not just for drivers, Pigot’s Juncos Racing team joined him on this next step, as the team plans to eventually field an entry in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Pigot earned his fourth scholarship - a $1M prize with a guaranteed three-race program in IndyCar including the Indianapolis 500 - by claiming the 2015 Indy Lights title and made his IndyCar Series debut with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing in 2016.
THE PROGRESSION STEPS
- Drivers begin on the Mazda Road to Indy in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, a revival of the highly regarded USF2000 series which ran from 1990 through 2006. The goal of the series is to provide a professional, entry-level open-wheel training ground serving as the ﬁrst step on the ladder to a Verizon IndyCar Series career.
- From there, drivers move on to the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, formerly known as the Star Mazda Championship, which has developed IndyCar Series stars Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe, Graham Rahal and Tristan Vautier, and rising star Conor Daly amongst others including NASCAR veteran Michael McDowell and Ford Ganassi Racing driver Joey Hand.
- From Pro Mazda, drivers move into Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires. Indy Lights has long been a vital step for competitors to reach the pinnacle of open-wheel racing in America, boasting over 100 drivers as graduates.
“For so many years, there were too many options in junior formula racing and it was so tough for drivers coming up to make the right decision on where to run,” said James Hinchcliffe, IndyCar Series race winner, 2011 IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year and Indy Lights/Pro Mazda graduate.
“Now, not only is there a clearly deﬁned path, but the Mazda Road to Indy has all the best series that lead so well into one another. All the cars are great learning tools to develop for the next step and now you’ll see drivers arriving at each level a lot more prepared. It speaks volumes to INDYCAR’s commitment to the long term health of open-wheel racing in North America that they have created this system.”