There was a bittersweet element to Monday night’s Mazda Road to Indy Championship Celebration as over 200 members of the racing community, including drivers, families, teams and sponsors, gathered for their traditional end-of-season banquet. More than $2.6 million was distributed in the Mount St. Helens Ballroom at the Red Lion On The River, Jantzen Beach, just a mile or so away from Portland International Raceway which this past weekend hosted a hugely successful return of major-league open-wheel auto racing to the Pacific Northwest after an absence of 11 years.
There was also a firm sense of nostalgia as Director of Motorsports for Mazda North American Operations John Doonan bade an emotional farewell to the open-wheel driver development program, which, in conjunction with Cooper Tires, offers opportunities for talented young drivers from around the world to progress from the grassroots of the sport to the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500.
“What started out as the only driver development and scholarship program of its kind in the world has become an actual ‘factory’ of driving talent for our sport,” said Doonan. “In this factory that we have called the Mazda Road to Indy, we certainly produced the drivers – almost 250 drivers took advantage of the opportunity – while 75 percent or more of the Indy 500 field of drivers the last several years came from this program. We have handed out nearly $13 million in scholarships over the last nine years and seen IndyCar champion drivers blasted onto the scene and race winners put their stamp in the history book, and many drivers who I believe will win races in the future make their mark. But the Mazda Road to Indy was not just about drivers. We have seen young engineering talent get the opportunity to springboard their careers and climb the ladder to IndyCar roles, and race team owners find that there might just be business opportunities to expand their teams and have their bucket list dreams come true.
“We sincerely hope that we can continue to power all levels of the Mazda Road to Indy for years to come and we are working with Dan [Andersen, owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions] on ways that we can continue to bring some value to the program in that regard. There will still be three Soul Red Mazdas on the grids next year and a driver to be named later after the $200,000 shootout in December. There will still be plenty of waves, smiles, handshakes and hugs in the paddock and they will still be just as genuine. The thousands of people who have participated in the Mazda Road to Indy have certainly made all of us at Mazda ‘feel alive’ for the last 11 years.”
Three championships comprise the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires, and two remained undecided until this weekend’s Portland double-header finales. All three winners were honored last night, headed by 19-year-old Patricio O’Ward, from Monterrey, Mexico, who claimed the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires crown for Andretti Autosport with a pair of emphatic victories. In addition to earning a Mazda Scholarship valued at $1m to ensure entry into at least three IndyCar Series races in 2018, including the 103rd Indianapolis 500, O’Ward also scooped a uniquely crafted Jostens Indy Lights Champion’s Ring, the $15,000 Indy Lights Rookie of the Year Award, a $25,000 Dallara Parts Credit which will go toward his IndyCar campaign in 2019, and an original painting by renowned motorsports artist Jim Swintal.
After finishing a close second in last year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, Rinus VeeKay, 17, from Hoofddorp, The Netherlands, went one better in 2018 by ending up a clear winner of the next step on the ladder, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires. The gifted Dutchman clinched the title this weekend by virtue of a pair of pole positions and second-place results for Juncos Racing. VeeKay earned a Mazda Scholarship of $790,300 to advance to Indy Lights in 2019, as well as a Cooper Tires Tire Allotment Award, valued at $69,000, a Series Race Entry Fee Award of $26,150, and a One-Day Indy Lights test, valued at $20,000, making his evening payday well in excess of $900,000.
Kyle Kirkwood, 19, from Jupiter, Fla., had already secured the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda title, but rammed home his superiority this weekend at PIR by scoring two more race wins for Cape Motorsports and equaling the single-season win record that had been established by J.R. Hildebrand in 2006. In securing Cape Motorsports’ record-extending 12th USF2000 championship win, including an astonishing eight in succession, Kirkwood earned a $325,000 Mazda Scholarship to advance to Pro Mazda in 2019, a Cooper Tires Tire Allotment Award of $31,000, and a Series Race Entry Fee Award of $22,400, bringing the value of his stellar season to a whopping $378,400.
Both VeeKay and Kirkwood also were presented with Jostens Champion’s Rings and original paintings by Jim Swintal.
“Another fantastic evening celebrating the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires, our 2018 season and the future stars of North American open-wheel racing” said Dan Andersen, owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “These drivers come to us with so much raw talent and our job is to complete their education and deliver them up to professional careers. I’m proud to say it’s working with so many of our graduates enjoying successful careers.
“We thank Mazda so much for all they’ve done in supporting and helping us to build this program over the past nine seasons and we look forward to the 2019 Road to Indy season and what it holds for our current drivers, new talent coming in, and the success of our graduates. It was a wonderful evening, and I’m so proud of these drivers, teams and the Andersen Promotions staff.”
In addition to glowing tributes to Mazda, the evening also included the induction of several past champions into the Mazda Road to Indy Hall of Fame. The Class of 2018 comprises 1988 Indy Lights Champion Jon Beekhuis, who subsequently enjoyed a highly successful career firstly as an IndyCar driver and more recently as a TV personality and IndyCar analyst for ABC and NBCSN; Connor De Phillippi, a seven-time winner in Pro Mazda who has achieved tremendous success in sports car racing in recent seasons, including scoring the first worldwide victory last month at Virginia International Raceway for the new-for-2018 BMW M8 GTLM for Bobby Rahal’s BMW Team RLL; and Jay Howard, the 2005 USF2000 champion who, with 10 wins to his name, remains tied for fifth place on the all-time USF2000 winners’ roster and now operates his own hugely successful race team and driver development ladder.
Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires Award Winners:
Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires
Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires Champion (scholarship valued at $1 million for three 2019 IndyCar races including the Indianapolis 500) – Patricio O’Ward (Andretti Autosport)
Second place ($75,000) – Colton Herta (Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing)
Third place ($50,000) – Santi Urrutia (Belardi Auto Racing)
Fourth place ($25,000) – Ryan Norman (Andretti Autosport)
Fifth place ($10,000) – Victor Franzoni (Juncos Racing)
Indy Lights Rookie of the Year Award ($15,000) – Patricio O’Ward
Indy Lights Team Championship ($15,000) – Andretti Autosport
Indy Lights INDYCAR Mechanic of the Year ($1,000) – Ross McLeod (Belardi Auto Racing)
Hi-Tide Boat Lifts Kids On Track Spirit Award ($1,000) – Victor Franzoni (Juncos Racing)
Royal Purple “Slickest Pass” Award ($5,000) – Patricio O’Ward
Tilton Hard Charger Award ($2,500) – Santi Urrutia
Dallara Bent Pushrod Award ($2,000) – Andretti Autosport
Jostens Indy Lights Champion’s Ring – Patricio O’Ward
Freedom 100 Champion’s Ring – Colton Herta
Mazda Road to Indy Ring (drivers contesting all three levels) – Victor Franzoni
Motegi Winning Driver Team Owner Trophy (set of street wheels) – Patricio O’Ward
Cosworth Champion’s Award ($5,000 refurbishment credit to Series Champion) – Patricio O’Ward
Dallara Champion’s Parts Credit ($25,000) – Patricio O’Ward
Carl Haas Auto Damper Rebuild ($900) – Andretti Autosport
Original artwork by Jim Swintal – Patricio O’Ward
Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires
Pro Mazda Champion ($790,300 scholarship to advance to Indy Lights, Cooper Tires Tire Allotment Award $69,000, Series Race Entry Fee Award $26,150, Indy Lights Test Award $20,000 = $905,450) – Rinus VeeKay (Juncos Racing)
Second place ($30,000 plus Indy Lights Test valued at $20,000) – Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport)
Third place ($20,000 plus Indy Lights Test valued at $20,000) – Oliver Askew (Cape Motorsports)
Pro Mazda Rookie of the Year ($7,500) – Rinus VeeKay
Pro Mazda Team Championship ($10,000) – Juncos Racing
Pro Mazda INDYCAR Mechanic of the Year ($1,000) – Joe Penner (Exclusive Autosport)
Hi-Tide Boat Lifts Kids On Track Spirit Award ($1,000) – Sting Ray Robb (Team Pelfrey)
Royal Purple “Slickest Pass” Award ($5,000) – Sting Ray Robb
Tilton Hard Charger Award ($1,000 product certificate) – Nikita Lastochkin (Cape Motorsports)
Motegi Winning Driver Team Owner Trophy (set of street wheels) – Ricardo Juncos (Juncos Racing)
Carl Haas Auto Golden Wishbone Award ($900 damper rebuild certificate) – Team Pelfrey
Jostens Pro Mazda Champion’s Ring – Rinus VeeKay
Original artwork by Jim Swintal – Rinus VeeKay
Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda
USF2000 Champion ($325,000 scholarship to advance to Pro Mazda, Cooper Tires Tire Allotment Award $31,000, Series Race Entry Fee Award $22,400 = $378,400) – Kyle Kirkwood (Cape Motorsports)
Second place (20,000) – Rasmus Lindh (Pabst Racing)
Third place ($10,000) – Lucas Kohl (Pabst Racing)
Hyperco Rookie of the Year ($2,500) – Kyle Kirkwood
USF2000 Team Championship ($10,000) – Pabst Racing
USF2000 INDYCAR Mechanic of the Year ($1,000) – Alan Oppel (Cape Motorsports)
Hi-Tide Boat Lifts Kids On Track Spirit Award ($1,000) – Igor Fraga (Exclusive Autosport)
Royal Purple “Slickest Pass” Award ($5,000) – Calvin Ming (Pabst Racing)
Carl Haas Auto Golden Wishbone Award ($900 damper rebuild certificate) – Augie Pabst (Pabst Racing)
Tilton Hard Charger Award ($1,000 product certificate) – Oscar De Luzuriaga (Newman Wachs Racing)
Motegi Winning Driver Team Owner Trophy (set of street wheels) – Dominic and Nicholas Cape
Jostens USF2000 Champion’s Ring – Kyle Kirkwood
Original artwork by Jim Swintal – Kyle Kirkwood