Emotions went into overdrive on Sunday when Victor Franzoni collected his first Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires win at Road America.
The tears shed in Victory Lane were joyful and also with heavy hearts carried throughout the weekend for former Juncos Racing teammate and friend Jeff Green, who died from injuries in a vintage car crash on June 16 in Canada.
Franzoni (No. 23 Juncos Racing Mazda/Dallara IL-15) started second, scored the fastest lap of the race and led 18 of 20 laps at the 4.014-mile, 14-turn permanent road course. Additionally, he joined elite company with the win, joining Matthew Brabham, Nico Jamin, Sage Karam, Spencer Pigot and Aaron Telitz as the only drivers to have won on all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder.
“My feelings are that it’s amazing,” Franzoni said. “When you win, it’s good, but when you win the first time in Indy Lights, is a different feeling. Of course, it wouldn’t be possible without Mazda, Cooper Tires and Juncos Racing. What those guys are doing for me is unbelievable and finally now it could pay off. I love this track.”
Franzoni earned the $750,000 Mazda scholarship to race in Indy Lights for winning the 2017 Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires, when he was teammates with Green at Juncos. Sunday’s win gave Franzoni some redemption after he felt he let the victory slip away in Saturday’s race after starting on pole.
“It’s been a difficult weekend,” Franzoni said. “Yesterday was the worst race of my career. I made the most number of mistakes, but today was one of the best races of my career.”
He was proud to dedicate the win to Green, his fallen friend.
“This victory is for him,” Franzoni said. “What he did for me was amazing. He’s one of the guys that took me to Indy Lights. Without him, I wouldn’t have been in Pro Mazda. I wouldn’t have won the (Pro Mazda) championship. I wouldn’t be here today, so it’s difficult.”
Colton Herta (No. 98 Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing) saw his four-race win streak snapped but finished second to extend his championship lead to 17 points over teammate Pato O’Ward (No. 27 Andretti Autosport), who finished fourth after starting on pole. Telitz (No. 9 Belardi Auto Racing) took third place in his home race.
Franzoni sits fourth in the title race, 52 points behind Herta, but believes he and the team are starting to figure it all out in order to make a charge for the final nine races.
“Now we have to win all the races because I’m quite far (down) in the points,” Franzoni said. “Today was the day I really learned the car, to where I know how to do a full race with this car, and I think I did a good job. From now on, I’m just going to focus on winning races.”
The top rung of the Mazda Road to Indy returns to oval action at Iowa Speedway on July 7-8.
Kirkwood makes las-lap pass to sweep USF2000 weekend
Kyle Kirkwood avoided the chaos and put in a calculated drive that saw him take advantage of three restarts and win Sunday’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda race at Road America. It gave the Floridian a sweep of the doubleheader weekend.
It was the fifth win of the season – and fourth in a row – for the driver of the No. 8 Cape Motorsports Mazda/Tatuus USF-17, despite only leading the last lap. In all, the 12-lap race saw 12 of the 26 drivers retire due to incidents, including pole sitter Rasmus Lindh (No. 23 Pabst Racing).
Lucas Kohl (No. 22 Pabst Racing) had command for most of the race, leading the first 11 laps. But on a final-lap restart, Kirkwood and Kaylen Frederick (No. 24 Pabst Racing) both passed Kohl to claim the top two steps on the podium.
“Going into that last lap, I knew I would have the draft going down the front straight and I did the exact same thing to Rasmus the caution before,” Kirkwood said. “So I knew I could get a run as long as I could get around him going into (Turn) 1. I knew he’d leave the outside open. Fortunately got it done and was able to hold him off for the rest of the lap.”
Kirkwood now possesses a 94-point lead in the championship over second-place Alex Baron (No. 19 Swan-RJB Motorsports) with seven races to go.
The USF2000 series heads to Toronto next to take on the 1.786-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit for a doubleheader weekend on July 13-15.