New Mazda-powered chassis ready for the first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy
The opening rounds of all three Mazda Road to Indy series at St. Petersburg this weekend bring many changes – drivers moving up, changing teams, changing sponsors. But perhaps the biggest change will be the debut of the new car for the Cooper Tires U.S. F2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, the Tatuus USF-17.
Still powered by Elite Engines-prepared Mazda MZRs, the new chassis is a big departure from the previous chassis used in the series, with more mechanical grip and less aerodynamic downforce-induced traction. That should make the racing better, as drivers will have less to worry about when shoving their nose under the wing of the car they’re chasing.
“I think it is a big improvement over the old car, and it is definitely going to bridge the gap for the younger guys stepping up into an open-wheel car with wings and slicks better than the old car did,” says Matthew Brabham, who tested the car back in October 2016 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “It drives and handles a little bit more like a go-kart and it kind of slides and has that car control aspect similar to a [Formula F], so I think it’s fantastic for teaching young drivers. The aero wash is almost completely gone. I was behind a couple of guys out there and I tucked up right underneath their rear wing and went through a couple of those quick corners and there was almost no aero wash, so I think the racing will be a lot closer.”
Luke Gabin is in his second year of racing in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship. Last year he was a Mazda scholarship driver, and this year is racing for Exclusive Autosport, so he has a direct comparison. “A lot of the second-year drivers are trying to get the old car out of our minds,” says Gabin. “Compared to last year, this car is like a spaceship! There’s a lot of mechanical grip, which will be really helpful for racing. It seems like with this car, I think St. Pete is going to be super close.”
Robert Megennis, driver of the No. 80 car for Team Pelfrey in the USF2000 Championship, agrees with Gabin about how the car is going to race. “I think the racing with the new car is going to be ridiculous,” he says. “The nose makes very little downforce; the rear of the car is where the majority of the downforce comes from. That makes the ‘aero wash’ smaller for this car. They also punch a much bigger hole in the air, so the draft will play a part in it, too. I think you’ll have drafting, plus tires that last longer, so people will be able to keep a closer gap behind the other cars.”
USF2000 has both its races on Saturday, March 11, 2017, while Pro Mazda and Indy Lights have one race each on Saturday and Sunday. The Indy Light races will be live-streamed at racecontrol.indycar.com.