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May 12, 2006
HOUSTON, Texas (May 12, 2006) - Helping to define an even clearer developmental path for the world's top up-and-coming open-wheel drivers, officials from the Champ Car Atlantic Championship and Mazda North American Operations jointly announced today that the champion of the 2006 Star Mazda Championship will receive a full test session with a top team in the Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda.
In addition to earning a new Mazda RX-8 passenger car and a $100,000 cash award for winning the series title, the top point-earner in this season's Star Mazda open-wheel championship will get a chance to prove what they can do in a 300-horsepower Champ Car Atlantic machine. The test session with a current Atlantic team will take place after completion of both the Atlantic and Star Mazda 2006 seasons. Further details of the test will be announced in the coming months.
Today's announcement simply formalizes the unofficial developmental relationship between Atlantic and Star Mazda. Many of this season's top Atlantic racers helped refine their skills in Star Mazda competition. Current Atlantic drivers such as 2005 Star Mazda champion Raphael Matos, '03 Star Mazda title-winner Luis Schiavo, Graham Rahal, Robbie Pecorari and James Hinchcliffe all cut their teeth in the Star Mazda ranks. In addition, Star Mazda graduates Guy Cosmo and Jamie Bach have moved their careers on to the American Le Mans Series, driving the Mazda-rotary-powered P2-class Mazda-Courage. The champion's testing program will create more opportunities for Star Mazda drivers to compete in the Atlantic Championship, in its 33 rd season as North America's top open-wheel development category.
"With so many talented drivers emerging from the Star Mazda series in recent years and so many of our current Atlantic racers coming up through the series, it makes perfect sense to ensure that the Star Mazda champion has an opportunity to test an Atlantic car," said Vicki O'Connor, Managing Director of the Champ Car Atlantic Championship.
"Champ Car is anxious to continue to expand its relationship with Mazda and the testing program for the Star Mazda series champion with a top Atlantic team is a great example," said Steve Johnson, President of the Champ Car World Series. "It's clear that with all of the talent coming up through the Mazda development system, this is the next generation of Champ Car stars and we want to make sure the cream of the crop continues to develop their talent in the Atlantic Championship."
The establishment of the testing program also enhances Mazda's ladder system of driver development and opens up more doors for drivers graduating from Star Mazda.
"If you want a career as a professional racing driver -- either open-wheel or closed -- then you need to be associated with Mazda," said Robert Davis, Senior VP, Research, Development and Quality for Mazda North American Operations, and the man responsible for Mazda's North American motorsports programs. "Young drivers can start in club racing in a Formula Mazda, graduate to the professional Star Mazda, then on to the Champ Car Atlantic Championship. From there, who knows where a career can go -- GP2 in Europe? Champ Car? Formula 1? With our involvement in Star Mazda, and the series' champion's opportunity of a guaranteed Atlantic test, Mazda is committed to helping find the next open-wheel star."
"From our perspective, we know that many of our racers aspire to race in Champ Car, by way of the Atlantic series," said Gary Rodrigues, President of the Star Mazda Championship. "To be recognized by Mazda and Champ Car through the award of a sponsored test in the program widely recognized as the next logical step from the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear, a driver gets tremendous validation of his future in motorsports. The winner will undoubtedly list this award prominently on his or her resume. The Star Mazda Championship is proud to see our graduates' careers get this kind of boost, and we thank Mazda and Champ Car for their encouragement of emerging talent."
The Champ Car Atlantic Championship continues to be the premier open-wheel development series in North America. In its 33 rd season in 2006, the championship is noted for its long history of graduating its stars into Champ Car competition and has helped produce past Champ Car champions Paul Tracy, Jimmy Vasser, Bobby Rahal, Danny Sullivan, Michael Andretti and Jacques Villeneuve. 2006 Champ Car competitors Alex Tagliani, Andrew Ranger, Katherine Legge and 2005 Atlantic champion Charles Zwolsman are established Atlantic graduates along with 2004 Champ Car Rookie of the Year and 2003 Atlantic champ A.J. Allmendinger. Competing in newly-designed Swift 016.a chassis powered by a 2.3-liter Mazda-Cosworth engine riding on Yokohama ADVAN Racing Slicks, 2006 competitors will fight for the 12-race championship and the unique $2 million Champ Car series champion's bonus. For more information on the series and to view this season's races on demand, please visit www.champcaratlantic.com.