Maldonado led Wednesday’s F1 testing in Spain for Lotus

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First it was Marussia on Tuesday, then Lotus on Wednesday. Call it Formula One bizarro world if you like, or just call it two teams playing it smart in running late on Pirelli’s super soft compounds to get headlines and attention for pacing testing.

But as Max Chilton was a surprise leader of Tuesday’s testing at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, Pastor Maldonado was the surprise leader on Wednesday.

The Venezuelan’s flier of 1:24.871 beat Lewis Hamilton’s pole time for the Grand Prix last week, and was nearly a second clear of Hamilton’s Mercedes AMG teammate Nico Rosberg who was second on the day.

Say what you will about the ultimate lap time but Maldonado hailed the overall performance improvement by the team, fresh after teammate Romain Grosjean finally got on the scoreboard with eighth place in the Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday.

“It’s been a big step forward,” Maldonado said of the second day, via the official Formula One website. “That was a complete day for us and my first normal day of testing this season.

“We didn’t have any problems and we gained a lot of good running with good track conditions compared to [day one]. We ran to plan and completed everything we wanted to do.”

Rosberg’s day was a mix between normal testing and the additional running of the exhaust extension, or megaphone, that ran in the morning.

Both Maldonado and Rosberg completed 102 laps. The leader in laps on the day though was McLaren test and reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne; the Belgian’s 136 laps on his debut (he’d been delayed testing earlier this year) were enough to secure him his F1 Superlicense.

Vandoorne wasn’t the only test driver getting running in on the afternoon, with Williams’ Susie Wolff turning 55 laps and Force India’s Daniel Juncadella turning 91.

A driver from each team ran except Caterham, which was out due to an accident on Tuesday.

Unofficial Wednesday times from Barcelona:
1. Pastor Maldonado, Lotus-Renault, 1m 24.871s, 102 laps
2. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, 1m 25.805, 102
3. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, 1m 26.480, 94
4. Esteban Gutierrez, Sauber-Ferrari, 1m 26.972s, 85
5. Susie Wolff, Williams-Mercedes, 1m 27.280s, 55
6. Jules Bianchi, Marussia-Ferrari, 1m 27.718s, 55
7. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull-Renault, 1m 27.973s, 73
8. Daniel Juncadella, Force India-Mercedes, 1m 28.278s, 91
9. Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren-Mercedes, 1m 28.441s, 136
10. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso-Renault, 1m 28.910s, 21

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