Mazda scholarship winners set for 2018 rides in Mazda Road to Indy

Updated: 

When it comes to the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, the color of choice is Soul Red.

The iconic paint scheme will be carried by a deserving individual in each of the three series in the INDYCAR-sanctioned developmental platform leading to the Verizon IndyCar Series. Mazda announced Thursday where its three MRTI scholarship winners – Keith Donegan in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda, Oliver Askew in the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires and Victor Franzoni in Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires – will race this season.

The announcement came ahead of MRTI’s four-day spring training testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Indy Lights is on the HMS oval today. Pro Mazda and USF2000 cars split time on the road course on Saturday and Sunday, with Indy Lights teams getting road course testing on Monday.

Donegan (center in photo above) will piloting the No. 30 Soul Red Mazda/Tatuus USF-17 for ArmsUp Motorsports in USF2000 powered by Mazda – the first rung of MRTI ladder. Although new to the United States, the 20-year-old Irishman outlasted 16 other competitors to earn the $200,000 Mazda Road to Indy Scholarship Shootout.

“After testing with many teams in the preseason, we felt that ArmsUp Motorsport were the best fit for us,” Donegan said. “I get on really well with all the lads and I already feel at home there.

“The team have lots of experience in USF2000 and I know they can give me a competitive car that I can win in. (Owners) Gregg and Brent Borland are just as driven as me to win and that is motivating for the whole team.” 

Despite hailing from the Emerald Isle and being close to a variety of junior formula categories, Donegan is adamant about progressing up the MRTI ladder.

“Basically, the MRTI, unlike any other programs in Europe, has a clear pathway to the top level in the sport, the Verizon IndyCar Series,” said Donegan, runner-up in the Formula Ford Festival at England’s Brands Hatch Circuit in October.

“Mazda Motorsports do an incredible job in rewarding successful drivers the backing required to make the next step. It makes sense to compete in a MRTI championship because you get seriously competitive drivers in very good cars on insane tracks.”

Donegan will look to replicate the success of Oliver Askew, who won last year’s scholarship shootout and turned it into a USF2000 championship. In turn, he collected a $325,000 Mazda scholarship toward a Pro Mazda ride this season.

The 21-year-old from Jupiter, Florida, is remaining with Cape Motorsports as he moves up and will drive the No. 3 Soul Red Mazda/Tatuus PM-18. Progressing up the MRTI ladder with the same team he captured seven USF2000 wins with last season was an easy decision.

“The decision to stay with Cape Motorsports for the second consecutive year was a no-brainer,” said Askew (right in photo above). “After my first season in cars in 2017, it is important for me to stay with the same group of people who have helped kickstart my learning curve. We have great chemistry and I feel that we have yet to reach our full potential as a group.”

Despite a step up to the PM-18 chassis that debuts this season, the 2016 Team USA Scholarship winner isn’t making excuses.

“It is not totally new for us,” Askew said, “because the chassis is very similar to the USF-17, which we were able to perform well with last year. We expect to be just as competitive in 2018. I’m looking forward to seeing where we stand this weekend. “ 

Franzoni, the talented 22-year-old Brazilian, comes off a battle-tested Pro Mazda campaign that saw him score seven wins and 13 podiums in as many races. He edged 2016 USF2000 champion Anthony Martin for the title and $790,300 Mazda scholarship to advance to Indy Lights.

Like Askew, Franzoni is returning to the same team. Juncos Racing guided Franzoni to the Pro Mazda title last year while also capturing the Indy Lights crown with Kyle Kaiser. Franzoni will pilot the No. 23 Soul Red Mazda/Dallara IL-15 in Indy Lights this season.

“We made a deal that if we won Pro Mazda, we would stay together for Indy Lights,” Franzoni (left in photo above) said. “It is the best choice for me. Juncos Racing is more like a family and not like a team, so we had to stay together again this year.

“I have done USF2000, Pro Mazda and now Indy Lights, which was very important to me that I didn’t jump any series. I think the Mazda Road to Indy has made me ready for INDYCAR or any series in the world.”

Live timing and scoring is available at racecontrol.indycar.com for all MRTI sessions this weekend at Homestead. Indy Lights had two oval sessions scheduled today, the second running from 1:30-4 p.m. ET. USF2000 and Pro Mazda each have six one-hour sessions spread across Saturday and Sunday, running from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. each day. Indy Lights hits the road course on Monday, from 9 a.m.-noon and 1:30-5 p.m.

All three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy open their seasons with doubleheader race weekends at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg from March 9-11.

From the fans