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.
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.”