Categories
Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

Franzoni’s Victory Seals Pro Mazda Title at a Soggy Watkins Glen

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Come wet or dry, Victor Franzoni and Juncos Racing have been the class of the field in this year’s Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires. They have been pushed hard by Anthony Martin and Cape Motorsports, but a commanding performance this morning in tricky wet conditions in the Pro Mazda Watkins Glen Grand Prix Presented by Cooper Tires saw Franzoni, 21, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, lead from flag to flag in the series finale. 
 
Franzoni’s seventh win of the season assured him of both the championship crown and a Mazda Scholarship worth almost $800,000 to assist in his progression to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the top rung on the Mazda Road to Indy open-wheel development ladder, in 2018.
 
Fellow Brazilian Carlos Cunha posted another strong performance to claim second place for Team Pelfrey, while Martin, from Perth, Australia, had to settle for a distant third.
 
Steady overnight rain had dissipated to merely a drizzle as the Pro Mazda cars assembled on the grid. The ambient temperature was a cool 54 degrees but the pressure was high with so much at stake for the two championship contenders, Franzoni and Martin, who were separated by just eight points following the Brazilian’s win yesterday.
 
Franzoni had extended that lead by one more point when he qualified on pole in damp conditions yesterday evening, and he made a picture-perfect getaway from the rolling start to lead into Turn One. Cunha tucked into second ahead of a fast-starting Martin, who had lined up fifth on the grid following a two-place penalty for failing to acknowledge the checkered flag at the conclusion of qualifying.
 
Franzoni completed the opening lap with a huge 2.6-second lead as Cunha battled to keep Martin at bay. Their tussle continued until the fourth lap when Martin’s move to the inside under braking for Turn One was strongly resisted, which led to light contact and a lurid spin for Martin.
 
At that point all Franzoni needed to do was reel off the laps to cap a remarkable season in which he finished all 12 races either first or second. He also secured Ricardo Juncos’ seventh PFC Award as the winning car owner. Franzoni led by as much as 6.7 seconds before easing his pace and eventually taking the checkered flag just 1.5903 seconds clear of Cunha, who rounded out a fine rookie campaign by posting the only sub-two-minute laps of the race.
 
Martin finished a disappointed but valiant third, well clear of Los Angeles-based Russian Nikita Lastochkin, whose fourth-place finish secured the coveted Team Championship for Team Pelfrey.
 
Californian T.J. Fischer (Team Pelfrey) claimed the Quarter Master Hard Charger Award after overcoming some mechanical problems yesterday and climbing from 12th on the grid to fifth. Sting Ray Robb (World Speed Motorsports), from Payette, Idaho, recovered from an early spin to pass Pittsburgh, Pa.’s Matt Machiko (ArmsUp Motorsports), who earned the Staubli Award.
 
Victor Franzoni (#23 Juncos Racing): “I am so happy, but there are so many things in my mind right now. It’s unbelievable. So many people helped me to get into Pro Mazda this season. I grew up five or 10 years in my career this season. The difference for me was Juncos Racing this year, they gave me such a great car. The fight with Anthony was incredible. He’s really, really good. I had to push so hard to stay with him. We were so close in every single race and pushed to the limit all the time. This was the hardest season of my life, because I knew I could not make a mistake. We both did a great job and I think we both deserve to move forward. I want to thank everyone at Mazda, Cooper Tires and Andersen Promotions. 
 
“There were so many things on my mind on that last lap that I couldn’t focus. The team told me to be careful when the white flag came out, and suddenly, I couldn’t drive! When I saw the checkered, it was so great. To know where I will be next year now is the best thing in the world. I didn’t get just prize money today, I got hope.”
Carlos Cunha (#81 Team Pelfrey): “I’m so happy for Victor. It’s amazing to see a Brazilian and a friend win the championship. We tried everything we could but these guys [Franzoni, Martin] were too strong for me. The racing was amazing in the series this year. I kept trying to push more and more. It was a fun run, a fun season. I learned a lot with these two guys. It was amazing and I need to say ’thank you.’”
Anthony Martin (#8 Mazda/Burgess BLA-Cape Motorsports): “I was pushing 150 percent out there with the championship on the line. It sucks to be the first loser, as I call it, but I gave it my all. I didn’t leave anything out there. I’m very disappointed not to take the championship but I had a great time this year. I was a Mazda Scholarship driver, which is something I never thought I would be when I first arrived in America. To come this far and to not take the championship is bittersweet. The season has been one big bumpy rollercoaster. Victor and I traded the lead I don’t know how many times, and we had some intense battles. Congratulations to Victor and to Juncos Racing. Consistency wins and they were just a little more consistent than me.”
 
###
 
About Pro Mazda: The Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires debuted in 2013 as a new series, replacing the Star Mazda Championship which ceased operation in 2012 after 22 years. The series is sanctioned by INDYCAR and owned and operated by Andersen Promotions. It is the second official step on the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder system with the series’ champion awarded a scholarship package from Mazda to advance to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires competition the following year. For more information, visit promazdachampionship.com
 
About Mazda, Mazda Motorsports: Mazda Motorsports boasts the most comprehensive auto racing development ladder system of any auto manufacturer in the world. The Mazda Road to 24 program offers a number of scholarships to advance drivers up the sports car racing ladder, beginning with the Global MX-5 Cup series and culminating with the Mazda Prototype team. The Mazda Road to Indy is a similar program that includes Mazda-powered categories of USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights. In grassroots road racing, more Mazdas race on any given weekend in North America than any other manufacturer. Mazda is also the title sponsor of the renowned Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. Follow all of the latest news at MazdaMotorsports.com, @MazdaRacing on Twitter, and MazdaMotorsports on Instagram and Facebook. 
 
About Cooper Tire & Rubber Company: Cooper Tire & Rubber Company is the parent company of a global family of companies that specializes in the design, manufacture, marketing and sale of innovative, great-performing tires that you can count on to last for thousands of miles, getting you where you need to go, and back again. Cooper is proud to be the spec tire for all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, a development program within the IndyCar racing series. Cooper tires can also be seen on the track as a sponsor in the short course off-road TORC Series. Headquartered in Findlay, Ohio, Cooper, with its subsidiaries, has manufacturing, sales, distribution, technical and design operations in more than one dozen countries around the world. To connect with Cooper, visit www.coopertire.comwww.facebook.com/coopertire or www.twitter.com/coopertire.
Categories
Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

MRTI Observations: Pro Mazda Watkins Glen Grand Prix Race 1

Picking up his second straight Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires victory at Watkins Glen, Victor Franzoni extends his advantage over Anthony Martin heading into the final event of the season.

Here are the observations from the first event of the weekend.

Doing It Right

Over the past couple of months, Franzoni and Martin have traded wins back and forth, along with the points lead, as they battle it out for the scholarship to move up to the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires full-time in 2018.

Following his victory at Gateway Motorsports Park, Franzoni entered Watkins Glen with a two-point lead over Martin.

Initially, it looked as though the advantage would shift to Martin as he took the advantage on Lap 1 with a move on the outside off of turn three, and pass through the bus stop. If Martin had won, it would put him up by two points entering Sunday’s Soul Red Finale.

But Franzoni did what he needed to do, making the same move back on Martin on Lap 12 to take back the lead, before holding serve the rest of the way. Now going into tomorrow, Franzoni has a cushion being eight markers up on Martin.

Problematic Pelfrey

Team Pelfrey entered four drivers into the finale, hoping to end off the campaign in victory lane. However, it did not play out as warranted.

Two of their competitors saw their races end on Lap 2 when Robert Meginnis, from contact or by himself, got sideways while battling for fourth in turn nine, and collected his teammate Nikita Lastochkin.

Then on the restart, T.J. Fischer did not get going as he wanted, dropping back to seventh from fourth, before contact with Kris Wright sent him off track, and ending his race with a flat tire.

The only good news was Carlos Cunha, who rounded out the podium to give them a top-five.

Competitive Racing

Although some races this year have been snooze fests with an inability to pass, this wasn’t one of those. The leaders traded the top spot twice, and positions fourth to seventh were on everyone’s mind through the second half with position changes throughout.

With this in mind, tomorrow’s setting looks to be the perfect place to cap off the year, with the possibility for an exciting close to a great campaign.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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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.

Categories
Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

Advantage Franzoni at Watkins Glen After Sixth Pro Mazda Victory

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Victor Franzoni (Juncos Racing) extended his slender lead over Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires rival Anthony Martin (Cape Motorsports) by virtue of a hard-fought victory this afternoon in the first of two races that comprise the Pro Mazda Watkins Glen Grand Prix Presented by Cooper Tires. The Brazilian now holds an eight-point edge with a Mazda Scholarship worth almost $800,000 on the line in tomorrow morning’s final race of the season.
 
A third-place finish for fellow Brazilian Carlos Cunha enabled him to vault ahead of Team Pelfrey teammate TJ Fischer in their scrap for third place in the championship. The result also allowed Team Pelfrey to stretch its lead in the Team Championship to six points over Juncos Racing.
 
The two title protagonists were separated by just two points as they headed to upstate New York for this weekend’s final double-header, but that gap was extended by one after qualifying yesterday afternoon when Franzoni posted a new track record of 1:42.4376, an average speed of 118.433 mph, to secure his fourth pole of the season by a handsome margin of 0.8121 seconds.
 
In markedly cooler conditions today, the front row pair took off in lock step with Martin, from Perth, Australia, intent upon not allowing Franzoni to stretch away. Even better, Martin took advantage of an aggressive run through the Esses on the opening lap, plus a good draft, to tow past as the leaders headed toward the Inner Loop.
 
The race was neutralized before the end of the second lap when Pro Mazda debutant Robert Megennis (Team Pelfrey), from New York, N.Y., lost control and crashed heavily at Turn Nine. Innocent teammate Nikita Lastochkin, who had been embroiled in a close battle for third in the championship, was unable to avoid the wreckage and also crashed out of the race.
 
Even though Martin led away from the restart, it quickly became apparent that Franzoni had the faster car. The Brazilian tried a couple of times to make a bold outside-line pass at the toe of the boot (Turn Seven), only to be rebuffed each time. Finally, on Lap 12, Franzoni virtually mirrored the earlier pass by Martin as he drafted into the lead prior to the Inner Loop. Franzoni then romped away over the final couple of laps, posting comfortably the fastest lap of the race at a new record 1:43.5737 (117.134 mph) before taking the checkered flag a full 3.5743 seconds clear to claim his sixth win of the season and the sixth PFC Award for winning team owner Ricardo Juncos.
 
Martin couldn’t match that pace and instead had to concentrate on maintaining second place ahead of Cunha, which he achieved by less than one second.
 
Sting Ray Robb (World Speed Motorsports), from Payette, Idaho, finished a distant fourth, well clear of Kris Wright (JDC MotorSports), who worked his way from 10th on the grid to secure the Staubli Award. Matt Machiko (ArmsUp Motorsports), from Pittsburgh, Pa., enjoyed a strong return to the series for the first time since May, snaring the Quarter Master Hard Charger Award after rising from 10th on the grid to sixth.
 
Brendan Puderbach, from the Bronx, N.Y., finished eighth for FatBoy Racing! to secure the National Class Championship crown.
Another qualifying session later today will set the starting grid for tomorrow’s 12th and final round of the season, which is due to start at 7:55 a.m. EDT.
 
Victor Franzoni (#23 Juncos Racing): “My only thought during the race was to pass Anthony. I had to win but at the same time I had to stay calm enough not to make any mistakes. It’s been this way all year long and that’s taught me a lot. I had close to a perfect race, pushing as hard as I could. I waited to make a move until we were through the fast corners, somewhere I knew I could get a gap. Once I was able to get back around, I didn’t check the mirrors at all, I just focused on the next turn. I was not trying to save anything. The Juncos guys are so great, everything they do has helped me. I had five guys talking to me during qualifying, but I told them not to speak during the race because I had to focus. I’m enjoying this season so much and I’m hoping to win the championship and keep going with them.”
 
Anthony Martin (#8 Mazda/Burgess BLA-Cape Motorsports): “There’s one more race – and if it’s a wet race, that throws another spanner in the works. Anything can happen so I can’t get too excited now. I was able to get a good run on Victor going into the Bus Stop, and it turned out to be pretty much an identical move to the one he did on me later. My car fell off the cliff a bit late so he was right on my gearbox toward the end. We didn’t want to push the limits of the rules – I’m not like that. I want to race fairly and cleanly. There’s only so much you can do but it was exciting. We’ve been racing hard all year. We give each other room and that’s important.”
 
Carlos Cunha (#81 Team Pelfrey): “I saw right away that I didn’t have the pace those guys had but with their battle I could stay right behind them. Our target was to finish third in the championship, so now I want to try everything to get by these guys. Of course, I’m not going to get in the middle of their championship but I am going to try everything to be in front.”
 
###
 
About Pro Mazda: The Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires debuted in 2013 as a new series, replacing the Star Mazda Championship which ceased operation in 2012 after 22 years. The series is sanctioned by INDYCAR and owned and operated by Andersen Promotions. It is the second official step on the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder system with the series’ champion awarded a scholarship package from Mazda to advance to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires competition the following year. For more information, visit promazdachampionship.com
 
About Mazda, Mazda Motorsports: Mazda Motorsports boasts the most comprehensive auto racing development ladder system of any auto manufacturer in the world. The Mazda Road to 24 program offers a number of scholarships to advance drivers up the sports car racing ladder, beginning with the Global MX-5 Cup series and culminating with the Mazda Prototype team. The Mazda Road to Indy is a similar program that includes Mazda-powered categories of USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights. In grassroots road racing, more Mazdas race on any given weekend in North America than any other manufacturer. Mazda is also the title sponsor of the renowned Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. Follow all of the latest news at MazdaMotorsports.com, @MazdaRacing on Twitter, and MazdaMotorsports on Instagram and Facebook. 
 
About Cooper Tire & Rubber Company: Cooper Tire & Rubber Company is the parent company of a global family of companies that specializes in the design, manufacture, marketing and sale of innovative, great-performing tires that you can count on to last for thousands of miles, getting you where you need to go, and back again. Cooper is proud to be the spec tire for all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, a development program within the IndyCar racing series. Cooper tires can also be seen on the track as a sponsor in the short course off-road TORC Series. Headquartered in Findlay, Ohio, Cooper, with its subsidiaries, has manufacturing, sales, distribution, technical and design operations in more than one dozen countries around the world. To connect with Cooper, visit www.coopertire.comwww.facebook.com/coopertire or www.twitter.com/coopertire.
 
Categories
Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

Franzoni Reclaims Points Lead with Gateway Win

Madison, Ill. – The Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires made its inaugural visit to Gateway Motorsports Park a memorable one as title rivals Victor Franzoni and Anthony Martin once again traded the lead of the championship as Franzoni claimed his fifth victory of the season in this afternoon’s St. Louis Pro Mazda Oval Challenge Presented by Cooper Tires. The pair now share five wins apiece.
 
Martin, of Cape Motorsports, took pole position in qualifying earlier this afternoon – his sixth pole of the season – with Juncos Racing’s Franzoni a close second. Martin held the advantage at the start but a yellow followed shortly after the green flag following a spin by Jeff Green (Juncos Racing) and Brendan Puderbach (Fat Boy Racing!). The battle for the lead resumed on Lap 3 with some entertaining side-by-side racing between the two.
 
Carlos Cunha of Team Pelfrey, who qualified fourth, managed to pass teammate TJ Fischer and briefly enter the fray at the front of the field. Franzoni made several attempts to get around Martin on the high side and finally made the move stick on Lap 18. Once past Martin, Franzoni romped to the checkered flag with a 4.6 second lead claiming the bonus points for most laps led and fastest race lap. 
Cunha held off Fischer to claim his fourth podium of the season and narrow the gap to Fischer to just five points for third in the championship. 
 
Jeff Green recovered from his earlier spin to pass the third Team Pelfrey car of Nikita Lastochkin and finish fifth, earning the Staubli Award. The Quarter Master Hard Charger Award went to World Speed Motorsports’ Sting Ray Robb with a gain of two positions. Juncos Racing earned the PFC Award.
 
Franzoni now leads Martin by two points (287 to 285) with the final two races on the docket coming down to the season finale at Watkins Glen International next weekend.
 
Victor Franzoni (#23 Juncos Racing): “After qualifying, I wasn’t sure we could do it, since I was three-tenths slower than him. We thought, we’ll make some big changes and just hope to survive and finish second. But when I passed him and started to pull away, I knew the changes worked. Here, we had to have a little bit more respect for each other, because the ovals are more dangerous and things happen so fast. But both of us were so focused on winning. I had to try outside in Turn One on the first lap and it was crazy oversteer, I thought I would go into the wall. I tried a couple of lines until I found one that worked. I think we’ll be really strong next weekend, so I’m very confident for the championship.”
 
Anthony Martin (#8 Mazda/Burgess BLA – Cape Motorsports): “We were fighting really hard at the start. We struggled with the car a little bit during the race while Victor and the Juncos team had a really good car and really good race pace. He was just able to make the car stick in Turn One and get around, and I couldn’t stay with him. We were fast all weekend so it’s a shame to finish it like that, but we took good points, and he’s only two points ahead. It doesn’t matter who’s ahead and who’s behind, you go in to win the race. At this point, I have to get all the points I can so you forget the championship, really. You have to win, there’s nothing else. I’m going to go into the last two races striving to do my best. Anything can happen at Watkins Glen so we’ll go in with guns blazing.”
 
Carlos Cunha (#81 Team Pelfrey): “I think ovals are amazing! I thought it would be easy but when we came here for the test two weeks ago, I realized it would not be easy. I actually touched the wall twice during the race. You need to be technical all the time and tell the engineers the right things because the car is the most important. You have to drive on the limit and you get what you get – and for us, that was third place today. Victor and Anthony had better place but for my first oval, it was good. I had no mistakes and we finished on the podium. I’m really excited to do another oval.”
 
###
 
About Pro Mazda: The Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires debuted in 2013 as a new series, replacing the Star Mazda Championship which ceased operation in 2012 after 22 years. The series is sanctioned by INDYCAR and owned and operated by Andersen Promotions. It is the second official step on the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder system with the series’ champion awarded a scholarship package from Mazda to advance to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires competition the following year. For more information, visit promazdachampionship.com
 
About Mazda, Mazda Motorsports: Mazda Motorsports boasts the most comprehensive auto racing development ladder system of any auto manufacturer in the world. The Mazda Road to 24 program offers a number of scholarships to advance drivers up the sports car racing ladder, beginning with the Global MX-5 Cup series and culminating with the Mazda Prototype team. The Mazda Road to Indy is a similar program that includes Mazda-powered categories of USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights. In grassroots road racing, more Mazdas race on any given weekend in North America than any other manufacturer. Mazda is also the title sponsor of the renowned Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. Follow all of the latest news at MazdaMotorsports.com, @MazdaRacing on Twitter, and MazdaMotorsports on Instagram and Facebook. 
 
About Cooper Tire & Rubber Company: Cooper Tire & Rubber Company is the parent company of a global family of companies that specializes in the design, manufacture, marketing and sale of innovative, great-performing tires that you can count on to last for thousands of miles, getting you where you need to go, and back again. Cooper is proud to be the spec tire for all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, a development program within the IndyCar racing series. Cooper tires can also be seen on the track as a sponsor in the short course off-road TORC Series. Headquartered in Findlay, Ohio, Cooper, with its subsidiaries, has manufacturing, sales, distribution, technical and design operations in more than one dozen countries around the world. To connect with Cooper, visit www.coopertire.comwww.facebook.com/coopertire or www.twitter.com/coopertire.
Categories
Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

Franzoni Edges Martin at Mid-Ohio To Extend Pro Mazda Points Lead

LEXINGTON , Ohio. – Round Eight (out of 12) of the hotly contested Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires once again boiled down to a tense battle between Victor Franzoni (Juncos Racing) and Anthony Martin (Cape Motorsports). Just as was the case yesterday, the Brazilian and the Australian were never separated by more than a few car lengths. Only this time, after taking his fourth pole of the season and holding a narrow advantage for the majority of the 35-minute Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio Presented by Allied Building Products, Martin was unfortunate enough to run afoul of a lapped car with just a few minutes to go, gifting an opportunity for Franzoni to sneak past and secure his fourth win of the season.
 
Another Brazilian, Carlos Cunha, took advantage of another clash with lapped traffic on the last lap to pass Team Pelfrey teammate Nikita Lastochkin for the final place on the podium.
 
After edging his rival to the pole in qualifying this morning by almost three tenths of a second, Martin, from Perth, Australia, duly accelerated into the lead at the start. Martin maintained his lead for almost 23 laps around the undulating 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, while Franzoni ducked and dived in his mirrors, anxiously looking for a way past.
 
Just when it looked as though Martin would snag his fifth win – his third in succession and twice in as many days – the two leaders encountered the second Juncos Racing entry of Jeff Green, from Peoria, Ill., who for most of the race had been trying to fend off the advances of Pittsburgh, Pa., native Kris Wright (JDC MotorSports). Faced with a much slower car in front of him at the entry to the tricky, off-camber Carousel turn, Martin was forced to try to make a pass around the outside line. Unfortunately, at the same moment, Green drifted wide into his path. Martin was forced to take evasive action which allowed Franzoni to sneak past on the inside and take over the lead.
 
Green then spun causing a full-course caution which left just enough time for a one-lap dash to the finish line. Franzoni made no mistakes as he held on to win by less than a half-second from an aggrieved Martin, who took small consolation from claiming the additional championship points for posting the fastest lap of the race and leading most laps.
 
Franzoni now holds a slender five-point edge, 230-225, heading into tomorrow’s ninth round of the 12-race season, for which the green flag will fly at 10:20 a.m. EDT.
 
Los Angeles-based Russian Lastochkin snatched third place from teammate Cunha on the opening lap and held it until Turn Two on the final lap when his attempt to pass the lapped World Speed Motorsports entry of Bobby Eberle ended with contact and allowed Cunha to take the place. TJ Fischer, from Los Angeles, Calif., also profited from the incident to finish fourth ahead of an unhappy Lastochkin and Sting Ray Robb (World Speed Motorsports), from Payette, Idaho, who garnered the Staubli Award after recovering well from a first-lap incident which had dropped him to the back of the field.
 
Bob Kaminsky (Bob Kaminsky Racing), from Homer Glen, Ill., claimed the National Class honors while finishing eighth overall ahead of Wright and Dave Zavelson (Unfair Advantage Motorsports), from Austin, Texas, who snagged the Quarter Master Hard Charger Award after rising from 14th on the grid.
 
Kaminsky’s fourth National Class win of the season vaulted him into the points lead ahead of Brendan Puderbach, from Bronx, N.Y., who finished 12th for FatBoy Racing!
 
Victor Franzoni (#23 Juncos Racing): “I had a better car and I was faster in the middle of the race but it was another day that I was just stuck and I couldn’t do anything. I had some good luck, which is what we need to win the championship. But to have the luck, you have to be in position so I’m really happy we did what we had to do. I was a little bit behind what happened. I saw Jeff (Green) moving so I’m not sure if he had a brake problem or what. I saw him go outside but I went inside, so I couldn’t see what was happening. I am starting second tomorrow so we’ll try to do the same – if I have the chance to pass, I will.”
 
Anthony Martin (#8 Mazda/Burgess BLA-Cape Motorsports): “Victor was right on my tail the entire race. I tried to be conservative with the tires so I found a lap time that I was comfortable doing and tried to stick with that. I knew that he wouldn’t be able to pass at those lap times. I looked in the mirrors to see where he was struggling versus where I was strong and tried to capitalize in those spots as much as I could. The race went well – I can’t thank Mazda and Cooper Tires enough, they give us everything we need to go out there and race, and the Cape guys gave me a great car as always. To set the fast time is always a good achievement. As far as what happened at the end of the race, getting put out by Victor’s teammate was not the way I wanted it to happen. It’s bad when lapped cars affect a championship.”
 
###
About Pro Mazda: The Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires debuted in 2013 as a new series, replacing the Star Mazda Championship which ceased operation in 2012 after 22 years. The series is sanctioned by INDYCAR and owned and operated by Andersen Promotions. It is the second official step on the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder system with the series’ champion awarded a scholarship package from Mazda to advance to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires competition the following year. For more information, visit promazdachampionship.com
 
About Mazda, Mazda Motorsports: Mazda Motorsports boasts the most comprehensive auto racing development ladder system of any auto manufacturer in the world. The Mazda Road to 24 program offers a number of scholarships to advance drivers up the sports car racing ladder, beginning with the Global MX-5 Cup series and culminating with the Mazda Prototype team. The Mazda Road to Indy is a similar program that includes Mazda-powered categories of USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights. In grassroots road racing, more Mazdas race on any given weekend in North America than any other manufacturer. Mazda is also the title sponsor of the renowned Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. Follow all of the latest news at MazdaMotorsports.com, @MazdaRacing on Twitter, and MazdaMotorsports on Instagram and Facebook. 
 
About Cooper Tire & Rubber Company: Cooper Tire & Rubber Company is the parent company of a global family of companies that specializes in the design, manufacture, marketing and sale of innovative, great-performing tires that you can count on to last for thousands of miles, getting you where you need to go, and back again. Cooper is proud to be the spec tire for all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, a development program within the IndyCar racing series. Cooper tires can also be seen on the track as a sponsor in the short course off-road TORC Series. Headquartered in Findlay, Ohio, Cooper, with its subsidiaries, has manufacturing, sales, distribution, technical and design operations in more than one dozen countries around the world. To connect with Cooper, visit www.coopertire.comwww.facebook.com/coopertire or www.twitter.com/coopertire.
Categories
Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

MRTI Observations: Friday at Road America

In the first of three days of competition for the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires, a new face graced victory lane while another kept his streak rolling.

Rinus Veekay broke through for his first career Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda win to start the day, followed by Victor Franzoni scoring his third straight Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires victory.

Here are some observations from all the on-track action.

Victorious Veekay

After coming close to victory lane at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last month, Rinus Veekay made it happen on Friday afternoon as he led 11 laps en route to scoring his first career win. The Pabst Racing driver didn’t have it easy, though, as he had to out-battle David Malukas as the pair went back and forth throughout the course of the event.

The key for Veekay in winning was his ability to get stronger as the race went on, building on his knowledge with each lap around Road America.

“I learned to be very patient in this race,” he said. “I was behind Oliver and David early and sometimes when I made a move, it worked, and sometimes I made a little mistake. But I learned from it. It was a great battle – we touched wheels but it was very fair, a real fight like you want to have. I love this track, it reminds me of Spa, with the long straights with very technical corners. It brings the driving part of you out. I can’t wait for tomorrow!”

Veekay’s success is nothing of a surprise, though, as he has been impressive in his rookie campaign so far this year with only one finish outside of top-five in seven events. Now having closed the gap in the standings down to just 34 points behind Oliver Askew, a hot streak could very well allow him to become a champion this year.

Freaky Fast Franzoni

Franzoni is having a dream season right now in Pro Mazda if you look at the statistics alone. After starting off the year with a pair of runner-ups, he has now scored three straight victories. His event came to him easier than Veekay’s, though, as he was able to get the lead on Lap 3 from Anthony Martin, extending his advantage from there on to the checkered flag.

The success right now means everything for the Juncos Racing driver as he knows what is at stake should he win the championship – a scholarship to compete in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires full-time in 2018,

“This championship is the only chance I have to move up in my career, so I have to win,” he said. “I don’t have too many options.”

While he had everything go his way on Friday, the second event of the weekend on Saturday will be more challenging. He was unable to complete a full quick lap in time trials as a result of two ill-timed red flags in the session, resulting in him qualifying last on the grid. He has the speed, so the question now is can he make up the ground?

Problems for Askew

Since winning the scholarship to compete in USF2000 full-time with the Mazda Soul Red livery, Oliver Askew has been just spectacular. After posting a runner-up in the season opener at St. Petersburg, he followed it up with five straight wins entering this weekend.

Unfortunately, bad luck struck for him as he would have to pit on Lap 9 due to a loose wheel, causing him to finish 17th. While he entered the weekend just 60 points ahead of the field, he is now just 34 markers ahead of Veekay.

Being the first time this year he has faced adversity, it will be critical for him to turn around and post a solid finish on Saturday to prove he is not giving up his advantage quite yet.

Fischer Places Last

After posting only one top-five last year, T.J. Fischer came into this season as one of the front-runners with three third-place finishes and a runner-up, leaving him poised as to break through to victory lane.

However, mechanical problems saw him go two laps down on Friday at Road America, leaving him last on the grid on 15th.

Set to start in second for race number two on Saturday, a victory would allow Fischer to gain valuable back points in the championship with Franzoni starting last.

Nice Rebound, Frederick

The sixth-place finish for Kaylen Frederick gives him only his second finish this year outside of the top-five, but that does not tell the whole story.

The Team Pelfrey driver had to work hard as he qualified 12th, and failed to make up ground in the first half of the race due to going off-track on a couple of occasions. Through the second half, though, he posted some of the quickest lap times, allowing him to make moves and pull off a solid finish.

Frederick admitted when speaking with Popular Speed earlier this past week that the start of the events was his weak point, with a focus on minimizing mistakes moving forward.

He has proven he can be fast – as evidenced by qualifying in the runner-up spot for four races this year. Now if he can do that in Saturday’s morning session, and build on what he showed during the second half of Friday, his fourth podium could be right around the corner.

First Podium Finish

Shout-out to Nikita Lastochkin for scoring his first career Pro Mazda podium finish with a third on Friday afternoon. Starting the event in fourth, he made his way forward in the early stages past Carlos Cunha and remained up front as the field spread out around the road course.

Now with four top-fives in five races, Lastochkin is an excellent choice for a darkhorse as someone that could sneak in for a win before the year is over if the improvement continues on a weekly basis.

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.

Categories
Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

Franzoni and Juncos Racing Dominate Pro Mazda GP of Road America

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Despite losing the advantage of his pole position on the opening lap, Juncos Racing’s Victor Franzoni swept effortlessly past primary Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires rival Anthony Martin (Cape Motorsports) to take the lead of this afternoon’s Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Road America Presented by Allied Building Products. The talented and popular Brazilian then drove off into the distance. Los Angeles-based Russian Nikita Lastochkin earned his first podium finish with a solid run to third for Team Pelfrey.
 
Franzoni, who also won last year at Road America in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, comfortably secured the pole position during a damp qualifying session yesterday afternoon. He duly led the field toward the green flag in picture perfect conditions less than 24 hours later, only to fall victim of the draft as Martin slingshotted past him to grasp the lead at Turn One.
 
The pair battled mightily for the first couple of laps before Franzoni finally managed to sneak past under braking for Turn 12, Canada Corner. He was never seriously challenged thereafter as he romped to his third consecutive victory, this time by a margin of almost 12 seconds over Martin.
 
Lastochkin displayed renewed confidence, especially during the opening stages when he ran in the wheel tracks of the two leaders after fighting past Brazilian teammate Carlos Cunha at the start. Lastochkin was unable to maintain that pace but still remained well clear of the chasing pack. He also took home the Staubli Award.
 
His task was made easier when Cunha ran briefly off course on the second lap and then, to the consternation of his crew, made an unscheduled pit stop to report that his front shock absorber cover had fallen off. Cunha was quickly sent on his way. He circulated at the same pace as the drivers who finished on the podium but could salvage no better than ninth by the finish of the 30-minute, 14-lap race. TJ Fischer, driving a third Team Pelfrey car, also was out of luck, his streak of podium finishes ended by a faulty fuel pump.
 
Idaho teenager Sting Ray Robb finished a distant fourth for World Speed Motorsports, although he was being challenged in the closing stages by Milwaukee’s Max Hanratty, who took fifth after making a welcome return to the series for the locally based ArmsUp Motorsports team.
 
Jeff Green, from Peoria, Ill., earned the Quarter Master Hard Charger Award by rising from 12th on the grid to a career-best sixth, not far behind his much younger rivals, while veteran Bob Kaminsky, from Homer Glen, Ill., won the National Class with a seventh-place overall result.
 
Franzoni, who secured another PFC Award for the winning Juncos Racing team, now leads the championship by a 14-point margin, 149-135, heading into tomorrow’s sixth round – the midway point in the 12-race season. But he will likely have to work much harder after some unfortunately timed red flag stoppages during this morning’s qualifying meant he was unable to record a representative lap time and therefore will be required to start from the back of the field. 
 
The green flag for tomorrow’s race will fly at 3:05 p.m. EDT. Live timing and live streaming will be available on the Road To Indy TV App, at RoadToIndy.TV, promazda.com and indycar.com.
 
Victor Franzoni (#23 Juncos Racing): “This is the best feeling in the world. There really are no words when you get to the checkered flag for the win. The championship is really close so we both have to go for the wins. I have to open the biggest gap in points that I can, but it’s not going to be easy. Now the fights are getting more exciting – and more difficult. Anthony and I were really hard with each other but clean. I couldn’t get away on the first lap so he got around me, then we started just passing back and forth. But I had a great car today. Ricardo Juncos pushes me very hard so we can go to Indy Lights together and then go on to IndyCar together. If we win here and win in Indy Lights, we can do that. They have so much going on with Indy Lights and IndyCar that they could just forget about Pro Mazda, but they don’t – they keep pushing. And that’s been great.”
 
###
 
About Pro Mazda: The Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires debuted in 2013 as a new series, replacing the Star Mazda Championship which ceased operation in 2012 after 22 years. The series is sanctioned by INDYCAR and owned and operated by Andersen Promotions. It is the second official step on the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder system with the series’ champion awarded a scholarship package from Mazda to advance to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires competition the following year. For more information, visit promazdachampionship.com
 
About Mazda, Mazda Motorsports: Mazda Motorsports boasts the most comprehensive auto racing development ladder system of any auto manufacturer in the world. The Mazda Road to 24 program offers a number of scholarships to advance drivers up the sports car racing ladder, beginning with the Global MX-5 Cup series and culminating with the Mazda Prototype team. The Mazda Road to Indy is a similar program that includes Mazda-powered categories of USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights. In grassroots road racing, more Mazdas race on any given weekend in North America than any other manufacturer. Mazda is also the title sponsor of the renowned Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. Follow all of the latest news at MazdaMotorsports.com, @MazdaRacing on Twitter, and MazdaMotorsports on Instagram and Facebook. 
 
About Cooper Tire & Rubber Company
Cooper Tire & Rubber Company is the parent company of a global family of companies that specializes in the design, manufacture, marketing and sale of innovative, great-performing tires that you can count on to last for thousands of miles, getting you where you need to go, and back again. Cooper is proud to be the spec tire for all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, a development program within the IndyCar racing series. Cooper tires can also be seen on the track as a sponsor in the short course off-road TORC Series. Headquartered in Findlay, Ohio, Cooper, with its subsidiaries, has manufacturing, sales, distribution, technical and design operations in more than one dozen countries around the world. To connect with Cooper, visit www.coopertire.com, www.facebook.com/coopertire or www.twitter.com/coopertire.
Categories
Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

Victor Franzoni Confident Heading Into Road America

With a pair of runner-ups, followed by two victories, it’s safe to say that Victor Franzoni is off to a great start in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires.

“I’m happy how my season is going,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “I’m leading the championship, so it’s really good. It’s great to race with Juncos Racing in Pro Mazda. I hope we can keep going the way it is.”

He will hope to maintain the momentum rolling into Road America this weekend, where he finished fourth and second in Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda competition last year.

“I’m confident going there,” he said. “Juncos last year had a really fast car; I had a good result there. So I think we will have a great result. After Indy whole team and I are confident and happy, so this energy will help us for sure.”

Franzoni entered the season with limited experience on his side, running the second half of the 2015 schedule before this season. Being able to run those events, he says the biggest thing was seeing how their events play out, with the races 40 minutes in length and how the car changes from green to checkered.

Though a benefit for him in quickly adjusting has been the experience surrounding him with Juncos Racing involved in both Pro Mazda and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.

“It helps me a lot to learn more,” he said. “Juncos Racing is a really big team, and this is good for me because I start to learn how and what an IndyCar team wants from a driver.”

If he can hold on to win the championship, it will give him the scholarship to compete in Indy Lights next season, which is one step closer to the Verizon IndyCar Series. It’s an opportunity that would mean everything to him.

“This championship is the only chance I have to move up in my career, so I have to win,” he said. “I don’t have too many options.”

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.

Categories
Mazda Road to Indy Open Wheel

Brazilian Franzoni Sweeps at Indy to Claim Pro Mazda Points Lead

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Victor Franzoni ensured a banner weekend for himself and the Juncos Racing team by sweeping both races that comprised the Mazda Road to Indy Grand Prix Presented by Royal Purple Supporting Lupus Foundation of America on the 2.439-mile Indianapolis Grand Prix road course. Franzoni, from Sao Palo, Brazil, was never seriously threatened this morning in cool and sunny conditions, finishing a full 1.0798 seconds clear of Team Pelfrey’s TJ Fischer.
 
Fischer’s teammate, Carlos Cunha, from Campinas, Brazil, finished a comfortable third ahead of Australian’s Anthony Martin (Cape Motorsports), who had led the point standings coming into this weekend after sweeping both races at St. Petersburg, Fla., in March.
 
Franzoni set the tone yesterday morning by annexing the bonus point for pole position in qualifying. And whereas on Friday he made a poor start and had to work his way back to the front, this time there was not the hint of a mistake as he maintained his advantage into Turn One, then romped clear of the field at a prodigious rate.
 
After finishing third in each of the first three races of the season, Fischer, from Los Angeles, Calif., exited the tight first corner in the same position he had started, second, and soon began to edge clear of teammate Cunha to secure a career-best finish.
 
Cunha, similarly, was under no real threat from Martin, who instead was kept honest by the third Team Pelfrey car of Nikita Lastochkin. The Australian managed to reduce a deficit of over three seconds to Cunha to around 1.2 seconds between Laps 11 and 16, but that was as close as he got before Cunha edged clear once more to secure his first podium finish.
 
The World Speed Motorsports trio of Phillippe Denes, from Carmel, Calif., Sting Ray Robb, from Payette, Idaho, and Bobby Eberle, from Houston, Texas, completed the top seven ahead of SCCA National Formula Mazda Champion Matt Machiko (ArmsUp Motorsports), from Pittsburgh, Pa.
 
Kevin Davis, from Alvin, Ill., strengthened his lead in the National Class by winning the division with a 10th-place overall finish, despite being earlier punted into a spin at Turn One by fellow Illinois racer Jeff  Green (Team Pelfrey). Davis also earned the Quarter Master Hard Charger Award.
 
Ricardo Juncos of Juncos Racing, based close to the race track in Speedway, Ind., earned another PFC Award as the winning car owner, while Cunha claimed the Staubli Award.
 
Franzoni’s second win in as many days vaulted him to the lead of the 12-round Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, which will offer a Mazda Scholarship worth over $790,000 to assist the champion in progressing to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires in 2018.
 
Franzoni now holds a 116-110 edge over Martin as all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires – the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights – head next to Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., for two more races once again in support of the headlining Verizon IndyCar Series on June 23-25.
 
Victor Franzoni (#23 Juncos Racing): “It was a perfect weekend. I knew the Juncos team would have a really good setup here so it was important for us to be ready – and it was the best car ever. It was a machine; it was so easy to drive. All I had to do was focus and drive fast. I had a much better start today than yesterday and was happy to keep the lead at the start – with the long straight, it’s so easy to draft on someone. I am so happy to get the win. This happened at the end of last year in USF2000 where I had a perfect weekend, and now to get it here means so much. I so appreciate the opportunity Juncos has given me, and the car they gave me today. I hope we can keep this going. We’ll work really hard to do that and I hope next year I can be with them on the next step!”
 
TJ Fischer (#82 Project 02-Team Pelfrey): “We didn’t have the headwind that we had yesterday so we didn’t get swallowed up by the field at the start this time. It was my first front row start on the Mazda Road to Indy and I hated getting swallowed up like that. I wanted to make sure it didn’t happen again so when Anthony got behind me and gave me a push, we went into Turn 1 hard but Victor was on rails today. I know that if we keep our heads down and keep packing on the points, we’ll have a race like that.”
 
###
 
About Pro Mazda: The Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires debuted in 2013 as a new series, replacing the Star Mazda Championship which ceased operation in 2012 after 22 years. The series is sanctioned by INDYCAR and owned and operated by Andersen Promotions. It is the second official step on the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder system with the series’ champion awarded a scholarship package from Mazda to advance to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires competition the following year. For more information, visit promazdachampionship.com
 
About Mazda, Mazda Motorsports: Mazda Motorsports boasts the most comprehensive auto racing development ladder system of any auto manufacturer in the world. The Mazda Road to 24 program offers a number of scholarships to advance drivers up the sports car racing ladder, beginning with the Global MX-5 Cup series and culminating with the Mazda Prototype team. The Mazda Road to Indy is a similar program that includes Mazda-powered categories of USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights. In grassroots road racing, more Mazdas race on any given weekend in North America than any other manufacturer. Mazda is also the title sponsor of the renowned Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. Follow all of the latest news at MazdaMotorsports.com, @MazdaRacing on Twitter, and MazdaMotorsports on Instagram and Facebook. 
 
About Cooper Tire & Rubber Company: Cooper Tire & Rubber Company is the parent company of a global family of companies that specializes in the design, manufacture, marketing and sale of innovative, great-performing tires that you can count on to last for thousands of miles, getting you where you need to go, and back again. Cooper is proud to be the spec tire for all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, a development program within the IndyCar racing series. Cooper tires can also be seen on the track as a sponsor in the short course off-road TORC Series. Headquartered in Findlay, Ohio, Cooper, with its subsidiaries, has manufacturing, sales, distribution, technical and design operations in more than one dozen countries around the world. To connect with Cooper, visit www.coopertire.com, www.facebook.com/coopertire or www.twitter.com/coopertire.
 
Categories
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

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.