The road course portion of the Tatuus USF-17 development program wrapped up yesterday at Road America for the next-generation chassis that will form the backbone for the first two steps on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system – the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – beginning in 2017.
Mazda sportscar racer and USF2000 steward/driving coach Joel Miller handled testing duties which also included outings at NCM Motorsports Park in Bowling Green, Ky., and Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala. The USF-17 utilizes the 2.0-liter Mazda MZR engine and Cooper racing tires.
“I am very privileged to have been chosen to do the R&D work on the USF-17,” said Miller. “It’s a great car. We made some setup changes early in the day and did a race simulation run and the car was within a tenth of a second on each lap for the entire run. We even did our quick time on the last lap. The car reacted very well to the changes and the teams that were here were able to see the lap times decrease which is what we wanted. The car feels much stiffer, much more connected. You can attack the corner and, while it may move around, it is very catchable rather than just sliding off. It makes its speed in the mechanical grip corners.
“We tried different brake pad combinations and we are braking at the same rate as the current car but braking later. The Mazda engine is performing great as are the Cooper tires. We did 50 laps this morning on the same set of tires.
“At Barber, we did three straight sets of mock qualifying and a race and the brake pads looked nearly brand new after 600 miles. As far as wear and tear and consumables, this car is much more cost effective. The car will stay much more competitive across a long run without degradation. And, as the fuel bleeds off, the balance changes which is something these drivers will deal with all the way up the ladder – and they’ll learn it now on the first level.”
The USF-17 will next head to Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis on June 30 for the oval portion of the development program with 2012 USF2000 and 2013 Pro Mazda champion Matthew Brabham behind the wheel. Brabham recently made his Verizon IndyCar Series debut in the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis and 100th Indianapolis 500.
“We took care of all the new car gremlins at the first test and since then things have been going very well,” said Scot Elkins, project manager and USF2000/Pro Mazda race director. “It was great to have teams and drivers at the test and to have them finally see the car in action. They have all said the same thing – they can’t believe how much of a car they are getting for the price. We have over-braked the car so the car has much bigger brakes than the current car and we have over-cooled the car – two trouble areas with the current car. We did over 1,000 miles on the same set of rotors and we only changed brake pads today. We are making an effort in reducing the operating costs to teams which is what everyone wants.”
With a rolling chassis priced at $51,800, the Tatuus USF-17 will serve as the base car for the PM-18 to help control operational costs. The PM-18 adds more power over the USF-17 and more sophisticated aerodynamics with a revised underbody and diffuser, a three-element rear wing and a front wing with adjustable composite wing flaps. The PM-18 also adds a higher level Cosworth data system to help train the next level of drivers and engineers in the Mazda Road to Indy.
“I heard all about the testing that happened previously and now that I have seen it first hand, I am in love with this car,” said Dan Andersen, owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “It has a lot of mechanical grip so it’s going to race very well – perhaps even better than the current car. Our quick time bested this past weekend’s fastest lap in Race 2, and with more setup work I have no doubt this car will be breaking our USF2000 records. The component usage is fantastic – brake wear is better by far than the current car as is the tire wear.
“The teams all love it. Some teams are thinking about adding to the orders they have already made, and we have more serious potential buyers than we have cars left in the first order of 30. I couldn’t be happier with our next generation car.”
To date, orders for 24 USF-17 chassis have been placed among 14 teams – nine of which are new to the series – with the first delivery of 15 cars scheduled in September. Delivery of the second batch of 15 cars is scheduled for December. An initial two-day series test is slated for Oct. 8-9 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as part of the annual Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy test, with a second series open test to be scheduled in January.