While the long break between the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and the Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix was highly publicized in IndyCar circles, a lesser-known early season dead zone is the break that USF2000 drivers must endure.
Following the series’ second race held on opening weekend in Florida, the teams will not hit the track again until an official test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Thursday, May 10. For last December’s Mazda Road to Indy Scholarship Shootout winner, Keith Donegan, the time off offers an opportunity to reflect on his first weekend in the Mazda Road to Indy.
In the first race at St. Petersburg, Donegan started 17th in a loaded 25-car field. The team was faced with issues throughout the weekend that hampered their ability to get on track for practice, which consequently kept the 21-year-old from reaching the car’s full potential.
“To be honest, St. Pete was not a good weekend at all for us,” the Ireland native remarked. “We had some issues early on in the weekend up until qualifying (session) one. With such little time on track you really can’t afford to have these issues… Then when we had those problems sorted, it highlighted some other issues we had.
“The annoying thing for us is we worked so hard to get a good balance and then we got that, (only) to realize that there were issues there that could not be solved at the race track in the time frame we had.”
Despite the challenges faced, Donegan improved from his starting position of 17th in race one to finish 14th. In the weekend’s second race, Donegan qualified one spot worse in 18th but finished one spot better than the previous race in 13th. The obstacles in front of the Mazda prospect presented an opportunity to showcase a cool, even-keel manner that separates Donegan from other drivers at this stage in their careers.
“It was a real test of character for me because I had to try to stay cool in the car and gather every point I could and not do something silly,” he explained. “It’s easy to let the frustration build and crash or make silly moves.”
While disappointing in the results, Donegan noted that the team escaped the weekend without any crash damage and they will take advantage of the two-month break that falls between St. Petersburg and Indianapolis as an opportunity to sort out their week one issues. To stay sharp, Donegan returned to his home near Dublin and has put in work with the simulator and in go karts.
“It’s a long break for sure, so I went back to Ireland for three weeks and then I’ve been training in a go kart and on the simulator along with gym work,” the Irishman said. “It’s a pretty standard routine for me and I enjoy it, so it’s not that difficult.
“I’m so motivated to win, so the preparation bit is never an issue for me.”
After the full series test day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on May 10, USF2000 will contest rounds three and four of their 2018 championship during the INDYCAR Grand Prix of Indianapolis race weekend on May 11 & 12. Ahead of the race weekend just a few weeks out, Donegan and his ArmsUp Motorsports group will be on track for a test day or two.
“We have a few test days planned to try and understand the car better, and I’m sure we will be in much better shape coming into Indy.”
If past history is any indicator, it is far too early to count out this fledgling team and driver. Keep an eye on them to make some big gains at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May.
Images courtesy of USF2000.