This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!
AJ Allmendinger achieved his target of advancing into the top 12 and out of his group in the first round of qualifying for IndyCar’s race at Barber Motorsports Park. Although he clocked in 11th in that set of 12, he’ll start 10th with Takuma Sato’s penalty demoting him down the order.
“I wasn’t as strong in the second run as I was in the first,” he said. “I just didn’t feel as good on the second set of tires. We made our first goal of getting out of the first round of qualifying. Making it into the top six was a pretty lofty goal, especially with it being my first time (in this format) and first time on the red (tires). It’s still good to be inside the top 12. I know the IZOD Team Penske car will be good in the race, it’s just a matter of me going with the flow and how I react to everything.”
Allmendinger will have one more IndyCar race on his schedule as earlier Saturday, Penske Racing President Tim Cindric confirmed he’ll race at Long Beach in two weeks.
“It’s the same layout at least,” said Allmendinger, who raced at Long Beach three times in Champ Car. “It’s not an oval (before Indianapolis), but it’s more time in the car with pit stops. It’s exciting; I’ve always missed that race since I left. Being a California native it was always a fun race to go to. Just to have another race under my belt at a place I’ve fairly familiar with I’m looking forward to it.”
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.