The International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) announced today that Mazda will join the sanctioning body's prototype development series in 2012 as a presenting partner of the renamed Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Championship Powered by Mazda, significantly increasing the amount of championship awards the series provides and assisting in the creation of a formal prototype sports car development program.
Mazda's increased involvement provides IMSA and Cooper Tires the opportunity to further emphasize the role the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Championship Powered by Mazda plays in the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón prototype development program, supplying the Lites 1 class with a updated engine package and enabling the series to substantially increase the prize fund for both Lites 1 and Lites 2. The year-end prize fund nearly doubles, increasing to $50,000.
The current Lites 1 engine will be replaced next season with the 230hp 2.0L Mazda MZR engine. This powerful and durable DOHC four-cylinder engine is raced in both the MX-5 Cup and the USF2000 Championship and is used in a wide variety of Mazda street cars. In addition, IMSA, Cooper Tires and Mazda have begun to formalize a development system to provide a clear pathway for championship-winning drivers to experience the next level in prototype sports car competition:
- A Karting standout will earn a funded test session in a Cooper Tires Prototype Lites 2 car
- Cooper Tires Prototype Lites 2 champion will earn a funded test with a Lites 1 team
- Cooper Tires Prototype Lites 1 champion will earn a funded, high profile opportunity in a LMPC car
To further emphasize this path, the 2011 Cooper Tires Prototype Lites 1 champion will be awarded a funded test day in the Dyson Racing Lola-Mazda MZR-R American Le Mans Series LMP1 car.
IMSA Chief Operating Officer Scot Elkins and Development Series Director Steven Sewell joined John Doonan, Director of Motorsports for Mazda North America and Chris Pantani, Cooper Tires Director of Motorsports to make the official announcement today at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, ahead of the ModSpace American Le Mans Series Monterey presented by Patrón event.
“The addition of Mazda as a presenting sponsor enables IMSA to invest in significant awards throughout the prototype development program,” said Elkins. “This should serve as a powerful incentive for young drivers and established veterans looking for the professional sports car experience to take a good look at the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Championship.”
“One of the most important aspects of Mazda's involvement is our ability to nearly double the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Championship year-end prize fund,” said Sewell. “Also, having significant sponsors such as Mazda and Cooper Tires provides us with the ability to formalize a development program and provide a direct link from the karting ranks to the ALMS LMP class, thereby increasing the awareness and visibility of the Prototype Lites series.”
John Doonan, Director of Motorsports, Mazda North American Operations noted that "Mazda and IMSA have been linked almost continuously for 40 years. This latest partnership is yet another chapter in a great relationship. We're happy to once again team up with our friends at Cooper Tires. This will be a great drivers' series as the power and tires will be high quality and affordable."
Cooper Tires Director of Motorsports Chris Pantani looks forward to the increased relationship with Mazda in the sports car arena.
"Both Mazda and Cooper Tires share a passion for racing, especially the close action we have come to love in the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Championship,” said Pantani. “We hope that this increased corporate support will help teams attract new partners for their efforts.”