Archives for Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires

Urrutia Tops Indy Lights Spring Training Pre-Season Testing Times

Birmingham, Ala. – Santiago Urrutia, from Miguelete, Uruguay, set the pace today for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian at Barber Motorsports Park as the top rung on the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder, Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, took to the 2.3-mile road course for one final opportunity to prepare for next weekend’s championship-opening races on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.
Urrutia, who won last year’s Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, turned a best lap of 1:12.4479 this afternoon, fractionally slower than the record 1:12.3865 lap turned in qualifying last year by eventual series champion Spencer Pigot.
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian rookie Santiago Urrutia led the way in the final test before the 2016 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tire season gets under way. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian rookie Santiago Urrutia led the way in the final test before the 2016 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tire season gets under way. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

“We put the lap together on the last run, on new tires, and I was P1,” said Urrutia, who claimed a pair of podium finishes at Barber last year during his championship-winning Pro Mazda campaign. “This track is very physical, like [the oval at] Phoenix, so I need to train my neck a little bit! I’m happy but there’s a long way to go. Everyone is quick so I need to be quick.”
Urrutia, 19, edged out Sweden’s Felix Rosenqvist (Belardi Auto Racing) by a mere 0.0190 second, with Canadian Scott Hargrove, who won the 2013 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and finished second in the 2014 Pro Mazda title-chase, ensuring that three different teams would be represented at the top of the timing charts with a 1:12.6222 lap for Indy Lights newcomer Team Pelfrey.
“We’ve tried a huge number of things today, back and forth with different testing programs,” said Rosenqvist, who was fastest in another pre-season road course test recently at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida. “We learned quite a lot. I had some small issues in the afternoon so I think we can find something more for the race. There’s definitely more to come.
“This circuit is fantastic,” continued the winner of last year’s FIA European Formula 3 Championship. “I think it’s one of the top-five best circuits I’ve driven, it’s really nice and flowing. It’s a proper circuit – you’ll pay for it if you make a mistake. It’s very high speed and very physical, so it really tests the teams, the cars and the drivers.”
The quality field of 16 drivers completed a total of 1,433 laps today. Ed Jones (Carlin) was fastest in this morning’s three-hour session with a time of 1:13.0287, despite sitting out the final hour after spinning into the wall at the exit of Turn Five and damaging his Carlin car’s suspension. Jones also missed virtually all of the afternoon session due to an electrical sensor gremlin.
Hargrove was merely 0.0145 of a second shy this morning, while Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing), RC Enerson (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian) and Rosenqvist also circulated within 0.2 seconds of Jones’ fastest time.
The two junior levels on the Mazda Road to Indy, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, will take over at Barber tomorrow and Monday for two more days of testing. Meanwhile, the Indy Lights teams will now pack up and head south for next weekend’s Indy Lights Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Lucas School of Racing. The season opener will comprise the first two of 18 races to determine the winner of a Mazda Scholarship prize, valued at $1 million, which will include a guaranteed entry in three 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series events, including the Indianapolis 500.

RC Enerson Fastest as Indy Lights Teams Return to Phoenix Oval

RC Enerson Fastest as Indy Lights Teams Return to Phoenix Oval
Drivers on the Top Rung of the Mazda Road to Indy Turn Almost 2,600 Laps in Test

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian reaped the benefit of an additional private test earlier in the week as RC Enerson headed a team sweep of the top three positions today at Phoenix International Raceway. The teenager led a 16-car Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires field following a one-day pre-season test on the challenging 1.022-mile oval.
Enerson, 18, from New Port Richey, Fla., turned the best lap of the day this morning at 21.8721 seconds, an average speed of 168.214 mph, comfortably faster than the incomparable Greg Moore’s Indy Lights track record of 22.887 (160.755 mph) which dates all the way back to 1995.
“We learned the track on Monday and were able to go flat out,” said Enerson, who returns to Indy Lights for a second season after finishing fourth in his rookie campaign in 2015. “Today we worked on qualifying setups and spent most of our time running together as a group, trying to figure out what to do in traffic during the race. To be able to come in this morning and be the quickest was very encouraging.”
Uruguayan teammate Santiago Urrutia, who won last year’s Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, along with a Mazda scholarship to progress into Indy Lights for 2016, was fastest this afternoon at 21.9862 (167.341 mph), followed by yet another Schmidt Peterson entry driven by GP2 Series veteran Andre Negrao, from Brazil, at 22.0128.
“We concentrated on setups this afternoon, doing qualifying and race simulations,” said Urrutia. “It’s a very physical track, quite hard, but the setup of the car was good. Running with my teammates, it seemed as though it was very hard to pass. That will mean qualifying for the race will be very important.”
“The team tested here on Monday, so today was my second time on an oval,” added Negrao. “It’s so quick here all the time. Coming from Europe, I have to learn the ovals. It’s all new but the team is perfect. They helped me so much. It’s so tricky and fast, but I was pretty calm and confident. After a while, the speed just becomes normal.”
Felix Serralles, from Ponce, Puerto Rico, split up the Schmidt Peterson domination for the Carlin team by posting the third fastest time this afternoon at 22.0733.
Also impressive was Formula Renault 3.5 Series convert Dean Stoneman, from England, who was fifth fastest overall for Andretti Autosport at 22.1039.
“I think we made great progress today,” said Stoneman. “The morning session was all about setup, getting the car to my liking and working to a qualifying-type format. It worked well and we were really on the pace. In the afternoon we were running in race trim which gave us a good idea where we would be. I’m starting to build a great relationship with my engineer and the Andretti team who have helped make my first oval experience extremely positive.”
The 16 drivers turned a total of 2,598 laps with only one relatively minor incident when Canadian Dalton Kellett (Andretti Autosport) ran high on the exit of Turn Two and glanced the wall. The top 14 cars were covered by less than half a second, which bodes well for when the series returns to PIR for Round Three of the championship on Saturday, April 2.
The teams will now head for Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., where they will join the Pro Mazda and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda contestants for the Mazda Road to Indy Spring Training open test on March 5 (Indy Lights) and 6/7 (USF2000/Pro Mazda). The 18-race 2016 season will kick off less than one week later with a double header on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 11-13 in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Entry List Blossoms as Indy Lights Teams Prepare for Phoenix Oval Test

Entry List Blossoms as Indy Lights Teams Prepare for Phoenix Oval Test
Drivers From 10 Nations and Four Continents Gather For Mazda Road to Indy Test
PALMETTO, Fla. – Interest in the revitalized Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires continues to gather pace in advance of the new season which commences next month in St. Petersburg, Fla. A high-quality field of 16 drivers representing 10 nations and no fewer than four different continents are set to convene tomorrowThursday, February 25, at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz., for a one-day test session as part of the Verizon IndyCar Series “Test in the West”. All are anxious to gain some experience on the tricky one-mile oval which will host its first Indy Lights race since 2005 on April 2.
Indy Lights represents the third and final rung on the Mazda Road to Indy open-wheel development ladder, which provides Mazda scholarships for drivers to graduate from karting via the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires to Indy Lights and the Verizon IndyCar Series.
This year’s competitors will be seeking to follow in the footsteps of Spencer Pigot. The American rising star has won a total of four Mazda scholarships, including a scholarship valued at $1 million for winning last year’s Indy Lights title. Pigot is scheduled to make his IndyCar debut in the opening race of the season at St. Petersburg on March 13, and will contest at least two more events, including the historic 100th Indianapolis 500.
The Indy Lights field contains an impressive mix of veterans and rookies. Among those with prior experience are Zach Veach, from Stockdale, Ohio, who will make his return to the series with Belardi Auto Racing after finishing third in the 2014 title-chase; Dubai-based Englishman Ed Jones (Carlin), who finished third in his rookie campaign in 2015; Carlin teammate Felix Serralles, from Ponce, Puerto Rico, the winner last year on the flat Milwaukee Mile oval; Florida teenager RC Enerson (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb Agajanian), who won last year at Mid-Ohio; and 2015 podium finishers Shelby Blackstock (Andretti Autosport), from Nashville, Tenn., Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing), from Santa Clara, Calif., and Juan Piedrahita (Team Pelfrey) from Bogota, Colombia.
A talented crop of rookies will include Sweden’s Felix Rosenqvist (Belardi Auto Racing), the reigning FIA European Formula 3 Champion and two-time winner of the prestigious Macau Grand Prix; Englishman Dean Stoneman (Andretti Autosport), formerly a champion in FIA Formula 2 and runner-up in the 2014 GP3 Series; GP2 Series veteran Andre Negrao (Schmidt Peterson), from Sao Paulo, Brazil; 2015 Pro Mazda champion Santiago Urrutia, from Miguelete, Uruguay, who will take his Mazda Scholarship to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian; Californian Neil Alberico (Carlin), who finished second in last year’s Pro Mazda championship with four victories; fellow Pro Mazda graduate Dalton Kellett (Andretti Autosport), from Toronto, Ont., Canada; 2013 USF2000 champion and 2014 Pro Mazda runner-up Scott Hargrove, from Vancouver, B.C., Canada, who joins Team Pelfrey after tasting the waters with a couple of outings in 2015; Korean Heamin Choi (Schmidt Peterson), who made two starts in the 2015 season finale; and Formula Renault 2.0 graduate Zachary Claman De Melo (Juncos Racing) of Montreal, Canada.
Following tomorrow’s test at PIR, the Indy Lights teams will join the remainder of the Mazda Road to Indy competitors for a Spring Training open test at Barber Motorsports Park on March 5 (Indy Lights) and 6/7 (USF2000/Pro Mazda). The 18-race 2016 season will kick off less than one week later with a double-header on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 11-13 in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

INDYCAR News and Notes — Feb. 9, 2016

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1. Montoya dons hard hat for St. Pete track construction: With just 31 days until on-track activity begins to officially kick off the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season, reigning Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg winner was in the city Feb. 9 to oversee beginning construction of the temporary street circuit for the March 11-13 event.

Montoya, who also won the 2015 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race and finished runner-up for the season championship by virtue of a tiebreaker, donned hard hats with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Green Savoree Promotions co-owners Kim Green and Kevin Savoree to commemorate the occasion.

The construction process is a carefully coordinated effort between city officials and Green Savoree to make detours as easy as possible for St. Petersburg locals leading up to race weekend. The strategy behind which areas of the track are built first depends on traffic flow. Construction begins in areas that are typically lower in traffic, such as Bay Shore Drive, where the ceremony took place, and concludes in areas closest to Albert Whitted Airport, where the track occupies one runway.

“All of us are anxious to kick off the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season and the construction is off to a great start,” Savoree said. “We couldn’t do it without our great partners that we have here to work with us to build the track, the great partners that we have with the city of St. Petersburg.”

Fresh off a red-eye flight from a Chevrolet test at Phoenix International Raceway, Montoya reminisced about his statement-making victory that kicked off his 2015 run for the title bid. With the scenery surrounding him featuring views of Tampa Bay, the Team Penske driver took a moment to appreciate the beauty that the drivers often miss as they speed around the 1.8-mile, 14-turn circuit.

“It’s very nice to be here in St. Petersburg and see the racetrack, see the city,” Montoya said. “The city is really pretty. Preparing for the first race is huge, last year was a great race for me and a great crowd. Hopefully we’ll have a great crowd and a great race weekend (this year) as well.”

The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg has been conducted since 2003 (with a year’s absence in 2004). It has been the season opener seven times, including every year since 2011. Several active drivers besides Montoya have claimed wins at the track, including his Team Penske teammates Helio Castroneves (three times) and Will Power (twice), as well as Graham Rahal and James Hinchcliffe (once each).

“It’s a great way to start the season,” Montoya said. “We do about three or four street courses a year and this is one of the most fun ones, for sure.”

2. Eidson joins Cape Motorsports with WTR for Pro Mazda season: Jake Eidson, who finished second in the 2015 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, will join Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing for the 2016 Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires.

Eidson, 20, will drive the No. 3 Rising Star Racing car on the second rung of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder. He has been the model of talent and consistency over the last two seasons, which includes six USF2000 wins and an amazing 25 top-five finishes in 30 starts. The impressive native of Littleton, Colo., has finished just one race outside the top 10 in two years of MRTI competition.

“I’m extremely grateful and excited to enter my first season of Pro Mazda and to rejoin Cape Motorsport with Wayne Taylor Racing,” Eidson said. “After finishing second in last year’s USF2000 championship, we weren’t sure if moving up to Pro Mazda was possible. When the season was over, we tested with the Capes and quickly knew that they have a winning team. Fortunately, we were able to make the 2016 season achievable. I know that my goal, as well as the team’s goal, is to aim for the top spot in the Pro Mazda championship and I have a lot of confidence in their ability to make it happen.”

3. Rahal and Force hit the Super Bowl 50 party trail: Verizon IndyCar Series driver Graham Rahal and his newlywed wife, NHRA driver Courtney Force, spent the weekend partying with the stars at Super Bowl 50.

The pair, arguably the fastest couple in the world – Rahal regularly pilots his Indy car at well over 200 mph and Force’s Funny Car speeds at more than 300 mph – were pretty much unstoppable Feb. 6 as they hit two of the hottest Super Bowl parties in San Francisco before cheering on Peyton Manning and his Denver Broncos to victory the next day.

“Defense wins championships, but my God, this is cool for Peyton. Great career, Champ,” Rahal tweeted after the Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers, 24-10, in Super Bowl 50 at Santa Clara, Calif.

Hours earlier, as he and Courtney reflected on their evening of party hopping, Rahal declared plans to make Super Bowl appearances an annual tradition.

“It’s fun to be a part of it and, as they say, see and be seen,” Rahal said. “It’s similar to the Indianapolis 500 in terms of pageantry, which is unique and cool.”

When Rahal and Force stopped at Maxim’s party on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay, they were seated at Sardar Biglari’s head table, whose company controls Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing sponsors Steak ‘n Shake and Maxim. They weren’t far from megastar entertainer Justin Bieber and they ran into Nick Cannon.

“It was stage right, so we had the best seats in the house for everything,” said Rahal. “Courtney couldn’t stop drooling over Justin Bieber.”

Later, they made their way to Rolling Stone magazine’s event in San Francisco’s Design District, where two-time Grammy-nominated Elle King, recording artist Travis Scott and EDM producer Avicii performed. Thousands converged on the multi-level bash, which also drew to its red carpet Vince Vaughn (“True Detective”), Aaron Paul (“Breaking Bad”), musician Ed Sheeran, Snoop Dogg, January Jones (“Mad Men”) and New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Spencer Pigot: From the Indy Lights Title to the Rolex 24

Spencer Pigot: From the Indy Lights Title to the Rolex 24  Reigning Champ Teams with Mazda for Sports Car Debut DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – By winning the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship last September, Spencer Pigot became the first four-time Mazda scholarship winner having captured four titles in five years on the Mazda Road to…

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Indy Lights Champion Pigot Set for Verizon IndyCar Series Graduation

Florida Driver Progresses from Karts to IndyCar Via the Mazda Road to Indy

PALMETTO, Fla. – Spencer Pigot is a poster boy for the Mazda Road to Indy. Today’s announcement that the 22-year-old from Orlando, Fla., will contest at least three rounds of the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2016 with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, including the historic 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, completes a remarkable journey that has taken him from karting all the way to the pinnacle of open-wheel racing in North America in just seven years.

“The Mazda Road to Indy has been vital for my development as a driver,” said Pigot, who has won no fewer than four scholarship prizes from Mazda – the first driver to do so – to maintain his career’s momentum. “It’s safe to say I wouldn’t be going into the Verizon IndyCar Series without the experience and support I gained from each level. Each car teaches you something new and racing at the same tracks as IndyCar throughout my Mazda Road to Indy career will only help my transition. It’s the place to be for anyone trying to make it to IndyCar.”

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.

Pigot maintained his winning ways this season, romping to the Indy Lights championship on the heels of a series-high six wins, four poles and 182 laps led from 16 races with Juncos Racing. The achievement earned him a $1 million scholarship prize leading to an initial three-race association with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, comprising the 2016 season opener at St. Petersburg, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the Indy 500, which both parties are hoping will be extended into a full-season of competition.

“I am delighted to partner with Bobby Rahal and a terrific young driver for what we believe will be the beginning of a long and successful IndyCar career,” said Dan Andersen, CEO of Andersen Promotions, which oversees all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy. “We at Indy Lights, along with our series partners including Mazda and Cooper Tires, are all very proud of our 2015 champion, and the training Spencer has received on all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy will serve him well as he competes with the best next season.”

“Mazda’s goal when we established the Mazda Road to Indy (MRTI) was to create a clear and funded path for talented racers to get to the top,” said John Doonan, director of Mazda Motorsports in North America. “There is truly no system like this in the world. And, while we have had many Mazda drivers in the Indy 500, Spencer is the first who started with us in karts and spent time at every level of the MRTI. We have watched Spencer develop into a champion on the track and an outstanding young man off the track. Spencer is our pick for the 2016 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year.”

“Cooper Tire is elated for Spencer Pigot and his family on this exciting news and opportunity for 2016 with Rahal Letterman Lanigan,” stated Chris Pantani, director of motorsports at Cooper Tire. “Not only is this great news for Spencer, but also for all the drivers in the Road to Indy, and those considering racing with us. It demonstrates everything that Dan Andersen has promised in unifying the open-wheel development series.”

Pigot is the most successful driver since the formation of the Mazda Road to Indy in 2010 with 24 race wins to his credit in USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights. He becomes the 15th driver to graduate from the Mazda Road to Indy into the Verizon IndyCar Series since 2010.

“Spencer Pigot has been successful at every level of the Mazda Road to Indy development program and we’re thrilled to see him graduate to the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2016, which will include participation in the historic 100th running of the Indianapolis 500,” said Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Company. “He’s certainly earned this opportunity and we’re thankful to Mazda, Dan Andersen, everybody at Andersen Promotions and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for their efforts to prepare and develop young talents like Spencer for the Verizon IndyCar Series.”

My Mazda Road to Indy: Sean Rayhall

My Mazda Road to Indy: Sean Rayhall

Sean Rayhall (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Sean Rayhall (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

A weekly series providing an inside look at drivers involved in the Mazda Road to Indy, the only driver development program of its type in the world.

Open-wheel racing, especially the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” was always a dream of Sean Rayhall’s but never one he thought was within his reach, until a conversation with Townsend Bell opened his eyes to the concept of finding sponsors interested in business-to-business connections. When Enzo Potolicchio of 8Star Motorsports – a team Rayhall drove for in sportscars – decided to enter Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, Rayhall saw his chance. The two joined forces ahead of the race weekend at Barber Motorsports Park in April with the hopes of putting funding together to run the remainder of the series’ schedule.

“Enzo started an Indy Lights team and we were able to put two and two together with a sponsor, so there was an opportunity there,” said Rayhall. “I’ve always counted myself a bit short because I didn’t have funding to do open wheel. But after the first practice at Barber Motorsports Park, when we were P5 in our first practice session, I thought ‘wow, I never thought I’d be able to drive an Indy Lights car!’ It was so fortunate.”

Rayhall made his presence known at the next race weekend in Indianapolis, taking a second-place finish in the first race of the Grand Prix weekend and an emotional victory in race two, from the outside of the front row. Rayhall took his second win at Mid-Ohio and finished on the podium at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca finale, but the win at Indy stands out as the season highlight.

Sean Rayhall celebrates his first Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire victory at the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Sean Rayhall celebrates his first Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire victory at the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

“Mid-Ohio was great, but to win at Indianapolis was really special,” said Rayhall. “We had issues at Barber, so I didn’t really count that race weekend, it was more about getting laps. But at Indy we were on pace, qualified in the top three and won the second race. I had a penalty in the sports car race there last year when we were in the lead, so this was really redemption. It was so cool for me and so special to get the win for Enzo. I’ve won for him in sports cars and won for him in Indy Lights. That relationship is very special. He’s not just a team owner, it’s like a family.”

Rayhall arrived on the Indy Lights scene with a racing resume beyond his years. The 20-year-old Georgia native began karting at the age of 7, winning several titles before moving into cars. Rayhall drove formula cars, Legends and stock cars and was the youngest Skip Barber race winner at 13, beginning the racing diversity that would become the hallmark of his fledgling career. Moving into sports cars in 2013, Rayhall won the IMSA Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Championship Powered by Mazda and finished second at Petit Le Mans in a Prototype Challenge machine. He finished sixth in the PC class driver’s championship last year, driving for two different teams including 8Star Motorsports.

Rayhall has worked hard to find enough sponsorship this season, both for his Indy Lights efforts and in sports cars. He’s employed some creative methods to find that sponsorship – including a crowd-funding campaign on GoFundMe.com ahead of both the Freedom 100 and the season finale.

“The idea came from my best friend, Tyler Johns, who is an engineer,” said Rayhall. “He told me I should try it and when I brought it up with Enzo, he thought that if we could get something, we could piece it all together. It’s a real testament to what kind of fans I have. Everyone really supports me and I’m really thankful for that. They did a great job getting the word out and helping me. Because of the crowd funding, Silver Arrow [a Kansas City-based IT consulting firm] is now a partner in all my racing, as is Bass Egg [a palm-sized speaker which uses everyday objects to project sound].”

As Rayhall nears a decision on his 2016 plans, he knows that the impression he’s made in Indy Lights has gone a long way toward increasing the number of available options. One of those impressions came in August, when Verizon IndyCar Series team owners invited seven Indy Lights drivers to participate in test sessions at Sonoma Raceway, including Rayhall who ran alongside Scott Dixon with Chip Ganassi Racing.

“We did well this year in Indy Lights and it’s done a lot for my career,” added Rayhall. “It opened doors with Ganassi that wouldn’t have been open before. Being on the Mazda Road to Indy is taken seriously; people look at you as a pro driver. It’s amazing, the phone calls I’ve gotten based on what I’ve done in Indy Lights, so there’s something to be said about how the ladder system works. This is where you should be if want a career in racing.”

The familier black and orange of  No. 8 8Star Motorsports Mazda/Dallara piloted by  Sean Rayhall (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

The familier black and orange of No. 8 8Star Motorsports Mazda/Dallara piloted by Sean Rayhall (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

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About Indy Lights: The third and final step on the unparalleled Mazda Road to Indy debuted as Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires in 2014. Sanctioned by INDYCAR, the series is operated by Andersen Promotions, which oversees all three levels of the ladder system. Indy Lights has a rich history as a development step for many of today’s top drivers. Its series’ champion is awarded a three-race scholarship in the Verizon IndyCar Series including the Indianapolis 500. For more information, visit www. indylights.com.

About Mazda, Mazda Motorsports: Mazda Motorsports boasts the most comprehensive auto racing development ladder system of any auto manufacturer in the world. The Mazda Road to Indy includes USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights racing categories with Mazda power. In sports car racing, a similar ladder system involves a number of racing series, culminating with the Mazda Prototype team which races in the top level of IMSA sports car racing in North America. In the grassroots categories, more Mazdas race on any given weekend in North America than any other manufacturer.

About Cooper Tire & Rubber Company: Cooper Tire & Rubber Company, together with its subsidiaries, is a leading designer, manufacturer and marketer of innovative, great-performing tires that people depend on for all of life’s road trips, whether on city streets, off-road adventures or high-speed tracks. In fact, Cooper Tire is proud to sponsor and race in all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy development program within the IndyCar racing series. Cooper tires can also been seen on the track as a sponsor of the IMSA Prototype Lites Series, and competing in the short course off-road TORC Series. Headquartered in Findlay, Ohio, Cooper, together with its subsidiaries, has manufacturing, sales, distribution, technical and design facilities in 11 countries around the world. This year, as we head into our second century in the tire industry, Cooper is looking toward a future where innovation will continue to drive our products and our products will continue to drive the world. To connect with Cooper Tire, visit www.coopertire.com, www.facebook.com/coopertire or www.twitter.com/teamcoopertire.

Mazda Raceway Sweep Ensures Pigot of Indy Lights Championship 

Young American Wins $1 Million Scholarship as Mazda Road to Indy Season Concludes
Monterey, Calif. – Spencer Pigot and Juncos Racing swept to victory in this afternoon’s Indy Lights Grand Prix Presented by Cooper Tires at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The 21-year-old American took the lead on the first lap and remained in charge throughout the 38-lap contest to claim his series-leading sixth win of the season and, even more importantly, the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship title along with the $1 million Mazda Road to Indy scholarship which will guarantee him a ride in three Verizon IndyCar Series events in 2016, including the historic 100th Indianapolis 500.
Fellow American Sean Rayhall finished second for 8Star Motorsports, while Englishman Max Chilton posted a new Indy Lights race lap record of 1:16.1633 (105.783 mph) en route to third place for the Carlin team.
The Mazda Road to Indy is unparalleled in the world of auto racing, offering scholarships at every level which allow talented drivers to progress all the way from karting through the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Indy Lights to the Verizon IndyCar Series. With today’s title success Pigot now has won four Mazda Scholarships – the Skip Barber Karting Scholarship in 2009, which allowed him to make the move from karts to the Skip Barber Race Series, another scholarship to progress into USF2000 after winning the BFGoodrich/Skip Barber National crown in 2010 and last year’s Pro Mazda championship, also with the Juncos Racing team.
Pigot started on the outside of the front row for today’s championship decider after regaining the championship lead by virtue of his victory yesterday. He knew a podium finish would be enough to secure the championship. Title rival Jack Harvey, who started directly behind Pigot for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian, made it three wide as the field accelerated toward the green flag, then over the left-handed crest at Turn One and downhill into the braking area for the Mario Andretti hairpin.
Miraculously, everyone made it through unscathed, although after Chilton, who started on the pole, and Harvey each left their braking a fraction too late, it was Pigot who emerged with the early advantage ahead of Rayhall, who somehow found his way into second from sixth on the grid.
Soon afterward, Harvey was assessed a penalty after being adjudged to have jumped the start. He rejoined at the back of the pack, his title aspirations virtually at an end.
After a pair of early full-course cautions due to Schmidt Peterson teammates Scott Anderson and Ethan Ringel both running into difficulties, Pigot once again took off into the lead with Rayhall in hot pursuit.
Pigot, who also took home the RePlay XD Move of the Race award for his heads-up maneuver at the first corner, displayed admirable consistency as he focused on maintaining his advantage. When Rayhall eased his pace a little in the closing stages, Pigot finally took the checkered flag some 2.0542 seconds to the good.
Shelby Blackstock, who started eighth for Andretti Autosport, took over in fourth following Harvey’s penalty, and held it until the final lap when Ed Jones (Carlin) found a way past. Blackstock had to be content with fifth ahead of RC Enerson (Schmidt Peterson).
Spencer Pigot (#Mazda/Doug Mockett & Company/Rising Star Racing/The Stutz/BAD/OMP-Juncos Racing: “Going into the start of the race, I was worried, with all my rivals around me. I wasn’t expecting us to be three-wide as early as we were. I was expecting a little love tap at the apex of Turn Two from behind but before we knew it, we were three-wide. I was in the middle and I was ready for some wheel banging, it was so close. I am surprised we didn’t touch. I can’t wait to see the video but it was a good, clean first lap and then I had to focus on keeping Sean behind me. He wouldn’t disappear. As always, the Juncos team gave me a great car. We never gave up this year and they never lost faith in me.
“This is a dream come true for me. I was 16 years old when I won my first Mazda scholarship. To be here in the Mazda scholarship car, at Mazda Raceway, on the top step of the Mazda Road to Indy is a perfect send-off for me. My whole career has been in the Mazda Road to Indy, so this is very special. I’m looking forward to going into IndyCar next year. I’m looking forward to the off-season and what we can accomplish. I know I’m ready – the new Indy Lights car is great preparation and I think you saw that at the IndyCar test.”

 

Meet the Contenders: RC Enerson

RC Enerson of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports w/ Curb-Agajanian is one of four drivers in contention for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship title heading into the double-header series finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on September 11-13. The champion is awarded a $1 million scholarship toward the Verizon IndyCar Series with three guaranteed races, including the historic 100th Indianapolis 500, in 2016.
PALMETTO, Fla. –  RC Enerson’s 2015 plan was quite simple: join seven-time Indy Lights champions Schmidt Peterson Motorsports w/Curb-Agajanian and learn, learn, learn. Instead, the 2014 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda vice champion has made his presence felt in the title chase at 36 points behind leader and teammate Jack Harvey. Enerson has 10 top-five finishes, five podiums, a victory – and an unfazed reaction to a “massive crash” in Toronto that belied his 18 years.

Enerson, a native of New Port Richey, Fla., began racing karts at the tender age of 5. As the son of two former Hoosiers, racing came naturally to Enerson, who competed in club races on weekends with a few grand nationals and local winter tours thrown in. But the racing bug bit in earnest at age 14 with his first taste of a race car.

“I did the three-day Skip Barber School at Sebring,” said Enerson, “and I did pretty well. That was a turnaround for me. It made me think that I’d like to try to pursue this long-term, to see what I could do with it. Then I tested a USF2000 car and thought it was so much fun to drive. And with the Mazda Road to Indy being a direct path to IndyCar, I got sucked right in!”
Enerson finished third in the 2012 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda National Class. Moving up to the Championship Class in 2013, he finished second last season, earning five victories and ending the season only nine points back. Looking at his options for this year, Enerson felt the opportunity provided by the new Dallara IL-15 was too good to miss, and he skipped the second rung of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder altogether.
“The new Indy Lights car leveled out the playing field this year. Nobody had an advantage. So the timing made sense for me to go straight into Indy Lights. Plus, I went into this year knowing that the bar wasn’t set very high for us, as far as the expectations of what my results would be. But I picked up on it pretty quickly, though it definitely helped having Jack Harvey as a teammate! To come away with my first win and to be a contender in the championship is a big deal.”
Enerson enjoyed a solid first half of the season, earning two podiums and five top-five finishes. But it was his poise in the face of a huge incident in Toronto – replayed on nightly newscasts around the world and earning nearly 180,000 YouTube views to date – that brought him to the notice of the entire motorsports community.
“We’ve had podiums, top-fives, a pole, a win – and a massive crash. That definitely wasn’t part of the plan. But the whole thing gave me the confidence to push harder. Since the crash, I haven’t been out of the top five. I’ve been able to find the limits of the car and find the right setups with my engineer. For some reason, everything has been better, almost easier, since the crash.”
Enerson has a unique perspective on the championship because of his age and his experience level. Even if he were to win the title, he plans to return to the Indy Lights series for several years to come. As Enerson says, it’s a learning thing.
“I definitely need another year of Indy Lights. Even if I won the championship, I would want to figure out a way to stay here, because I need to learn so much more. I’m still pretty young – I could spend three years in this car and I’d only be 21 years old. I have the right team behind me and the right feedback coming toward me. As fast as I’ve been learning, and given my age, I’d like to learn and get more experience before making that big step up.”
As attention turns toward the season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Enerson is buoyed by the fact that he is one of a select few drivers with actual race experience on the iconic 2.238-mile road course. Like so many drivers, Enerson’s word-association with Mazda Raceway most likely begins with the word “fog.”
“In the morning, it can be super foggy, like can’t-see-your-hand-in-front-of-your-face foggy. And the afternoons can get really hot. So it’s a challenge. The second USF2000 race in 2013 was early in the morning and it was really foggy. We went out when it started to clear in the pit lane, but the Corkscrew is so much higher, it was really wet up there. It took a few laps to figure it out. But I’m looking forward to getting back there – just to drive on that track is amazing.”
Additional background information on Enerson as well as a full schedule for the season finale weekend can be found at www.indylights.com.

Meet the Contenders: Ed Jones

Ed Jones of Carlin is one of four drivers in contention for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship title heading into the double-header series finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on September 11-13. The champion is awarded a $1 million scholarship toward the Verizon IndyCar Series with three guaranteed races, including the historic 100th Indianapolis 500, in 2016.
PALMETTO, Fla. –  If American race fans didn’t know much about Ed Jones as the 2015 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season began, they certainly did by the end of the first race weekend of the year at St. Petersburg, Fla. The Dubai-based Englishman burst onto the U.S. racing scene by sweeping the race weekend, taking both pole positions and both race victories. Third in points going into the season finale, 18 points behind leader Jack Harvey and 12 behind Spencer Pigot, Jones knows that another sweep may not be enough to win the Indy Lights championship – and the Mazda scholarship that comes with it.
“It would be an amazing achievement, to come to America and win in my first year,” said Jones, 20. “That’s always the aim, but to make it a reality is another thing. My goal and my dream is to race in the Verizon IndyCar Series, and winning the championship would allow me to do that. I’m putting everything into it to make sure that happens. The season started off really well but we had a lot of bad luck in the middle of the year. We’ve had strong pace but things haven’t gone our way. I think things will balance out and Mazda Raceway would be a good place for that to happen. We’re not as close as we could be in the points, so we’re going to go for two pole positions and two race wins. As long as we do that, we’ve done everything we could. The rest is up to what the other guys do.”
This season, however, is not the first time Jones has crossed an ocean to compete on circuits for the very first time against seasoned veterans. The experience gained as a young karting driver led not only to the moment Jones decided that this is what he wanted to do with his life, but to the belief that he could not just compete in America, but win the championship.
“I did the international Rotax karting championships in Italy and it was the first time I’d ever raced outside of Dubai. I was competing against guys who had been racing in Europe all year long but everything was new to me. I had the fastest lap in my first race and finished eighth in the final from starting 28th. I was able to produce results even though I didn’t have that much experience. All of the sudden I realized that if I gained experience and was serious about this, there was no reason I couldn’t be at the front.”
Jones moved into formula cars in 2011 and became the youngest European F3 Open champion in history in 2013, earning six victories and 10 podium finishes. He also finished third in the British Formula 3 National Class with five wins. Progressing up to the FIA Formula 3 European Championships with Carlin last year, Jones had two podium finishes despite missing three races mid-season due to a back injury. Jones and his Carlin team both made the jump across the pond this season.
It’s been a learning year for both team and driver and while Mazda Raceway may be one of many tracks Jones has had to learn this year, at least he’s been working on it for a while. From age 6, to be exact.
“I’ve been ‘driving’ on Mazda Raceway via PlayStation since I was 6 years old. It’s one of those tracks that I remember driving on at such a young age, on a number of games. It will be great to get a chance to drive on it for real! My engineer (Geoff Fickling) has been there with other series, so he has a lot of notes and he’s helped me find the best videos of the track. It’s hard because we don’t have any data for Indy Lights from there. I’ll need to get a good baseline immediately on Thursday, then build on that so we have a really good car on Saturday morning.”
Jones has already had a taste of what his racing dream might look like, as one of seven drivers who climbed behind the wheel of a Verizon IndyCar Series Dallara several weeks ago for a test at Sonoma Raceway with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Jones believes it’s a testament to the new Dallara IL-15 Indy Lights car that the move to the big car did not turn out to be as great as he had expected.
“I expected the adjustment to be much more than it turned out to be. The main difference is in achieving the maximum amount of downforce and that comes from experience. My aim was to help the team and I think we did that, working through a lot of setup changes. The Indy Lights car is a fantastic car to drive and a great place to learn and prepare for IndyCar. I really felt comfortable from the start.”
Additional background information on Jones as well as a full schedule for the season finale weekend can be found at www.indylights.com.
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