WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – In the 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 Sunday morning in tricky wet conditions in the Pro Mazda Watkins Glen Grand Prix Presented by Cooper Tires saw Franzoni, 21, lead from flag to flag in the season finale.
Franzoni’s seventh win of the season assured him of both the series championship 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 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 Saturday 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. 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.
“I am so happy, but there are so many things in my mind right now. It’s unbelievable,” said Franzoni. “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.”
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. T.J. Fischer finished fifth.
Victor Franzoni, Carlos Cunha, Anthony Martin, Nikita Lastochkin, T.J. Fischer, Sting Ray Robb, Matt Machiko, Kris Wright, Bobby Eberle, Jeff Green, Brendan Puderbach, Charles Finelli, Robert Megennis.