What do Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, James Hinchcliffe, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball, Josef Newgarden, Gabby Chaves and Spencer Pigot have in common? All are graduates of series comprising the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires – one of the most successful driver development programs in the world, providing a unique, scholarship-funded path to reach the Verizon IndyCar Series and Indianapolis 500.Since its launch in 2010, the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system has attracted competitors from around the globe. Drivers from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Finland, France, Ireland, Korea, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Spain, United Kingdom, Venezuela and Zimbabwe have been part of the grids, showcasing their talents at premier venues on a mix of road courses, temporary street circuits and ovals.
From “The World’s Fastest Spring Break Party” in St. Petersburg, Fla., to “one of the most beautiful race tracks in North America” named by Road & Track in Birmingham, Ala., and the famed Brickyard – the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – drivers compete on the Verizon IndyCar Series stage in front of large crowds and television cameras as well as team owners, sponsors and media.
Sanctioned by INDYCAR, the Mazda Road to Indy provides drivers, teams and sponsors an opportunity to gain valuable experience on and off the track while following a clear-cut path of progression through three development series: Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.
Chandler is pretty good at juggling. The 19-year-old from Zionsville is a freshman at Marian University, a member of the school’s cycling team and about to drive in his first race in the USF2000 series, a support series to IndyCar, in St. Petersburg, Fla., March 11 and 12.
“It takes a lot of scheduling, and I just force myself to stick to it,” Horton said. “Cycling and racing schedules and training are pre-determined, so during the week it’s all about looking ahead and knowing what homework I have coming up. I have no free time. I am either doing homework or riding my bike or going to the track.”
RJB Motorsports announced last December that Horton would be driving for the team after testing with it in the fall. The teen grew up in the racing world – his father, Jeff, is the IndyCar director of engineering, and the family often traveled to races in their motor home, staying in the driver lot.
“My dad’s worked in professional racing for 30 years now. Since I was a couple months old I have been going to IndyCar races,” Horton said. “I took my first steps at an IndyCar race.”
The family even lived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when it first moved to the state when Horton was 4 years old while shopping for a home. Once they settled in Zionsville, he raced dirt bikes from ages 5 to 12. When he turned 13, he transitioned into go-kart racing, and when he was 17, he started racing Formula Fords. Behind the wheel, Horton said he is calm but can be aggressive when needed.
“(It’s) just a lot of controlled excitement and a lot of focus on the task at hand, because if I start worrying about other things, I won’t drive well,” he said. “You have to know what you need to do, whether it is a practice or test session or going out to qualify. At the start (line) you run through in your head how you want it to go and how it should go, and when that green flag drops, it’s go-time.”
Horton’s pre-race ritual is always the same – putting his clothes on the same way.
“I put one side on before the other and I always get in the car from the same side, and the person who does my belt has to do it from a certain side,” he said.
His goal is to make his Indianapolis 500 debut in five years, and in 10 years have a solid IndyCar career driving for Team Penske.
“And hopefully, an Indy 500 win,” he said.
For now, Horton is concentrating on the 14 races over the course of eight weekends in his inaugural season with RJB Motorsports.
“I would say my motto can be summed up with what Steve McQueen said, ‘Racing is life. Anything that happens before or after is just waiting,’” he said.