Kurt Busch passes Indy 500 Rookie Orientation Program (VIDEO)

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Yesterday, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kurt Busch called his attempt to run the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 an “amazing challenge.”

Today, that challenge began at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where Busch strapped into his No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda and worked through the three-phase Rookie Orientation Program that all ‘500’ first-timers must pass.

Afternoon rains curtailed the day’s proceedings at IMS, but not before “The Outlaw” had completed his ROP. He ran 66 circuits around the 2.5-mile oval, setting a fast lap of 220.844 miles per hour.

Busch’s outing drew some interested observers to the Speedway, including his Andretti teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, and James Hinchcliffe, as well as a horde of media.

“It really makes you think,” Busch said. “Overall, it was a good day just to settle in with the team and advance further than rookie orientation. It felt good to give feedback to the team from the car and have them explain things to me how we’re going to move forward.

“They continued to change downforce combinations on the car and it was just neat to feel all that and check it off the list. The last run we made was just about where they would unload for race trim.”

Busch is aiming to become the fourth driver ever to race in both the Indy 500 and Coke 600 on the same day, and the second driver to finish all 1,100 miles; his NASCAR teammate and boss, Tony Stewart, completed that feat in 2001 for Chip Ganassi Racing at the ‘500’ and Joe Gibbs Racing at the ‘600.’

Last May at Indy, Busch tested an Andretti machine, running 83 laps with a fast lap at 218.210 miles per hour. In that test, he passed a simulated version of the ROP.

But now that he’s passed the official ROP, Busch is cleared to take part in official ‘500’ practice, which begins on May 11, one day after the Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway.

He is also slated to take additional laps at Indy with the other ‘500’ rookies on May 5.

“Now that all the newness and moments of smiling and ‘this is Indy’ are wearing off, that’s when the serious hat goes on and we start to ramp up the program,” said Busch.

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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