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Mazda renews with Star Mazda Series
The Star Mazda Championship and Mazda North American Operations today jointly announced a 5-year extension of the automaker’s title sponsorship of one of North America’s premier open-wheel driver development series.  The agreement runs through the 2013 season and formalizes 23 years of continuous cooperation between Mazda and the Star Mazda Championship -- one of the longest-running and most successful motorsports partnerships in the history of the sport.

“Our relationship with Mazda is one of the principal strengths of our series,” says Star Mazda Championship founder and President, Gary Rodrigues.  “And the length of that relationship, which has existed since the debut of the original Formula Mazda series in 1991, produces both credibility and stability in an otherwise confusing open-wheel environment.  With this new long-term contract in place, the Star Mazda Championship can get on with its mission of advancing the careers of each new generation of drivers while having the resources to grow and develop to keep pace with the evolving structure of the racing industry in North America."

Over the past 18 years, the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear has grown into one of the most prolific and successful open-wheel driver development series in all of auto racing.  In 2008, the value of series prizes totals $1.5 million and includes a full-season sponsorship from the MAZDASPEED Motorsports Driver Development Ladder for the Star Mazda series champion to move up and race in the Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda.  Plus, courtesy of Mazda, a full scholarship into the Star Mazda Championship is awarded to the champion of the 2008 Skip Barber National Series Presented by Mazda.

Many top drivers began, or accelerated, their careers in the Star Mazda Championship.  Recent alumni include such top open-wheel racers as IRL winners Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti, American ex-F1 driver Scott Speed and rising NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Michael McDowell (the 2004 Star Mazda champion), as well as both drivers of the Mazda-powered Lola LMP2 prototype being raced in the American Le Mans series -- Gerardo Bonilla and Ben Devlin.  2005 Star Mazda champion Raphael Matos, after moving up to Atlantic in 2006 and winning the championship in 2007, is now racing in the American LeMans Series and the Indy Lights series for Andretti/Green.  The 2007 Star Mazda Champion, Dane Cameron, is competing in the Atlantic Championship on a scholarship from Mazda.

“The Star Mazda series has played several key roles in Mazda motorsports history.  It maintained a strong Mazda presence in professional road racing in the 1990’s.  In the past two years it has become the anchor to the open wheel side of the MAZDASPEED Motorsports Driver Development ladder as we added Skip Barber below and Atlantics above.  We’ve enjoyed 18 great years with Gary and his team and are looking forward to the next five,” said Robert Davis, Senior Vice President, Product Development and Quality, and the man responsible for Mazda’s North American motorsports operations under the MAZDASPEED Motorsports Development banner.

This year, the Star Mazda Championship races are held on major motorsports weekends, racing in front of the same crowds as American Le Mans and the Grand-Am Rolex series.  Also in 2008, the Star Mazda Championship will be the headliner at Mazda Grand Prix events at Portland International Raceway and New Jersey Motorsports Park, and will share top billing with the Atlantic Championship at Trois Rivières, Quebec.  This diversity allows young drivers to develop their skills on a variety of tracks, including natural terrain road courses as well as street and airport circuits.  All races are broadcast in a 1-hour show on the SPEED Channel and re-broadcast overseas on networks like SkySports in the UK.
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