Fernando Alonso’s preparations for his sports car racing debut in January’s Rolex 24 at Daytona got off to an “awesome” start in a private LMP2 test at Motorland Aragon earlier this week with United Autosports.
Ahead of a possible entry to the 24 Hours of Le Mans next June as part of his bid to win the Triple Crown of Motorsport, two-time Formula 1 world champion Alonso will appear at Daytona in his first sports car racing appearance.
Alonso tested an LMP1 car with Toyota last Sunday in Bahrain before returning to Europe to test United Autosports’ Ligier JS P217 car that he will race at Daytona.
United Autosports team boss Zak Brown – also Alonso’s F1 boss at McLaren – talked up the Spaniard’s display in Friday’s FIA press conference ahead of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
“He’s a true racer,” Brown said. “I wasn’t at his test in Bahrain so I’ve only spoken to him briefly about it. I think he found the way the cars, with their energy systems and the recovery work, are fascinating.
“I was at the test in LMP2 and as you would expect he was awesome, very focused and what we saw was the least amount of fall-off over a run that we’ve seen of any racing driver in our cars.
“So he is definitely on the top of his game right now.”
Alonso is set to continue his private testing program through the winter before appearing at the ‘Roar Before the Rolex 24’ test in early January at Daytona.
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.