Eighteen drivers prepare to head to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca next week for the .
The panel of seven judges are to select the inaugural winner who will earn a seat in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda in 2017.
The unprecedented event brings together talent from select junior level open-wheel and karting series with the best-of-the-best vying for a slot on the first step of the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires driver development ladder, which offers scholarships for talented young drivers to progress all the way from the grassroots of the sport to the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500.
Throughout 2016, nearly 400 drivers from 20 open-wheel racing championships competed for an entry ticket to the Shootout.
The panel of judges will be led by Joel Miller, a mechanical engineering graduate and factory driver for Mazda in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in addition to duties as driver coach/steward for the USF2000 series. He will be joined by Verizon IndyCar Series driver Spencer Pigot, the 2015 Indy Lights champion and four-time Mazda scholarship recipient who also participates in Mazda’s factory driver line-up in IMSA; fellow Mazda factory sports car driver Jonathan Bomarito who in addition to being an accomplished driver coach was the 2003 USF2000 champion; Andrew Carbonell, a Mazda factory driver in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge who was a lead test driver in the development of the new Global Mazda MX-5 race car; and Scott Goodyear, a former race winner in the IndyCar ranks and current expert analyst for ESPN and ABC’s coverage of the series including the Indianapolis 500.
"The MRTI Shootout at Mazda Raceway will be the first of its kind taking champions from around the world and introducing them to the MRTI ladder,” said Miller. “The goal is to find the next driver that can win at each level of the ladder and move on to IndyCar. Mazda and its partners have put together a clear path which does not exist anywhere else and this Shootout is the first step.
“Each judge on the panel has been part of various shootouts in their own motorsport careers and thus know what is needed to find the best during the on-track sessions. It will be fun to help bring in the new group of talent to the Mazda Road to Indy and I’m thankful for the opportunity.”
Rounding out the panel will be Mazda Motorsports’ representatives Kyle Kimball, Operations Manager, and Jim Bowie, owner of Brandrenaline, Mazda Motorsports’ agency of record in the U.S. and Canada.
Drivers will showcase their skills on the 2.238-mile road course in equally prepared cars from the Lucas Oil School of Racing which features Ray GR-RSC open-wheel cars on Cooper tires powered by Elite Engines’ 2-liter 140 HP powerplants and sequential gearboxes controlled by Pro Shift paddle shifter systems with rev-matching capability.
Shootout activities kick off on Monday, December 5, with an orientation day featuring an overview of the Lucas Oil School of Racing cars as well as car selections and driver fittings, followed by a driver’s meeting and an introduction to the judging panel.
Track activities will begin on Tuesday following track orientation. Drivers will be divided into four groups, each receiving three on-track sessions interspersed with instructor feedback. Following an initial on-track session on Wednesday morning, the judging panel will be tasked with narrowing the field in the first elimination round. The continuing drivers will take part in a qualifying session followed by a 30-minute race after which judges will convene for a final time to select the winner.
While outright speed will be one factor in the judges decisions, other criteria is in place to select a candidate that will make a good overall Mazda and series representative.
Additional attendees will include representatives from Andersen Promotions – including COO Michelle Kish and USF2000/Pro Mazda Race Director Scot Elkins – Chris Pantani, Director of Event Marketing and Motorsports for Cooper Tires, and Lucas Oil Racing School founder Neil Enerson and COO Todd Snyder.
The USF2000 series will see a revitalization in 2017 with the introduction of the new, state-of-the-art Mazda-powered Tatuus USF-17. The chassis represents a significant technology leap over the current Van Diemen. In addition to enhanced safety features, upgrades include a six-speed paddle shift gearbox, two-way adjustable dampers, Cosworth data system and ECU, LCD steering wheel, four-piston PFC brakes and more. All 35 cars in the initial order have been sold.