Hinch and Dr Pepper: A love story

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James Hinchcliffe has put aside any notion that he’s just a quirky personality with two wins from the first four races this year in the No. 27 GoDaddy Chevrolet for Andretti Autosport.

Still, that doesn’t mean the colorful Canadian isn’t quick to illuminate a press room with humor describing one of his sponsors.

Before the formal press conference started on Tuesday – Hinchcliffe led the day’s Indianapolis 500 practice thanks to a tow – he had a Dr Pepper in hand to quench the day’s thirst.

What happened next doubled as an impromptu comedic tour de force and devout dedication to this product, one of the team sponsors.

“I just generally love Dr Pepper. No seriously, I actually love this stuff,” said Hinchcliffe. “It’s like the best liquid on the planet. I mean, water’s good and all, but Dr Pepper is like, 23 flavors. You can’t beat that. It’s a fact.

“I’ve tried to figure out what all the flavors are; I think one of them actually is ‘Children’s laughter,’” he surmised. “That’s how good this stuff is. ‘Horn of a unicorn?’ It’s definitely ‘Mermaid tail.’ Why didn’t I think of that one?”

When a reporter asked if Hinchcliffe was merely hamming it up for the cameras or if this was a true case of love at first chug, Hinchcliffe said this was no act.

“I mean they are on board as a sponsor, the whole Dr Pepper Snapple group,” he said.  “The day I got the call from Andretti Autosport was the happiest day of my life, because I knew I had an unlimited supply of Dr Pepper. I’m not kidding, I actually love this stuff!”

For the full press conference featuring Hinchcliffe and JR Hildebrand, go to the IMS Pressroom page here, click on the Hinch and JR video, and go to the 7:50 mark for the beginning of the Dr Pepper love fest.

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