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."