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From Champion to Champion: Advice for Victor Franzoni

By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer

After a thrilling championship, Victor Franzoni won the 2017 Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires driving for Juncos Racing. Franzoni will be moving up to Indy Lights in 2018 in a yet-to-be-announced drive for Juncos Racing.

This move up the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires was possible thanks to a scholarship presented to the Pro Mazda series champion valued at just over $790,000.

But what advice would past Pro Mazda champions give to Franzoni about moving up to Indy Lights? Well, Motorsports Tribune asked a couple of former Pro Mazda champions that very question and here’s how they responded.

Aaron Telitz, 2016 Pro Mazda Champion with Team Pelfrey:

“I think just enjoy it,” said Telitz, who drove for Belardi Auto Racing in the 2017 Indy Lights season.

“I think you’ve got to be yourself. Mazda wants you to be yourself, they want you to use your own personality to enhance their brand. They don’t necessarily want you to fall into a cookie cutter form or a robot or anything like that.

“So I think anybody that’s coming in, don’t feel like you have to change what you do or try to be a better person on social media or whatever, I think it’s important to be yourself and continue to be yourself even with representing a company like Mazda because as you go along hopefully in your racing career you don’t want to try to have to conform everywhere you go, you want to be yourself and people want to have you because you’re you.”

What would you have done differently?

“I think I would’ve maybe taken physical training a little bit more seriously at the beginning of the year,” Telitz said. “That would’ve been important to do. I think staying positive even when things weren’t going well would’ve helped obviously, sometimes you get in a funk and if things aren’t going well it’s easy to stay in it, hard to get out of it.

“Don’t take anything for granted. Just because you’re fast doesn’t mean things are going to go your way. I think Dale Earnhardt always said that the guy with the fastest car isn’t always going to win the race, it’s the guy who doesn’t want to lose so I think attitude has a lot to do with it.”

Santiago Urrutia, 2015 Pro Mazda Champion with Team Pelfrey:

“I think it’s all about being competitive,” said Urrutia, who drove in Indy Lights for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in 2016 and Belardi Auto Racing in 2017.

“I mean [you have to] focus, compete and I almost won the championship last year. I think I deserved to win the championship last year in my rookie year so I think if you walk into Indy Lights thinking that you aren’t going to win the championship in your first year, I think you’re approaching on a bad way.

“I approached the championship last year thinking I can drive and win the championship and I won many races and pole positions and everything and fought against Ed Jones who is a really good driver [and] Felix Rosenqvist and I was right there as a rookie, and I think the approach to get the Indy Lights championship is saying that I’m in Indy Lights right now but I have to do the same that I did in Pro Mazda. I think that’s the approach for them.”

What would you have done differently?

“I think with more racing I think I understand that to win a championship you don’t have to win every race,” Urrutia said. “You just have to win a few races and then be there always, and before that I was always thinking about winning, winning, winning and many times I threw away many good results that cost me the championship so that’s what I think what I’ve learned from this past year in racing.”

Spencer Pigot, 2014 Pro Mazda Champion with Juncos Racing:

“The most important advice I can give is to focus on your on-track performance first, doing the best job you can in the race car,” said Pigot, who signed with Ed Carpenter Racing for a full season in IndyCar in 2018.

“That should always take priority. As a Mazda scholarship winner, you must remember that you are always be a spokesperson for their brand.

Matthew Brabham, 2013 Pro Mazda Champion with Andretti Autosport:

“I think the first thing that comes up is all the on track stuff, you’ve got to get used to the downforce, more power and I think the jump from Pro Mazda to Indy Lights is bigger than the USF2000 to Pro Mazda jump so it’s definitely a lot more daunting” said Brabham, who won the Pro Mazda title with a record number of wins in a season at 13.

“I think it just takes a bit more time, maybe a few more test days to get right up to speed and then I think the hardest thing with Indy Lights is getting the car right.

“Looking at it from the outside, if you get the car right one race weekend, the next weekend you can be at the back with the same setup so they’re constantly swapping back and forth. Every race is different and it looks like it’s really tough to get the Indy Lights car set up and working well. There’s a small window, so I think that’s one of the most important things is trying to figure out how to setup the Indy Lights car to your driving style and making sure it works at every race track, not just particular race tracks.

“That’s the first thing, then obviously all the corporate stuff, sponsors get even more important, it’s more expensive as you go up the ladder and obviously you want to do really well in Indy Lights to get into IndyCar so as you step up it gets harder and harder so you have to keep stepping up your game as you go up.”

What would you have done differently?

“I would’ve focused a lot less on the driving side and a lot more on the sponsor side,” said Brabham. “That’d be the number one thing I would’ve done. Obviously my family is awesome at racing and all the on track stuff comes naturally to us. I had a great coach, I grew up with my grandfather (two time Formula One world champion Jack Brabham) on the Gold Coast in Australia so all that stuff is so easy for me compared to other guys because I think I understand it a bit better because I’ve grown up around it.

“But, something that definitely doesn’t come naturally to me is the other stuff, the corporate connections, that’s the side I’ve struggled with and I think if I were going to do it again I wouldn’t even worry about driving, I’d just worry about sponsorship and trying to get the money to move up to the next step. I was really lucky and grateful to Mazda because I wouldn’t be where I am today without the Mazda scholarship so I was lucky enough to win the Mazda scholarship to move my way up to Indy Lights and get some good experience under my belt and after that it comes down to whoever’s got the sponsors to move up to the next step.

“So I did a great job, I had some records, won a lot of races and I felt really strong that everyone I came up the Mazda Road to Indy with but at the end of the day, once you get right to the top it requires having that opportunity.”

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A 2012 graduate of LSU, Christopher DeHarde primarily focuses on the NTT IndyCar Series and the WeatherTech Sports Car Championship. DeHarde has actively covered motorsports since 2014.