Photo: Race of Champions

IndyCar to be well represented at 2018 Race of Champions

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The annual Race of Champions, which makes its first ever first to the Middle East at King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, is set to feature four prominent names from the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Of the four, three raced under the Team Penske banner. Juan Pablo Montoya, who raced at this year’s INDYCAR Grand Prix and Indianapolis 500, returns to defend his victory from last year’s Race of Champions, a triumph that came in his first appearance. Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves and 2017 IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden will join Montoya to complete the trio of Penske drivers, with Newgarden making his debut. Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay also returns to the Race of Champions and completes the IndyCar quartet.

Montoya revealed that competing at such an event is a unique honor, and one he ultimately regrets missing prior to his first visit this past January.

“When I came to the Race Of Champions for the first time this year I immediately regretted never having done it before!” Montoya detailed. “It was an amazing experience and Fredrik Johnsson and his team put together an amazing event.  It’s all about fun but when you go to the grid it’s unbelievable how focused you are. It’s like qualifying. Experience plays a part too: after a few laps you start getting the hang of the cars, but you can also mess it up really bad. I still don’t know what gave me the edge in Miami; it must have been beginner’s luck.”

Additions to the full driver lineup will be released in the coming weeks, but other confirmed names include nine-time 24 Hours of Le Mans champion Tom Kristensen, newly crowned FIA Formula 3 European Champion Lando Norris, two-time Monaco Grand Prix winner and current Formula 1 TV analyst David Coulthard, and two-time FIA World Rallycross Champion Petter Solberg.

Now in its 31st year, the 2018 edition of the Race of Champions will be held on February 2-3.

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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.

Follow @KyleMLavigne