Keith Donegan, 20, from Dublin, Ireland, this afternoon was announced as the winner of the second annual Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200K Scholarship Shootout following two days of evaluations at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. A total of 17 young drivers representing nine different nations and drawn from a variety of feeder series from around the world were put through their paces aboard the Bondurant Racing School Formula Mazda cars.
Their relative strengths were assessed by a panel of judges including former IndyCar driver and current ABC/ESPN analyst Scott Goodyear, Mazda factory sports car drivers Jonathan Bomarito, Andrew Carbonell and Tom Long, and current Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires champions Oliver Askew (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) and Victor Franzoni (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires).
After commencing his career in karts at age 10, Donegan made the move into cars in the 2013 Ginetta Junior Championship in the UK, finishing eighth in the points chase and then placing second in 2014 before spending two years away from the sport while he concentrated on his academic studies. He immediately turned heads this year during his initial campaign in open-wheel cars and earned his position at the Shootout as an At-Large Nomination after finishing a close second at the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch to cap an impressive debut season in the BRSCC British Formula Ford 1600 Championship.
“It really hasn’t hit me yet, to be honest,” said Donegan, who earned a check for $200,000 to assist in his graduation into USF2000, the first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy, in 2018. “The weekend was really good and I really 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.
“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. 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 them that bit of motivation that you need because the States is where you need to go to become a professional these days. It is such a boost to my career.”
After each of the 17 candidates was assessed during three sessions yesterday and one more this morning, each time at the wheel of a different car, Donegan was selected along with Jake Craig, 20, from Mission Viejo, Calif., Olin Galli, 21, from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Aaron Jeansonne, 19, from Sulphur, La. and Liam Lawson, 15, from Pukekohe, New Zealand, to participate in a final qualifying session and 30-minute race simulation this afternoon. The final decision was made following well over 90 minutes of consideration among the accomplished panel of judges.
“This was really difficult,” said Kyle Kimball, manager of operations for Mazda Motorsports. “We took almost two hours deliberating over razor-thin margins on the track, razor-thin margins off the track – it was incredibly difficult for the six judges to come to a decision. But, at the end of the day, we feel really confident with our pick of Keith Donegan. He is going to be a wonderful representative for the Mazda brand, for the Cooper brand and the entirety of the Mazda Road to Indy in USF2000 next year.”
“This is my second year (as a judge),” added Goodyear, “and the first year I was a little nervous because you feel the weight of making the right decision. For me overall, it was a very enriching experience. With that said, this year, doing the background on all of the drivers leading up to it, I knew that it was going to be very difficult again but I had no idea today was not only going to be a difficult decision but a heart wrenching decision because there were five guys that I wish we had five scholarships to apply.”