Horto ready to step up

Since Firestone Indy Lights was established in 1986, four Brazilians have won the series title and gone on to race at the top level of Indy car racing.

Joao Victor Horto to follow the path blazed by of his countrymen Tony Kanaan, Cristiano da Matta, Thiago Medeiros and Raphael Matos in 2012

"I chose to race here because of the Mazda Road to Indy program," the 21-year-old Brazilian said. "I think it's a great program for any driver who wants to be an (IZOD) IndyCar (Series) driver. That's why I chose to be here."

Horto, who goes by his initials J.V., has slowly adapted to the more powerful Firestone Indy Lights car during winter testing. He was sixth on the opening day of a two-day Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park on March 19 with a best lap of 1:18.3390 on the 2.3-mile road course, a half second off the pace set by 2011 Star Mazda champion Tristan Vautier in a Sam Schmidt Motorsports car.

"I love the Indy Lights car," he said. "There's so much power and lot more grip. I'm still learning the car, but really like it. The goal is to improve the car and improve my driving before we get to St. Petersburg."

Horto, who had a win (Mosport 2011) and eight podium finishes in his two seasons in the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear. His results in that series and in testing show he's ready to step up and compete in final step of the ladder before reaching the IZOD IndyCar Series.

"I think I'm ready. The times in testing have proved that," he said. "I think the biggest difference from Star Mazda to (Firestone) Indy Lights is the power and the aero. There's more downforce and grip and you can carry so much more corner speed. You have to watch how you use the throttle. You can just jump on the throttle. You have to be smooth to avoid the wheel spin. "

Horto also has the advantage of familiarity as he transitions to a new series over some of the rookies and veterans he will race against in 2012.

He's moved up with Juncos Racing – the same team that he's raced with for the last two seasons in Star Mazda – which is building its new Firestone program around Horto.

"It's a big help to move up with Juncos Racing," Horto said. "I know the guys and it's a great team and environment. It makes moving up easy for me, and maybe for the team as well, since we know each other.

"We know what each other are capable of, and I can't wait to show it in Indy Lights."

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