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Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

MRTI Observations: Pro Mazda Indianapolis Race No. 1

After taking the lead on Lap 5, Victor Franzoni led the rest of the way at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to score his first career Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires victory.

Here are some observations from the first race of two this weekend.

Freaky Fast Franzoni

When Popular Speed caught up with Franzoni a month ago, the confidence was evident entering this weekend.

“I think this one we’re going to be really strong because the first test that I did with Juncos was there, and the car was fast,” he said in April. “Everything was really good there. It’s a track that I like a lot, so I think we’ll be fast there. I think that’ll be a good track for us.”

He backed up his words as he started on pole, and consistently posted the quickest lap times through the second half of the event, leading 17 of 22 laps en route to his first career victory.

Surrounded by drivers who have never driven one of the Pro Mazda cars before, the Juncos Racing driver has experience as he ran the second half of 2016 with a best finish of fourth, twice. Now with a pair of runner-ups and a win, along with the pole for tomorrow, he could very well leave Indianapolis in the points lead.

No Podium Change

While a new face was in victory lane, his fellow mates on the podium did not change as Anthony Martin, and TJ Fischer joined him once again.

Martin jumped up to Pro Mazda after winning the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Presented by Mazda last season and came out with a bang as he won both events to kick-off 2017 at St. Petersburg. He jumped from third to first on the opening lap on Friday at Indianapolis, leading five laps before finishing second.

Fischer put together a solid effort, running third solidly throughout the entire event, as he held off his Team Pelfrey teammates in a close battle with them. He ran the second half of 2016, scoring two top-fives in eight starts. Now he sits three races into 2017, with three third-place finishes.

Double Spinners

The race did not go without incident as Kevin Davis, and Charles Finelli both spun around on Lap 2 but were able to keep it going to prevent a full course yellow. As a result, the pair finished 12th and 14th, respectively.

It continues the struggles this year for both drivers as they didn’t fare well in St. Petersburg either, as Davis failed to post a top-10 in either event, while Finelli finished 10th and 14th.

Denes Continues Improving

Phillippe Denes made the jump to Pro Mazda this season after a stellar karting career and finishing third in the F1600 Championship last season with two victories. With each race, he has continued to get better.

After starting off the year with a seventh and sixth at St. Petersburg, he ran solidly in the top-five all day on Friday en route to a career-best fifth finish. If the progress can continue weekly, he could become the next driver to visit victory lane.

Masterful Competition

Everybody knew entering this season that the car counts would be low with teams and drivers holding out as they await the release of the series’ brand new car in 2018 – the PM-18, which is in the beginning stages of testing. With just 15 cars in the field, the fans were still entertained.

Martin and Franzoni delivered a show at the front of the grid as Franzoni chased down the Australian for the lead. The pair then ran side-by-side through three corners on Lap 4 without any contact, with Martin initially holding off his competitor. As they began the next lap, a run by Franzoni down the frontstretch was all he needed to get the lead in turn one.

Typically, the road courses present a single-file affair for the Mazda Road to Indy cars, as showcased at Barber Motorsports Park last month. However, this group proved it’s possible to make some action happen.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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By Ashley McCubbin

Currently the Executive Editor for Popular Speed, Ashley McCubbin also runs Short Track Musings, while handling media relations for OSCAAR. Currently living in Bradford, Ontario, she spends her weekend at the local short tracks in the area taking photos.