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Vettel staying optimistic in Abu Dhabi despite Mercedes pole

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Sebastian Vettel remains optimistic he can get in the fight for victory in Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix despite trailing Mercedes Formula 1 drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton in qualifying at the Yas Marina Circuit.

Mercedes picked up its 15th pole position of the season on Saturday as Bottas edged out Hamilton in a close-fought Q3 session, leaving Vettel half a second off the pace for Ferrari in P3.

After winning the last race in Brazil, Vettel hoped to close out the season with his first set of back-to-back victories in over four years, but is not giving up just yet.

“We tried everything,” Vettel said after qualifying. “I think the balance of the car was good all weekend. We trimmed it in the right way. Practice this morning was a bit tricky but qualifying really came together, so I’m quite happy with that.

“The gap is big but also it’s a long lap, so naturally the gaps are a bit more spread. I think in the race we usually get a little bit closer.

“Qualifying we’ve seen all year that we’ve never had the car to put half a second between us and somebody else.

“For the race I’m fairly optimistic. I think yesterday was good, we tried some stuff, so we’ll see how close we get tomorrow.

“On overtaking, it’s not the easiest one but it’s not impossible, so let’s see what we can do.”

While Vettel may have little more than securing P2 in the drivers’ championship up for grabs in Abu Dhabi, the German stressed the importance of laying foundations for next year by signing off with a victory.

“I think the last race is important. Obviously if you’re not in the fight for the championship, it still is important to set things up for the winter, just give a boost to the whole factory,” Vettel said.

“So let’s see what we do. I don’t believe that the result tomorrow determines next year – but for sure a good result always helps you, gives everyone a boost over the winter, so we try our best.”

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.

MRTI: Keith Donegan earns Mazda Shootout Scholarship

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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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