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Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

EMBURY: Indianapolis 500 Advancement On The Line?

Remember the original edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Now recall when meek Charlie Bucket realizes he has found the last golden ticket.

Yours truly is not going to sing and dance a-la Charlie and Grandpa Joe, yet a lot is on the table for whoever takes the checkered flag first in Friday’s Freedom 100. The pinnacle event on the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship has often opened the window of opportunity to a future shot at the Indianapolis 500.

Nowhere was this proven more so than in the inaugural running of the support race in 2003. Starting from pole position, Indianapolis’s own Ed Carpenter led all but one of the event’s forty laps to take the historic triumph. Duesenberg Brothers Racing’s Jeff Simmons charged late to finish second, while Panther Racing’s Mark Taylor came home in third

Although no one could have predicted it at the time, but all three podium drivers would take three of the 33 spots in the 2004 Indy 500. A collision between Carpenter and Taylor at the 200-mile mark ultimately allowed Simmons to earn the best result of the trio in that edition, placing 11th.

In fact, each of the first five winners of the sprint race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway eventually qualified for the big dance, with the most notable being Wade Cunningham, the only competitor to date to win the Freedom 100 more than once.

Including Carpenter, three other P1 catchers will be on the main straightaway waiting for Mari Hulman George’s command to start engines. Josef Newgarden comes into Sunday’s race after earning third-place in 2016. Gabby Chaves used his 2014 100-mile race success, to snag Rookie of the Race honors in the Indy 500 two years ago. And after winning the Indy Lights’ big race in 2015, Jack Harvey makes his debut in the Memorial Day battle on May 28th.

So who could join these graduates in 2017? While defending champion Dean Stoneman was unsuccessful in taking a ride for the Indy 500 this month, there is another driver who was also in the running for a spot that could be the favorite to win the 2017 Freedom 100.

Following the announcement of Juncos Racing’s participation in this year’s race, it was believed that their Indy Lights regular Kyle Kaiser would be one of the chauffeurs. The 21-year old from California placed third on last year’s points table with two wins. 2017 has continued the wave of momentum for the prospect; he enters Friday’s event as the championship leader and is the most recent winner taking the second leg of the Liberty Challenge on the  Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. With Ricardo Juncos attempting to promote his team to the Verizon IndyCar Series full-time in 2018, the Freedom 100 could be the boost required to earn the title and the bump up funding a ride next season.

Nico Jamin and Colton Herta are also possibilities from the Andretti Autosport junior squad. Both enter Friday on the heels of Kaiser with each taking a pair of victories in 2017. The French-based Jamin  has been a winning machine, earning successes in IMSA Prototype Challenge and Pirelli World Challenge action this year as well. Herta would join a long line of sons following their fathers into the Indy 500. Colton’s dad Bryan scored two top-fives at the Brickyard, and has won the big one twice as an owner.

Regardless of who joins the victory list on Friday, the chances are good that someone could fire it up against the big guys in the future.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

Franzoni, Green Join Juncos Racing

After stating a couple weeks ago his team wasn’t going to race in the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires, it appears things have changed for Riccardo Juncos.  His team announced on Wednesday that Brazilian Victor Franzoni and American Jeff Green will drive for the team this season.

“I am happy to be back in the Pro Mazda Championship for the 2017 season,” said Juncos. “We have a great driver lineup with Victor (Franzoni) and Jeff (Green). They both have great determination to make 2017 a successful year.

“Victor ran with us at the Chris Griffiths test back in October, where he proved he is ready to make the move up into the Pro Mazda series by taking the fastest time overall in all eight sessions. Jeff recently joined us at the series open test at Homestead Miami Speedway and made his decision to run with us for his first full season in the Pro Mazda series. We look forward to working with these drivers this year, and providing them the tools and skills sets to take the next step in their racing careers.”

Franzoni is coming off a solid Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda season where he finished third in the series standings. The Brazilian tested with Juncos during the Chris Griffiths Memorial Test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, quickest on the speed chart.

“I’m really happy that in 2017 I’ll be part of Juncos Racing,” said Franzoni. “They are one of the biggest teams in the Mazda Road to Indy series and that makes me very happy. I tested at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with Juncos (Racing) and we led all of the test sessions and also broke the unofficial track record. I am sure we will have an amazing season together! I feel that I am ready and really focused on this season. It’s a big year for me that will decide my future, so I am happy to be with a team like Juncos Racing!”

Meanwhile, Green has yet to compete in a Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires event, making his debut during the Pro Mazda test at Homestead-Miami Speedway last month. Green began his career in the Skip Barber program, before racing in the Radical Cup Nationals finishing second and Spec Miata Racing at the Autobahn Country Club.

“Even though I may be over the hill, once I got on the other side I seemed to speed up,” said Green. “This may be only my second time running the Pro Mazda car, but I plan on speeding up as the series goes on.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

JUNCOS: “Not Going To Run The Pro Mazda This Year”

Currently with the drivers announced, along with new teams, there seems to be only eight cars set to compete in Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires this year. The field was set to grow further with Juncos Racing entering at least two cars as they have in the past, but that isn’t going to be the case.

“To be honest, we actually are not going to run the Pro Mazda this year,” Ricardo Juncos said. “Unfortunately after being eight years with four cars, we cannot do it. We going to focus obviously on Indy Lights, IndyCar now, and some other stuff.”

Juncos revealed earlier this month that his team had obtained the IndyCar equipment from KV Racing after they shut down, and plans to enter this year’s Indianapolis 500, with a possible full-time effort in 2018.

“The problem is that as much as I want to have, is not that easy to just keep building teams. I want to do things right and control the things, which sometimes is difficult,” he said. “At the moment, because of this IndyCar situation, we are moving people around, we going to focus on Indy Lights, full championship properly, and start. The 500 will be a starting point for our IndyCar team.”

It marks a blow to the second tier of the Mazda Road to Indy after Juncos Racing placed all four of their drivers in the top-eight in the standings last year, with Will Owen and Nicolas Dapero finishing the highest in fourth and fifth.

There is a possibility for a return in the future, though, as Juncos wouldn’t totally close the door on 2018 yet. The program holds a lot of meaning due to the success that they’ve had, along with the role it plays into developing future IndyCar drivers.

“In order to have the program and development, we need the series, we need the Pro Mazda, USF2000 and Indy Lights,” he said. “I’m always in favor of that. I think having the IndyCar team is going to be a plus for our other teams; Indy Lights, for example, which is one step before. For the current Indy Lights driver, they are so excited about the IndyCar because that’s the future for them. So I think it’s a plus in that sense.

“Because we’ve been doing this, actually I like myself to develop these drivers, I feel really, really happy when I see Conor Daly, Spencer Pigot, some drivers in Europe now, they’ve been with us at one point. We help them somehow in a way. I love that part. I think it’s very important to have this series in place and working properly because we need it. If we don’t have a car, if we don’t have a series, we cannot develop any driver. Is very important to have that system.”

For the immediate future, though, now all eyes focus on the drivers affected who were part of the driver line-up last year – Dapero, Owen, Jake Parsons and Garrett Grist. Dapero knows he will remain with the team as it’s already been announced that he’ll move up to Indy Lights this season, while Owen appears to be headed down the sports car route. The last two, though, have yet to announce any plans.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

 

 

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Ricardo Juncos “Taking it Step by Step” with Indy 500 Effort

Although the initial full-time car count has dropped by one for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, it appears that KV Racing’s spot on the entry list for this May’s 101st running of the Indianapolis 500.

Juncos Racing, operated by Argentine-based entrepreneur Ricardo Juncos confirmed on Wednesday that they have acquired the assets from KV’s INDYCAR efforts. Additionally, Juncos discussed their plan on entering this year’s edition of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, with hopes to join the circuit full-time in 2018 – the same year INDYCAR plans to debut new aero kits. The team recently opened a new team headquarters in the town of Speedway, Indiana, just minutes away from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.   

“This is a sport. It’s a very complicated business,” explained Juncos on Wednesday. “But that’s the way I see it. Like any other sport, some of them will do different things. One is going to drive the car, one is going to drive the truck, one is going to clean, one is going to do the gearbox, whatever is that role. We are only one big team with the same goal, which is win races.”

The team, which has been a mainstay on the Mazda Road to Indy levels for several seasons, was pivotal in providing the experience needed for two current Verizon IndyCar Series regulars. Both Spencer Pigot of Ed Carpenter Racing and A.J. Foyt Racing’s Conor Daly each spent time with Juncos on the lower levels of the INDYCAR pyramid. 

Daly won seven races and the 2010 Star Mazda Series championship with the squad, while Pigot won six events in the Pro Mazda division in 2014 with Juncos, also earning the series title.

“We got a good opportunity when we won the Pro Mazda championship with Spencer,” said Juncos. “The original idea before ’14 was try to fight for that championship. If we were able to win it, that we have a good chance to put together an Indy Lights team, which we did.”

While the team has yet to confirm a driver or potential sponsorship deal tied to its Indy 500 effort at this time, Juncos feels ready to face the challenges that are ahead. 

“With the 500, it’s never easy but is easier to put things together on the sponsor side to make it happen. So for us, the other hand, (Indy is a) very difficult track, and dangerous race. We going to take it as step by step,” said Juncos. “I mean, I probably will know way more after the race, to see really where I am right now. There’s a lot of questions with no answer in my mind. The only way to do it is just run it, right? Try to prep ourselves the best possible way to ultimately become a full-time Indy car team and do the best job possible. That’s obviously the goal.”

The goal for IndyCar, meanwhile, is focused on encouraging more teams in the lower levels of the open-wheel pyramid to take the risk and jump up to the Verizon IndyCar Series. In addition to Juncos’ operation, there is reportedly at least one other entity that has also shown consideration to advance to the top level, perhaps in time for the 2018 season.       

“We certainly want to be an asset and a tool to help in any way we can,” said Jay Frye, the president of competition and operations for INDYCAR. “Obviously, it’s a big jump. There’s a lot of things that are going to happen. Any way we can help to expedite the learning curve, we’re glad to do that.”

As Frye indicated, it is not solely a jump in lap speeds that are associated with a group interested in making a move from the lower levels of the sport, all the way to the top in a short period of time.

“A lot of it’s processes and procedures, how does this work, how does that work,” said Frye. “It’s things that (one) has never done before because there’s certain ways we do things, again just procedurally. We’ve been talking a lot and we want to make sure they’re as up to speed on everything expectation-wise as they can be.” 

In addition to the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500, Juncos also indicated he is seeking other opportunities to contest more races outside of the 500 in 2017; however for now, the month of May is the primary target.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Juncos Racing to Enter Indianapolis 500

Last week came the long-rumored news that KV Racing was closing its doors after 14 years in the Champ Car World Series and the IndyCar Series. However, this week was time for happier news.

Juncos Racing, who purchased the equipment from KV, announced they’re planning an entry for the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500.

“I am so happy to officially announce our participation in the Verizon IndyCar Series,” said team owner Ricardo Juncos. “This is a dream come true for me and my team. It’s been only two months since our grand opening of the new Juncos Technical Center, which was a huge moment for us. Now we are becoming a new team in the Verizon IndyCar Series and will run in ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,’ the Indianapolis 500. This is definitely one of the biggest moments in my life.”

Juncos, an Argentinian who came to the United States in 2002, is also running two cars in the Indy Lights Series. At press time, no driver or sponsor for the Indy 500 entry has been announced.

Two guesses on the driver would be Kyle Kaiser and Spencer Pigot who has won championships in several rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy with Juncos. Kaiser is set to run the full Indy Lights schedule this year for Juncos along with Nicolas Dapero, while Pigot is scheduled for the road and street courses with Ed Carpenter Racing. While ECR hasn’t confirmed the 500 yet for Pigot, it is highly likely based on their program has been set-up in the past. Kaiser, seeming more likely of the two right now, enters his second year of Indy Lights competition after finishing third in points with two wins and nine podiums.

“It’s always hard to identify the right moment and right time to make a big move and make big decisions in motor racing, but I am confident the timing is right and that we will succeed as we did in the Mazda Road to Indy ladder series,” Juncos said. “I want to thank Mark Miles (Hulman & Co. CEO) and Jay Frye (INDYCAR president of competition and operations) from the Verizon IndyCar Series for all of their help and confidence they have had in me and my team. I also want to thank Mr. Kevin Kalkhoven from KV Racing Technology. He has been extremely helpful during this transition and, with his continued support and help with all of his experience in racing, we are confident going into this next level. Thank you to my family and my team for giving me massive support throughout the years, and to all of the fans, thank you!”

Fans and friends of Kevin Kalkhoven will be delighted to hear that the enthusiastic Aussie may be on board to help Ricardo Juncos develop an Indy Car team in a matter of months. Kalkhoven, the KV Racing Technology co-owner, is eager to lend his support to the Juncos Racing effort for the Indianapolis 500.

“We are delighted Ricardo is developing a program to progress to the Indy 500 and beyond,” Kalkhoven said. “We are committed to helping him and his team with our experience, equipment and data to best ensure a successful entry.”

KV Racing Technology posted an Indy 500 win in 2013 with Tony Kanaan driving, Jimmy Vasser as a team co-owner and calling the race for his friend TK. So, an alliance with Kevin, Jimmy and their team members who are otherwise not committed may give Juncos Racing a distinct advantage for the May classic.

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.