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40 days until 40th Dakar Rally, coming in January 2018 to NBCSN

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Today marks 40 days until the 40th Dakar Rally, a staple of the traditional racing offseason but a hallmark of racing in January. The 2018 Dakar, which runs from January 6-20, will air on NBCSN. Specific coverage details and air times will follow at a later date.

This year’s rally covers Peru, Bolivia and Argentina, starting in Peru’s capital of Lima, working its way to La Paz, Bolivia for a rest day January 12, and will finish in Córdoba, Argentina.

Defending champions in the two primary categories are Stephane Peterhansel (cars) and Sam Sunderland (bikes), with Eduard Nikolaev (trucks), Sergey Karyakin (quads) and Leandro Torres (UTVs) having also won their classes.

Dakar’s website hosts a number of unique videos to showcase the history of the event over the 39 previous runnings, a handful of which will be posted on NBCSports.com over the coming weeks.

One such example is below from 1982, as brothers Claude and Bernard Marreau won overall in their Renault 20.

After the first three runnings in 1979, 1980 and 1981 that were just listed as Paris-Dakar Rallys, the 1982 Dakar was Paris-Algiers-Dakar.

The rally has been held annually since 1979, with the exception of 2008. In 2009, the rally took part outside of Europe and Africa for the first time, and ran in South America.

Peterhansel is going for his third consecutive overall win in cars. The Dakar legend has 13 wins, split six in motorcycles and seven in cars.

Peterhansel is part of the Peugeot runners in cars this year. Carlos Sainz, Sebastien Loeb and Cyril Despres are the other key Peugeot drivers, joined by Dakar rookie Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi.

Nasser Al-Attiyah, the 2015 Dakar winner, leads Toyota’s charge with Giniel De Villiers and Bernhard Ten Brinke among others.

American Bryce Menzies, who withdrew from last year’s Dakar due to injury, is set to run this year’s for MINI. Other MINI drivers of note include Nani Roma, Mikko Hirvonen and Orlando Terranova.

Ford has Martin Prokop leading its charge.

Sunderland leads the bike contingent for KTM along with fellow riders Matthias Walkner, Gerard Farres Guell, Toby Price and Stefan Svitko.

Adrien Van Beveren is one of Yamaha’s top riders along with Franco Caimi.

American Ricky Brabec won his first Dakar stage last year and is one of Honda’s top riders, and also won the Sonora Rally last spring. Other Honda riders to watch include Joan Barreda, Paulo Goncalves and Michael Metge.

Husqvarna, Sherco TVS and Gasgas are other motorcycles in the field of note.

The full competitors list is here.

The route for this year’s rally is here.

An archive of last year’s videos is linked here.  The final rally recap is linked here.

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