Formula Ford Festival runner-up Keith Donegan won the 2017 Mazda Road to Indy Shootout last weekend, bagging himself a $200,000 scholarship for the 2018 USF2000 season.
Irishman Donegan was one of 17 drivers selected for the Shootout, five of which earned their spot from their performances in the United Kingdom’s FF1600 championships: the Festival and the Walter Hayes Trophy.
Donegan finished second in Ginetta Junior GB in 2013 but did not race again until this year in order to concentrate on his education.
He finished 11th in a part-time campaign in the BRSCC National championship this year, as well as undertaking a one-off appearance in Scottish Formula Ford, before finishing second at the Festival.
As Festival winner Joey Foster was ineligible for entry, Donegan received a ticket to the Shootout.
The Shootout took place over two days and culminated in a half-hour race between five of the 17 entrants.
Donegan was joined in the final race by Team USA Scholarship winner Aaron Jeansonne, New Zealand FFord champion Liam Lawson and karters Jake Craig and Olin Galli.
It took several hours after the race before the judges, including 2016 Shootout winner and WHT runner-up Oliver Askew, decided a victor, with “each driver having shown enough to earn a Scholarship”.
The six-strong judging panel eventually decided on Donegan, who will move onto the Mazda Road to Indy ladder that takes drivers from USF2000 to IndyCar.
“It really hasn’t hit me yet, to be honest,” said Donegan.
“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.
“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.”
“This was really difficult [to decide the winner],” said Kyle Kimball, manager of operations for Mazda Motorsports and one of the judges. “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], and the first year I was a little nervous because you feel the weight of making the right decision,” added Scott Goodyear, Indycar race winner and another of the judges.
“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.”
The UK championships contingent consisted of Donegan, Northern Ireland FF1600 and Scottish FFord champions Niall Murray and Ross Martin, Formula Ford Super Series Shootout winner Jamie Thorburn, and Walter Hayes Trophy finalist Oliver White.
BRSCC National champion Luke Williams was invited to the Shootout but was unable to attend.