IndyCar creates NFL-style "scouting combine" to seek new talent
Grassroots racing stars with an eye on the IZOD IndyCar Series have a new way of jumping on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder.
INDYCAR announced today that it will host the first Mazda Road to Indy Scouting Combine this fall with the winner having a chance to race in the Cooper Tires presents the USF2000 National Championship in 2012.
"The Mazda Road to Indy's goal is to develop formula car drivers, and forming a link to karting is essential in achieving that," said Jason Penix, manager of grassroots marketing for INDYCAR. "Karting plays such an important role in the career of a young driver, and the Scouting Combine will give someone the chance to make the step into cars. Hopefully, we will find several young drivers ready to make the Mazda Road to Indy their next racing home."
The Mazda Road to Indy Scouting Combine will be held on Nov. 28-30 at Andersen Race Park in Palmetto, Fla., and will give a top driver from grassroots racing series such the World Karting Association, SuperKarts! USA, International Karting Fedration, Rotax, United States Auto Club and the Rock Island Grand Prix the opportunity to test a USF2000 car. One driver will be selected and given an entry to race in the St. Petersburg rounds of the USF2000 National Championship in 2012.
The drivers will be evaluated in front of an expert panel of officials and team owners from the Mazda Road to Indy as well as select drivers from the IZOD IndyCar Series that will judge the drivers' on-track performance, including car control, respect and speed. The panel also will monitor the drivers' off-track presentation.
"Not only is this shootout going to test drivers' on-track ability," Penix said, "but some of the other judging criteria will introduce them the pressures of the off-track side of racing, which is so important in the future when dealing with sponsors or media."
The Mazda Road to Indy Scouting Combine also serves as an important step for INDYCAR's entry level series.
"One of the main reasons we chose to align our revived USF2000 series with INDYCAR was the fact that they want to help as many young drivers as possible to grow and move up the ladder," said Dan Andersen, owner of USF2000 and Andersen Promotions LLC. "The Mazda Road to Indy Scouting Combine is a very exciting concept. Gathering the top up-and-coming drivers from karting and USAC in one place for three days of training, testing and observation with professional open-wheel teams will contribute to their overall experience and resumes. Hopefully, it will lead to opportunities for some of these drivers to move up and begin their open-wheel career in the USF2000 National Championship."
In addition, INDYCAR has opened up to six spots for standouts from regional karting series to participate in the Scouting Combine.
"There are a lot of young karters who compete in a regional series," Penix said. "By opening up the Combine to those series, it allows us to expand our reach to another layer of the sport. We've seen a lot of interest in the program and we think it will be a great way to expose top karting talent to what the Mazda Road to Indy has to offer."
The Heartland Sprint Series out of Kansas City is the first regional series to announce its participation in the program. Other interested series are invited to contact INDYCAR about how to get involved.
Each governing body has identified a unique set of criteria that will send a representative from their respective series' to Mazda Road to Indy Scouting Combine:
SKUSA: Winner of 2011 SKUSA Pro Tour Championship
IKF: Selected by IKF officials, chosen driver must compete in one of the 2011 Regional programs and one of the 2011 Grand Nationals programs
Rotax: Selected by Rotax officials from the top five finishers (not attending Rotax World Finals) from the Florida Winter Tour, Pan-American Series, Challenge of the Americas and U.S. Grand Nationals
USAC: Highest finisher of USAC Mopar D1 Midget Car Series Championship age 15-21
Rock Island Grand Prix: Winner of the 2011 King of the Streets event
Heartland Sprint Series: Winner of the 2011 TaG Senior Championship
WKA: To be determined at a later date.