News from INDYCAR: Montoya returns to Team Penske for 2017 Indianapolis 500; INDYCAR to sanction Mazda MX-5 Cup series; and more

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INDYCAR News and Notes – Nov. 1, 2016

1. Montoya returns to Team Penske for 2017 Indianapolis 500
2. INDYCAR to sanction Mazda MX-5 Cup series
3. Kanaan sets pace for 2017 500 Festival Mini-Marathon
4. Rossi teaming with karting coach for SuperNationals

1. Montoya returns to Team Penske for 2017 Indianapolis 500: Juan Pablo Montoya will return to Team Penske for the 2017 Indianapolis 500, team president Tim Cindric confirmed to INDYCAR. It is currently the only Verizon IndyCar Series race that the two-time Indy 500 winner is scheduled to drive in the 2017 season.

Montoya has won 15 Indy car races in 91 career starts over five seasons. The 41-year-old Colombian drove for Chip Ganassi Racing in CART in 1999-2000 and for Team Penske from 2014-16, with stints in Formula One and NASCAR in between. He won the CART championship in 1999 and the Indianapolis 500 in 2000 and 2015.

Driving the No. 2 Chevrolet for Team Penske in 2016, Montoya finished eighth in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings with a win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Team Penske signed Josef Newgarden to drive the No. 2 car in 2017, leaving Montoya without a fulltime seat with the team. When Team Penske announced the addition of Newgarden last month, Cindric said Montoya was offered the opportunity to drive a Team Penske car in next year’s Indianapolis 500.

Montoya explored options with other Verizon IndyCar Series teams but decided a return to Penske gave him the best chance to win a third Indy 500, according to Cindric, who confirmed the agreement today with the INDYCAR Mobile app. Cindric said details of Montoya’s involvement for the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil will be announced at a future date.

“He didn’t want to leave the team but wanted to see what else was out there,” Cindric told the INDYCAR Mobile app. “After giving it some thought, he told me the best opportunity was to run Indy with Team Penske, so if the offer still stood, that is what he wanted to do.”

Montoya will complete a Penske armada at Indianapolis that includes the top four finishers in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series standings – champion Simon Pagenaud, second-place Will Power, third-place Helio Castroneves (a three-time Indy 500 winner) and Newgarden. It will mark the first time for Team Penske to field five cars at “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

“The fact we are going to stay together and try to win Indy together speaks about our relationship between the team and Juan,” Cindric said.

2. INDYCAR to sanction Mazda MX-5 Cup series: Mazda Motorsports and Andersen Promotions announced an agreement for INDYCAR to sanction the Mazda MX-5 Cup series beginning with the 2017 season. The Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires is the signature spec series for the Mazda Road to 24, the sports car counterpart to the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel ladder leading to the Verizon IndyCar Series.

In both development programs, series champions earn a Mazda Motorsports scholarship to advance their racing careers. The MX-5 Cup season champion earns a $200,000 scholarship. New for 2017, the MX-5 Cup rookie of the year will earn a $50,000 scholarship. In total, MX-5 Cup pays more than $500,000 in prize money and scholarships.

“This sanctioning agreement with INDYCAR for the Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires is based upon our long and productive relationship with Dan Andersen, Andersen Promotions and INDYCAR,” said John Doonan, director of motorsports at Mazda North American Operations. “We have worked closely with them to grow the Mazda Road to Indy into the finest open-wheel ladder in the world. Now, we are striving to grow this series, which is the first step of our sports car ladder known as the Mazda Road to 24.

“In only one year, we have sold more than 120 of the newest generation of MX-5 Cup cars and have seen starting fields of up to 40 cars,” continued Doonan. “By teaming with INDYCAR, we believe the series will thrive.”

In 2017, the MX-5 Cup will consist of a 12-race schedule held on a total of six event weekends, plus the second annual Global MX-5 Cup Invitational, a non-points-paying event for Mazda racers from around the world. Four of those event weekends will be held during Verizon IndyCar Series events – Barber Motorsports Park (April 20-23), Road America (June 23-25), Toronto (July 14-16) and Watkins Glen International (September 1-3). The series will also compete on the road course of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the SVRA event (June 15-17) and twice at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca (Sept. 22-24 and the Global Invitational, Oct. 13-15).

The MX-5 Cup series is considered the best value in sports car racing. The cars are sold as a ready-to-race, turnkey package for $58,900. Because of the parity of the cars, the racing is always close, hard-fought and great fun for fans. The series is entering its 12th season.

“When Mazda approached us regarding MX-5 Cup, we felt it would be a great opportunity for INDYCAR to expand upon what we’re already doing with our involvement in the Mazda Road to Indy,” said Jay Frye, INDYCAR president of competition and operations. “This agreement also allows us to enhance our overall platform with Mazda Motorsports and Andersen Promotions, who have been great partners of INDYCAR.”

The Mazda Road to Indy consists of three levels of open-wheel racing – Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires, the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda – providing the ultimate training ground for drivers and teams aspiring to reach the Verizon IndyCar Series.

3. Kanaan sets pace for 2017 500 Festival Mini-Marathon: Verizon IndyCar Series driver Tony Kanaan has teamed with the 500 Festival to set the pace for the 2017 OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon as the Indianapolis race’s official Pacesetter.

Kanaan, who finished seventh in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series standings, ran in the 2016 Mini-Marathon and finished the 13.1-mile road race that includes a lap around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval with a time of 1 hour, 43 minutes, 29 seconds. The 500 Festival added five minutes to that time for every position higher than 10th that Kanaan finished in the series standings, making 1:58:29 the official time to beat for the 2017 Mini-Marathon.

For each 2017 Mini-Marathon participant who finishes under Kanaan’s Pacesetter time, the 500 Festival will donate $1 to a charity as voted on by the participants.

“I’m honored to serve as the official Pacesetter for the 2017 OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon,” Kanaan said. “This race means so much to the community and to the 35,000 people who participate every year. Participating in a half-marathon requires courage and dedication. I hope that my participation will inspire people to join the fun and participate in this year’s race and that as many people as possible will take on the Pacesetter challenge and help raise money for these worthy charities.”

Kanaan and wife Lauren welcomed a second child Oct. 27 when son Max was born. Kanaan has a son, Leo, from a previous marriage. Kanaan and Lauren also have another son, Deco.

4. Rossi teaming with karting coach for SuperNationals: Reigning Indianapolis 500 winner and Verizon IndyCar Series rookie of the year Alexander Rossi will join his first karting coach, Matt Jaskol, to race for Italian team Factory CRG in this year’s SKUSA SuperNationals karting event Nov. 16-20 in Las Vegas.

Jaskol, who met Rossi nearly 15 years ago and coached him in karts for a year before Rossi graduated to single-seaters, made five starts in Indy Lights in 2007. The two reconnected this May when Rossi won the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. The pair will each race in the KZ Pro and S1 classes.

“This is where it all began and for me to give back to the foundation and roots of my profession is something I really look forward to,” said Rossi, driver of the No. 98 Andretti-Herta Autosport Honda in the Verizon IndyCar Series. “Matt was and is an inspiration to me and a really big part of the reason I took the next step in racing. He’s an incredible go-kart driver and champion and it’s a huge honor to finally be racing with him and I’m very thankful we have the support of the World Champion Factory CRG team.”

Conor Daly, who battled Rossi all season long for top rookie honors, is also scheduled to compete in the SuperNationals.