For many years, racers and fans alike decried the lack of a proper ladder system to guide young racers to the top of U.S. open wheel racing. Mazda, by consolidating and endorsing the Mazda Road to Indy, went a long way toward answering those complaints. There is now a clear path to the IZOD IndyCar Series for young drivers from America and the world. At the pro level, it starts with the USF2000 Championship, progresses to the Pro Mazda Championship and proceeds to the Indy Lights Series. The first two, and next year all three, are run by Andersen Promotions.
Dan Andersen started the USF2000 Championship in 1991 and ran it for 10 years before selling the series. In those days, it was directly aligned with the Sports Car Club of America’s Formula Continental class in Club Racing – tubeframe formula cars with wings, powered by 2.0-liter Ford engines. Shortly after he sold it, the series folded. But Andersen brought it back to life it in 2010 with a much narrower rule set. The only chassis allowed are Van Diemen Elan cars manufactured from 2001 and on, and all cars use sealed Mazda MZR 2.0-liter engines and Cooper tires.
“In 2010, with IndyCar’s backing and encouragement, I resurrected the U.S. F2000 series, but this time with the Mazda MZR 2.0-liter engine,” says Andersen. “That’s done for a number of reasons. First of all, the MZR is a fantastic motor and the life we get out of it is unbelievable. The team that finished first and second last season, Cape Motorsports, finished their third season on engines that had not been rebuilt since they bought them in 2010. That is simply unbelievable in any kind of pro racing.”
Andersen says engine budgets were getting out of control before he sold the series, and were a big contributing factor to the original series’ demise. Teams were putting new engines in the cars every race. A spec engine, especially one that lasts three seasons, takes that out of the equation and makes the series more affordable.
The series features two classes – the Championship Class for the Van Diemen/MZR package and the National Class for SCCA Formula Enterprises (FE) cars, which also feature sealed MZR engines in a spec chassis. (Last year the National Class was a combined class with FE cars and SCCA Club Racing Formula Continental cars with a parity formula.)
“My goal was to give underfunded kids who didn’t have the budget to do the full Championship Class an opportunity to jump in for a lesser budget and learn the tracks and learn the series and then come back to the championship class. That worked for Henrik Furuseth, who won last year in an FE car,” Andersen says.
Andersen took over the Pro Mazda Championship at the end of last year, and next year takes over the license and operations for the Indy Lights series. The Mazda Road to Indy will now be united under one organization.
“I’ve always been a believer in the ladder system,” says Andersen. “F2000, throughout the ’90s, trained so many drivers who made it to Indy cars, American Le Mans and Grand-Am. Many of them are still competing in sports car racing and IndyCar. We had participants that included Buddy Rice, Sam Hornish Jr., Andy Lally, Dan Wheldon, JR Hildebrand, Charlie Kimball, Memo Gidley, Alex Barron… so many drivers that made it. It’s obviously a training ground that works as an entry-level open-wheel series.”