Six different drivers have stood on the top step of the podium to date in this year’s Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires. Four of those drivers – rookies Santiago “Santi” Urrutia of Uruguay, Frenchman Timothé Buret and Malaysian Weiron Tan, along with sophomore American Neil Alberico – have a chance to take the title this weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. On the line is a Mazda Scholarship of $590,300 to advance to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires in 2016.
Weiron Tan wasted no time in making his presence felt during his rookie season in North America, finishing second at the pre-season Cooper Tires Pro Mazda Winterfest with two wins in five races for Andretti Autosport. The 20-year-old from Kuala Lumpur has since won four races and claimed six poles in the regular season title-chase, but finds himself 51 points out of the championship lead going into the season finale.
Tan had a relatively late start in racing. His father took the then 13-year-old and his brothers to a local karting track and soon, Tan began his racing career – but not before earning his brothers’ blessing.
“On Sundays I would go to the track just after lunch and spend a few hours there, mainly for fun. In my second year I wanted to enter competitions to see where I stood, and that was when I realized how much more I had to learn and subsequently found more passion for the sport. That’s also when I knew I wanted to race for a living. At the time, and even now, racing is very expensive. There was a lot of pressure on me because my mum and dad had to support four kids. I needed the support from my brothers, which I’m so lucky to have. They didn’t feel it was unfair that one of their siblings went racing and spent a lot of money doing it. They believe in me. It is also important to me that they didn’t doubt my dedication and ability to reach the highest level in motor racing.”
After earning two karting championships and a vice championship in the Asian Karting Open, Tan was signed to the Caterham F1 Academy and moved to formula cars in 2011. He relocated to Europe in 2013, finishing second in the Protyre Formula Renault 2.0 series in England, then transferred to the ATS Formel 3 Cup (commonly referred to as German F3) in 2014, earning two victories and five podium finishes. Managed by the same company that handles Verizon IndyCar Series driver and 2012 Pro Mazda champion Jack Hawksworth, Tan followed the Brit’s exploits in the U.S. and decided also to follow his lead into the Mazda Road to Indy.
“The Mazda Road to Indy scholarship program is very important to the drivers who can’t afford to fund themselves. This is so competitive and at such a high level. It’s GP3 in this part of the world. Since we run with the Verizon IndyCar Series all year, it’s a great opportunity to show what you have in front of the IndyCar teams. And it definitely helps with Andretti Autosport having Pro Mazda, Indy Lights and IndyCar teams. Inside the Andretti family, we have access to the IndyCar team, which is perfect.”
Establishing himself as a pre-season favorite, Tan, like Buret, endured a difficult first weekend at St. Petersburg but rebounded immediately, taking his first series victory at Barber in April. After adding another win at the Indianapolis Grand Prix, Tan then took both oval wins of the season, at Lucas Oil Raceway and Iowa Speedway – each one from the pole position.
“There is no oval racing in Asia or in Europe. I was quite surprised we did that well, but of course Andretti is so good at the ovals. All I wanted to do was keep that record going! The team did a great job at both ovals. If you have a bad car, it can get really scary. It took me a while to get up to speed but once I did, everything changes again. There’s so much to learn, driving and engineering, that it’s quite a challenge for new drivers. I think we did a pretty good job of that!”