Jupiter, Fla. – Five Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires teams and eight drivers are set to conduct the first official test of the brand-new Mazda-powered Dallara IL-15 at Palm Beach International Raceway, in Jupiter, Fla., today and tomorrow, January 13 and 14.
After winning the championship in 2014 with Colombian-American rising star Gabby Chaves, Indianapolis-based Belardi Auto Racing will lead the way, fielding one new car for Puerto Rican Felix Serralles, a standout in European Formula 3 competition for the past two years.
"It's very exciting," said team owner Brian Belardi. "Andersen Promotions and all their partners, everybody who has been involved in this program including Mazda, Dallara and Cooper Tires, has done a fantastic job putting everything together. It's exactly what this series needs and I'm sure we'll see a big jump in numbers. It's been long overdue and it's a proper race car. The team is excited and the engineers are excited to get to work on the car and building on the success we had last year."
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, which has won the championship four times in the past five years, will run a trio of cars for Englishman Jack Harvey, who finished second in the 2014 title-chase, RC Enerson, from New Port Richey, Fla., who is stepping up directly to Indy Lights after finishing a close second in the 2014 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, and Ethan Ringel, from Windermere, Fla.
Juncos Racing, making its return to Indy Lights after a two-year hiatus, will step up with two graduates from the intermediate step on the Mazda Road to Indy, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, with Spencer Pigot, from Orlando, Fla., and Kyle Kaiser, from Santa Clara, Calif.
"I'm really excited to drive the all new Mazda-powered IL-15 this week," said Pigot, who won the 2014 Pro Mazda championship in impressive style, winning six races for Juncos Racing. "We've been working hard on the car over the past few months and everyone is ready to get back to the track. It's going to be a big jump from Pro Mazda for myself and the team. Everything on the car is so different but Palm Beach is a track we're all familiar with and I think that will help us get up to speed quickly."
Two more Mazda Road to Indy graduates, Shelby Blackstock and Scott Hargrove, also are making the step up to Indy Lights after successful campaigns in both USF2000 and Pro Mazda. Blackstock, from Nashville, Tenn., will continue to drive for Andretti Autosport, while Hargrove, from Vancouver, B.C., Canada, the 2013 USF2000 champion and runner-up finisher in last year's Pro Mazda series, is testing with 8Star Motorsports which this year will be making its debut on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder after gaining significant success in the sports car ranks.
Mazda Powers Indy Lights in 2015 Quoteboard
Following Mazda's recent announcement of the addition of Mazda-power in the all-new 2015 Dallara Indy Lights chassis, members of the INDYCAR community expressed their thoughts on the manufacturer's ongoing commitment to the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system – the most comprehensive driver development system in the world.
The 2.0-liter turbocharged Mazda MZR-R powerplant, developed in conjunction with Advanced Engine Research (AER), was first campaigned by Mazda in the American Le Mans Series and the European Le Mans Series.
Mario Andretti: "I feel certain it will strengthen and further reinvigorate this important step up the ladder to the Verizon IndyCar Series. I've always believed that manufacturer involvement is crucial for the success of any racing series."
Michael Andretti (President, Chairman and CEO, Andretti Autosport): "It's great to see a manufacturer like Mazda step up to support the Road to Indy program and power all three levels. With the ladder steps being the Mazda Road to Indy, this completes the series of championships and brings everything together. I'm looking forward to seeing great on-track competition as a result."
Mike Hull (Managing Director, Chip Ganassi Racing Teams, Inc.): "The Indy Lights series deservedly has great momentum that's driven by Mazda as a terrific partner. Mazda's history in motor racing has been built upon the enhanced awareness of young talented race drivers combined with their technology.
"Dan Andersen's passion for the calculated climb toward IndyCar through his defined ladder program has made an enormous impact on the positive future for all of us in open-wheel racing. The new Dallara chassis in combination with the Mazda engine product has one partnered-purpose: to showcase global talent that will now reach the ultimate goal, IndyCar."
James Hinchcliffe (Driver, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports): "I'm thrilled to see Mazda become the engine partner for the Indy Lights series. I know it's something that both parties have wanted for some time and right now, with the launch of the new car in 2015, the timing couldn't be better. It just completes the incredible system that Mazda and INDYCAR have put in place with the MRTI (Mazda Road to Indy). There has never been anything like it and there isn't anything even close anywhere else in racing. Young drivers racing in North America have the best chance of progressing to a professional open-wheel career thanks to this program."
Tony Kanaan (Driver, Chip Ganassi Racing): "Racing in Indy Lights was the turning point of my career. It provided me with the experience I needed in order to succeed in IndyCar. It was the perfect stepping stone in terms of car handling, power and also learning the tracks. It's gratifying to see the revamped Mazda Road to Indy rolling into 2015 in such a strong shape and also the debut of the Dallara Lights car. I'm sure it's going to be a great year for the series."
Charlie Kimball (Driver, Chip Ganassi Racing): "It's always great to see development and success within the Mazda Road to Indy. It really gives drivers a path to follow toward the top tier of motorsports, while giving team owners in the IndyCar paddock a chance to watch upcoming talent. Having a source like the Mazda Road to Indy to cultivate talent is incredibly valuable to the Verizon IndyCar Series and its future."
Josef Newgarden (Driver, CFH Racing): "The Mazda Road to Indy provides the greatest ladder system in formula car racing in the world. You will not find a better supported pathway to the top level of open-wheel competition than right here in the United States. Mazda has been an integral partner in providing opportunities to young, deserving race car drivers while helping nurture them at the same time. My short period in the system while being a part of Indy Lights was critical to helping me find a spot in the Verizon IndyCar Series. There simply is nothing that offers a better experience for a young racer in the world right now."
Will Power (Driver, Team Penske, reigning Verizon IndyCar Series Champion): "It's important to have a car and engine combination that makes it an easier step to make it to IndyCar. With the Mazda engine and the horsepower that will be produced, this will be a good grounding for these kids."
Graham Rahal (Driver, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing): "Myself and the rest of the INDYCAR family are extremely thankful for what Mazda has done and announced. To become the engine partner in the Indy Lights series is huge and what they have done is truly define a clear path for young drivers to follow that aspire to drive an IndyCar. When I came up racing there were so many options, however I did compete in Star Mazda and Indy Lights on one occasion, but what's nice now is there is no guessing which is better. The path is clear and I think in big part we have Mazda to thank for that."