Aug 2, 2013
As fans received pace car rides Aug. 1 on the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, the four most dominant drivers currently in INDYCAR gathered on pit lane.
All three series of the Mazda Road to Indy -- Firestone Indy Lights, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda -- join the IZOD IndyCar Series for races this weekend.
To acknowledge the event, points leaders Helio Castroneves, Carlos Munoz, Matthew Brabham and Scott Hargrove met for a photo before on-track action in their quest for respective championships.
The drivers posed and laughed in a relaxed group of shots, where Castroneves offered some casual advice to his younger counterparts. Brabham, the 2012 USF2000 champion and current Pro Mazda points leader, later shed his shoes as they attempted an INDYCAR recreation of The Beatles' famous album cover "Abbey Road."
"It’s just a fantastic series; I can’t get over how open the IndyCar and Indy Lights guys are with their conversations and they’re just so welcoming," Brabham said. "It’s so easy to connect with everybody, to make friends with the guys in IndyCar, and they’re very helpful with the younger guys as well."
Brabham finished third in USF2000 Race 1 last year at Mid-Ohio and is now experiencing the 2.258-mile, 13-turn road course in the slightly more powerful Pro Mazda car, something Castroneves noted as important to a driver's development. Graduating from Indy Lights himself, Castroneves understands the importance of racing on the same track in different cars.
"It's great for our young drivers to get that kind of ladder, those kinds of steps," the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said. "When you get to the big leagues you don't suffer as much trying to understand, and you can actually drive more comfortably.
"Every time you go into a place in different cars, it teaches so much. You can learn so much that it makes you not worry about the line, but what can you improve to go faster."
Hargrove, of Surrey, British Colombia, competed in several USF2000 events in 2012 and returned for a full season at Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing. He currently leads the standings by 37 points. The 18-year-old noted the on-track advantages to having the IZOD IndyCar Series in addition to the experience gained.
“It’s phenomenal to be able to showcase this whole system that Mazda has put together," Hargrove said. "It’s really cool as a driver because the track evolves with the IndyCar rubber, and we get to see what we do differently and compare ourselves to them and the other Mazda Road to Indy levels."
The Mazda Road to Indy is INDYCAR's official development program that feeds into the IZOD IndyCar Series. Drivers such as Brabham, Hargrove and Munoz compete for the championship prize -- a scholarship applied to secure a full-time ride in the next step.
Graduates of the ladder series currently competing in the IZOD IndyCar Series include James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden, Tristan Vautier, Charlie Kimball, Marco Andretti and Ed Carpenter.