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Alonso: ‘Indianapolis weeks the highlight of the year for me’

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Fernando Alonso’s week of diversity has taken him to Bahrain, testing a Toyota TS050 Hybrid, his native Spain, testing a United Autosports Ligier JS P217 Gibson at Motorland Aragon, and finally back to Abu Dhabi this week for the Formula 1 season finale with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in his McLaren Honda.

But it was the fourth car he drove this year, the McLaren Honda Andretti Dallara DW12 IndyCar in May, that Alonso ultimately called his season highlight of his abnormal but surreal 2017 campaign.

The two-time Formula 1 World Champion’s bow at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil was the shock announcement of the spring, and the month and a half whirlwind that followed made for one of the international racing stories of the year, if not the decade.

Alonso quickly adapted to IndyCar and oval racing, making his impact during the race after qualifying fifth, leading 27 laps and being in contention right until his Honda engine failed him with just over 20 laps remaining in the 200-lap race.

Speaking to NBCSN Friday in the Abu Dhabi pre-race edition of “Paddock Pass,” Alonso reflected back on all he’s driven this year and immediately hailed the Indianapolis adventure as his season highlight. Alonso’s portion starts below at 6:13 in the clip, following a look at Pirelli’s range of 2018 compounds.

“I’m quite happy with this year,” he told NBCSN’s Will Buxton.

“As I’ve said before, the Indianapolis weeks were definitely the highlight of the year for me. I did really enjoy participating there, and discovering the event. I will not be next year but I will be in the future again. Overall I will remember 2017 with a smile.”

As for Alonso’s hectic last week-plus, he didn’t mention either the Toyota or United drives by name (from a Toyota standpoint, he can’t per his McLaren Honda contract through the end of the year – nor could the Toyota team officially refer to Alonso in its social media postings, as my colleague Luke Smith explains here) but did say the variety posed a wealth of different challenges.

“I did enjoy it,” he said. “Obviously every car was quite different, quite different driving styles an quite different performance on it. It’s part of the challenge. It’s part of being a better driver, and learning from the drivers that have that machine every day of their life. It was interesting, and I’m looking forward to the next chapter.”

Ever the renaissance man, Thursday also saw Alonso announce an eSports racing team called FA Racing-G2 esports team, supported by LogitechG, details of which he shared below on Twitter.

And on Friday, Kimoa announced it would become the official surfwear of McLaren – Kimoa is Alonso’s sports clothing line.

As for his day job – and it says something about his F1 season that we come this far in this post before getting to it – Alonso has a chance to score points for the third straight race for the first time this season this weekend.

A 10th in Mexico and 8th in Brazil has lifted his season total to 15 points scored, now two clear of McLaren Honda teammate Stoffel Vandoorne for 15th in the driver’s standings. This is the final weekend of the McLaren Honda package before Renault power units come on board from 2018.

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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