My Mazda Road to Indy: Will Owen
To win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a career highlight for all race car drivers. For Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires driver Will Owen, earning his first Mazda Road to Indy victory last year at the Indianapolis Grand Prix was just the next step in a journey that he hopes eventually will take him to the Verizon IndyCar Series.
The 20-year-old Texas Christian University sophomore began karting at the age of 15. Owen’s friend, racer J.D. Mobley, took him to a karting track near his home in Castle Rock, Colo., and Owen quickly was hooked. He set himself on a steep learning curve, competing in numerous events over the course of the 2011-2012 seasons. As he looked to the future, Owen pegged the Mazda Road to Indy as the place to be, starting with the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda. Cognizant of his relative lack of experience, Owen chose to add to his skill set first, opting to run a season of SCCA Formula Mazda to hone his race craft.
“My family has always been into cars, so of course I did karting like everybody else,” said Owen. “I started doing club races, then regional races, and before I knew it, I was traveling every other weekend doing national races. But I really wanted to get into cars. I didn’t want to just jump into the Mazda Road to Indy; I didn’t feel I was quite ready. I had done a lot of karting but only for a couple of years and I knew how serious and competitive the Mazda Road to Indy was.
“Going early would have been – not a waste, but I wanted to be able to go for it, not learn the basics the first year. So I drove in Formula Mazda with Texas Autosports in 2013. When I was ready for ‘real racing’ I moved into USF2000. Not that the SCCA racing wasn’t real racing, it was good and it teaches you a lot, but the Mazda Road to Indy is a whole other level. It’s professional racing and you’re racing against the best in the world – the Europeans, the South Americans. They’re all there.”
Driving for Pabst Racing, Owen was still in the process of learning the USF2000 car when the series arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first Indianapolis Grand Prix. In race one, Owen created his own personal highlight reel as the team nailed the call on drying conditions and made the change to slick tires. Making his way back up through the field, Owen passed Jake Eidson on the last lap to earn his first series win. With four top-10 finishes including that victory, Owen had a decision to make at season’s end: another year of USF2000, or a move to the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires?
“I had a test with Juncos Racing, which was a huge opportunity,” said Owen. “They had just won the Pro Mazda championship so I knew that if I could get with that team, it would be career-changing. I got along well with the team and did well at the test, so I signed for two years. It’s been an amazing year: the Pro Mazda car is so much fun to drive. It’s such a great team – we only just finished the season and I already miss my teammates! Now they have an Indy Lights team as well and won that championship, but next year will be even better. Some of the big European teams are like this, with their own internal ladder system. If the team does move into the Verizon IndyCar Series, it would be one of the biggest teams in America as far as developing young drivers and moving them up.”
Owen finished seventh in the Pro Mazda championship this year, with three podiums and 14 top-10 finishes. In the whirlwind of the last two years, he counts two highlights above the rest – and both happened in the state of Indiana, where so many racing dreams have begun.
“Both years have been awesome, but I have to say that my best memories are from the Grand Prix last year and the race at Lucas Oil Raceway this year,” noted Owen. “Getting that first victory was so awesome for keeping me involved and motivated. I didn’t have necessarily a bad season last year but I wasn’t competing for the top spots. To finally get a podium really made me feel as though this is what I want to do, this is why I’m here.
“I wasn’t back on the podium again last year but I was on the podium three times this year in Pro Mazda, with LOR being the first one. I lost a lot of time to the leader early in the race but I gained it all back. I didn’t win it but another couple of laps and I would have been right there. The Cooper Tires Winterfest was great, too – I felt we worked harder than anyone to get ready. I had a pole and a podium at NOLA Motorsports Park, which doesn’t mean quite as much as the regular season, but to move up a level in the Mazda Road to Indy ladder and be on the podium right away was a great feeling.”
Owen continues to work on his racing skills and plans to compete in New Zealand’s Toyota Racing Series during January and February. He knows that heading far away from home for the intensive five-weekends-in-a-row racing series, will be life – and career – changing.
“I want to take it to the next level in 2016, so this is a great chance to build up my racing skills. It will be very fast-paced, with five race weekends in a row. And to go somewhere like New Zealand and have this experience will be amazing.”