Wilson seeks bounce back, first 2014 podium at Fontana finale

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Perhaps one of the more surprising stat lines in the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season is that Justin Wilson ranks 16th in points, with no podium finishes and only one top-five finish. This despite most of the paddock acknowledging Wilson is among the top five or six drivers in the series.

So Wilson has a bit of unfinished business this weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., as he returns to the site where he broke his pelvis a year ago.

He entered this race fourth in points one year ago and the year-on-year drop has been stupefying to say the least. While both he and new engineer Michael Cannon are highly regarded, for whatever reason the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda team has either missed the setup or missed the luck.

As Wilson told me in Milwaukee a couple weeks ago, “It’s been a long, tough season so far. We just have to keep doing the same thing, the right thing, and we believe we’re on the right track. Hopefully it’ll work out.

“There’s been races where you’ve needed pure speed and others where you need luck. Unfortunately we’ve been fast on the races you need luck, and slow on the ones where we need pure speed!”

For Fontana, more of a driver’s track now given the way the track has evolved with the bumps and the need to pace yourself over 500 miles, it’s still a very challenging track. Wilson explained it in his pre-race release:

“It’s a very tough track, because you are right on the edge at 220 miles an hour,” he said. “There is a lot to deal with, with the speeds and the surface. The (pavement) seams can really catch you out. Even getting a bit of a side draft can make a big difference, like it did to me last year.”

Given his talent, it would be a welcome return if Wilson, who’s gotten so much better on ovals the last few years, could end the 2014 season on a high note.

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