Josef Newgarden is the 2011 Firestone Indy Lights champion. Photo: Anne Proffit
INDYCAR has decided on the best memorial it can give Chris Griffis, team manager for Sam Schmidt Motorsports' Firestone Indy Lights championship teams. Mazda Road to Indy teams can gain a head start to 2012 competition through a two-day USF2000 National Championship, Star Mazda Championship and Firestone Indy Lights test on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
The Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Open Test is dedicated to Griffis, who unexpectedly died on September 12. "Chris was pivotal in bringing so many young drivers to Firestone Indy Lights and cultivating talent from both Star Mazda and USF2000," said Tony George Jr, manager of business development for Indy Lights and a major force in promoting the Mazda Road to Indy program.
"Chris used off-season testing to court and promote young driving talent," George remarked. "This test is designed to give everyone an opportunity to attract and develop drivers in the way Chris pioneered it."
Scheduled for October 28-29, the two-day test takes place from 9AM-5PM EST with each series running a 60-minute morning session and a 75-minute practice in the afternoon. "This test is a fantastic opportunity to showcase what the Mazda Road to Indy has to offer to prospective drivers and teams. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the perfect location for all three series to start preparation for the 2012 season," he said.
George Jr helped create the Mazda Road to Indy to provide career-minded drivers a defined path from karting to the top level of IZOD IndyCar Series racing. As title partner of the Road to Indy, Mazda provides scholarships to champions of the three series in this INDYCAR development ladder system, so that they may graduate to the next level.
For example, in 2012 Cooper Tires presents the USF2000 National Championship powered by Mazda champion Petri Suvanto receives a scholarship to compete in the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear. Star Mazda titleholder Tristan Vautier has a scholarship to compete in Firestone Indy Lights, while Indy Lights champ Josef Newgarden will receive a scholarship to race in the IZOD IndyCar Series.
"The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is such a magical place," said John Doonan, director of motorsports for Mazda North American Operations. "We're thrilled that the Mazda Road to Indy - and especially the Star Mazda and USF2000 racers - will have an opportunity to test on the track made famous by their heroes."
The support by Mazda and INDYCAR extends beyond race tracks around the country. The highly successful Mazda Road to Indy summit program offered media, social media and business/sponsorship training - as well as networking and promotional opportunities - to its drivers. The first Mazda Road to Indy Oval Clinic took place in May of 2011.
© 2011 Anne Proffit