Tough St. Pete circuit awaits IndyCar’s best

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The IZOD IndyCar Series returns to its usual season-opening stop this weekend for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, a 110-lap event on a 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit that features an airport runway for a front-stretch and a dog-leg backstretch along the Tampa Bay waterfront.

Those two areas set up the circuit’s main passing zones. The wide runway of Albert Whitted Airport leads into Turn 1, a right-hander that has provided plenty of mayhem over the years. It’s also where Helio Castroneves pulled off what would prove to be the winning pass last year at St. Petersburg on Scott Dixon.

As for the backstretch (Bayshore Boulevard), it leads into a sharp left-hander at Turn 10/Dan Wheldon Way that forces drivers to really hit their marks, especially when they’re in the middle of outbraking rivals. After barreling down Bayshore, the drivers’ maneuvering for position in this tricky corner makes for great action, both on television and for those sitting in the nearby grandstand.

Another interesting wrinkle for 2013 is the addition of 10 extra laps at St. Pete, which is one of four IndyCar tracks (the others being Long Beach, Milwaukee and Mid-Ohio) that had their race distances extended by the series in an attempt to cut down on fuel-mileage racing.

You can learn more details about the St. Pete street circuit in the “virtual lap” video above.

MRTI: Keith Donegan earns Mazda Shootout Scholarship

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Dublin, Ireland’s Keith Donegan claimed a $200K scholarship from Mazda after emerging victorious at the second annual Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. The 20-year-old Donegan earned an at-large nomination for the scholarship based on his performance at this year’s Formula Ford Festival, in which he finished second in the final, and emerged from a pack of 17 drivers from across the globe to claim the scholarship.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said an emotional Donegan, who earlier in his career actually spent two years away from racing as he focused on academics. “The weekend was really good and I enjoyed it. I have to say a huge thanks to Mazda and Cooper Tires and everyone at the Mazda Road to Indy. I enjoyed every moment. Throughout the weekend we were consistent and I kept the small things in check. I didn’t make any stupid mistakes and kept my head cool and that really paid off in the end.”

The two-day shootout was held at the Bondurant Racing School in Arizona and saw the nominated drivers tackle the school’s 1.6-mile circuit in Formula Mazda race cars before facing on and off-track assessments. Donegan was selected by a panel of judges that included former driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series TV analyst Scott Goodyear, Mazda drivers Tom Long, Andrew Carbonell, and Jonathan Bomarito, as well as Victor Franzoni – the current champion of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – and Oliver Askew, the current champion of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Donegan was humbled to be in the presence of drivers who have won scholarships and championships previously, and added that he is grateful to have the opportunity to continue his racing career.

“You see all these champions here today that will go on to great things in the future and I’m sure the names you see here today aren’t going to disappear,” Donegan added. “They will be back up there and I’m sure I will be racing them again some day. It is an unbelievable opportunity to be given and for Mazda to provide that for any young driver. It just gives that bit of motivation that you need because the [U.S.] is where you need to go to become a professional these days. It is such a boost to my career.”

Donegan is now slated to join the 2018 USF2000 championship, with further announcements regarding the team with whom he’ll be racing to come in the future.

Follow @KyleMLavigne