SONOMA, Calif. – No one could have written a script as convoluted as the one which played out in Saturday’s Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway.
The Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires was at stake, along with a $588,800 MAZDASPEED Driver Development Scholarship for the series champion to graduate to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the next step on the Mazda Road to Indy, in 2015.
A sequence of almost unbelievable dramas enabled 17-year-old Mexican Jose Gutierrez to emerge with his first-ever victory, while Juncos Racing teammate Spencer Pigot claimed the championship spoils after Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing’s Scott Hargrove experienced a broken transmission while in the lead with just four laps remaining
The action began moments after the start when Pigot tucked in behind polesitter Hargrove on the entry to turn one only to be hit from behind by Hargrove’s teammate, Neil Alberico. The contact sent Pigot spinning and caused several other cars to be caught up in the melee. The resulting full-course caution enabled Pigot to catch up to the back of the field at the restart, but his title hopes were virtually in tatters with Hargrove leading the race and, following the incident between the pair yesterday, Pigot needing to finish ahead of his rival to stand any chance of winning the championship.
Hargrove soon began to inch clear at the restart, with Gutierrez in second ahead of Nicolas Costa (Team Pelfrey), Shelby Blackstock (Andretti Autosport) and impressive newcomers Jack Aitken (Team Pelfrey) and Joey Bickers (World Speed Motorsports), both of whom were making their Pro Mazda debuts this weekend.
Hargrove looked to be set for the title and was told by his crew over the radio to look after his car and “bring it home.” Even as Gutierrez whittled away at the deficit, reducing it from 2.2 seconds on lap eight to 1.3 seconds on lap 11, Hargrove seemed to be in control. Then, suddenly, he lost the use of third gear. Shortly afterward, the caution flags waved again as Kyle Kaiser’s Juncos Racing entry stalled on the race track.
The restart came with four laps remaining and Hargrove still in the lead. Pigot, meanwhile, had charged from 18th to seventh, then relieved Bickers of sixth at Turn Four. But surely it still wasn’t enough. Well, moments later, Hargrove abruptly slowed. His gearbox was failing.