IndyCar: Ryan Hunter-Reay fastest in first Sonoma practice

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Ryan Hunter-Reay, seeking to somehow recover from a devastating setback at Milwaukee, topped the opening practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Go Pro Grand Prix of Sonoma with a 1 minute, 17.7150 lap around the Sonoma Raceway road course.

Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champion, remains mathematically alive in this year’s title fight but dropped to 108 points behind Milwaukee race winner Will Power after he was knocked out early one week ago with a suspension failure on his No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda.

Four of the six drivers that can still win the championship made up the Top 5 drivers in this first, 45-minute session. Behind RHR was Scott Dixon (sixth in the standings, -130 points), who took his No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet to second with a time of 1:17.8990.

Dixon’s teammate, Tony Kanaan, was third-quickest (1:18.1895), followed by Helio Castroneves (1:18.2732), Power’s teammate and closest rival in the championship at 39 points back. Rounding out the Top 5 was Power himself (1:18.4046).

This particular group of drivers largely kept their runs on the low-grip Sonoma circuit to a minimum. In fact, Hunter-Reay, Castroneves, and Power didn’t make their way on to the course until around the midway part of the session, when Kanaan was leading the way with his 1:18.1895 lap that was ultimately eclipsed.

The two other title contenders, Simon Pagenaud (third, -92 points) and Juan Pablo Montoya (fifth, -114 points), ended up mid-pack on the speed charts. Pagenaud had an off-course excursion during practice due to a reported braking issue and had the 16th-fastest time (1:18.9928). Montoya was a bit better with the 12th-fastest time (1:18.7962).

Another practice session is coming up later today at 4:15 p.m. ET, followed by qualifying tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET (LIVE on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra for online/mobile devices).

Verizon IndyCar Series at Sonoma – First Practice Times

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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