Vautier’s fast start comes down to earth in Long Beach

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It had to happen at some point: Tristan Vautier’s excellent start to his IndyCar career hit a few speed bumps during the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

In a first, Vautier failed to advance from Q1 (and for that matter, into the Firestone Fast Six) for the first time in two races with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. To make matters worse, the team changed engines and thus what was already going to be a struggle from 19th on the grid became 27th and last, thanks to IndyCar’s 10-spot grid penalty rule enforced for unapproved engine changes.

Vautier, ambitious at the start, made contact with Scott Dixon going into Turn 6. That earned him a penalty for avoidable contact.

But Vautier moved forward, both with a great car on restarts and a good strategy to climb into the top-five later in the race. He was on pace for what could have been his best result before the last pit stop sequence, when he was released into Will Power’s path as the Australian entered his pits on lap 51.

That, although not Vautier’s fault, earned the French rookie his second penalty of the day. He eventually ended behind Power in 17th.

“We had an amazing car today, so thanks to the team for that. I made a mistake at the beginning of the race with Scott Dixon, and I’m sorry about that to him and his crew,” said Vautier. “I got pretty familiar with pit lane after serving my drive thru penalty for the incident, but we got back out on the track and my pace was amazing.

“We really made the most of the restarts. I think we gained five positions on each of them. It felt great to run up in podium position for awhile. Unfortunately in the pits I got sent out and made contact with Will Power’s car. We had some communication issues as a team, but we’re all learning to work together and things happen.”

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