Pagenaud, Newgarden welcome Villeneuve to Indy 500

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Last week, there were two rather major names released to compete in the Indianapolis 500: 1995 race and CART series champion Jacques Villeneuve, and 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Kurt Busch.

At least two of IndyCar’s current drivers are supportive of the Villeneuve move, as the French Canadian returns to open-wheel racing for the first time in eight years.

“I really think it’s great for the series to have that big of a name coming back,” said Simon Pagenaud, who will be one of Villeneuve’s two teammates at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

“You love those kind of stories. You want to promote new guys coming up, but to have the past champions go against the new guys can be exciting.”

One of said “new guys” – young American Josef Newgarden of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, now entering his third season – also endorses both Villeneuve’s Indy 500 return and also Juan Pablo Montoya’s full season return.

“It’s super exciting,” Newgarden told MotorSportsTalk last week. “Seeing some of these guys come back in, I watched Montoya in F1, and he was such a badass everywhere. It’s kind of interesting to race him now. It’s a little surreal. Same with Villeneuve. He’s a legend at everything he’s done.”

However, while both admit there will be positive buzz generated from the returns, neither Pagenaud nor Newgarden think the returning drivers will have it easy.

“Jacques was in the Indy 500 19 years ago, so the cars have changed quite a lot,” Pagenaud said. “He’ll follow what we’re doing within the team. But he’ll need time.”

Added Newgarden, “I think they’ll have a tough time. There’s so many good guys in IndyCar right now, and they have all more time with the DW12 car, learning the way this thing is in the modern era. It will be tough but should be interesting. It will be cool to be driving alongside such respected names.”

The battle of generations is among the intriguing story lines for this year’s Indianapolis 500. And it’s something both Pagenaud and Newgarden appreciate.

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.

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