By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
Victor Franzoni and Anthony Martin have had one of the most memorable battles for a Pro Mazda championship in a long time.
Martin, driving for Cape Motorsports, is the current Pro Mazda points leader. Martin’s won five races, five pole positions, has four fastest lap times and has led the most laps in six races to earn 259 points
Martin’s most stirring victory so far would have to be at Road America in the second race of that weekend. Franzoni started in the rear of the field because of a red flag in qualifying and marched his way to second before Martin defended (depending on who you ask) his position. Franzoni and Martin were reportedly at odds with each other, so much as both did not stand near each other in the post race press conference.
Franzoni drives for Juncos Racing and has scored four victories this season, three pole positions, four fastest laps and three most laps led bonus points. What’s noticeable about Franzoni this year is that he’s only ever finished first or second, which is amazing for a driver that didn’t have a Pro Mazda ride lined up until just over a couple of weeks before St. Petersburg.
In Franzoni’s case, his most rewarding win would have to be the second race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course. He scored the win in the only race of the Pro Mazda season so far that saw Martin finish off the podium.
Franzoni spoke about the tense atmosphere that has developed between the two of them before they raced at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
“It’s really tense, this weekend is really important,” Franzoni said.
“We have three races here, there is a lot of points in the game and let’s see how it’s going to be.”
Martin has felt the battle heat up as well.
“Tensions has definitely been building. I mean, that’s just the nature of the beast, said Martin.
“It’s racing, it’s what us drivers do, we’re out there to win a lot of money and naturally these things happen. (Victor)’s a great kid and everything but the competition is pretty fierce so we’re focusing on doing our own thing and that’s all we can do.”
In the first race of the Mid-Ohio weekend, Martin and Franzoni pulled clear of polesitter Carlos Cunha as the points leader stalked the polesitter lap after lap.
It was much the same in race two, but oh how things changed. Franzoni was in second place late in the race right behind Martin when the pair of them came upon Franzoni’s teammate Jeff Green.
Martin went around Green’s outside through the carousel, but Green’s car pushed wide, giving Franzoni a gap which the Brazilian driver took advantage of and took the lead as the other Juncos Racing machine went spinning, causing a full course yellow.
The tension surrounding Martin and Franzoni couldn’t have been higher as many thought Green deliberately pushed Martin wide to allow Franzoni through. The combatants were quite a distance apart from each other at the post-race press conference (and that practice carried into the next day’s post-race press conference) and Martin was upset about what took place but knew what Franzoni had to do to win.
“Drivers will be drivers, it doesn’t matter who you are,” said Martin.
“At the end of the day we’re here to win, we’re not here to make friends and that’s solely what I’m here for. I’m here to win some championships and win races, I’m not here to make friends so that’s what I’m going to strive to do and that’s what I will do.”
On Sunday, Martin went out and spanked the field with Franzoni finishing a good amount of time off the pace in second.
However, the next challenge in front of the dynamic duo is Gateway Motorsports Park, a 1.25-mile oval that Pro Mazda has not raced on with the current car. Franzoni is looking forward to the engineering challenge Gateway provides
“Yes, I’m really excited for that, I like ovals” said Franzoni.
“I just did Lucas Oil Raceway, but I like ovals because you have to work really hard with the engineers to make a good setup and with Juncos Racing we have some really good engineers, so it will be fun. I think Gateway will be different and (will) change everything, but I think we’ll be good. I’m excited.”
Martin has one thing Franzoni doesn’t have: an oval win. Martin won at Lucas Oil Raceway in the 2016 USF2000 race by trapping teammate Parker Thompson behind a lapped car and making the pass for the win late in the going. Martin’s also looking forward to Gateway.
“I can’t wait, it looks like such a cool track,” Martin said.
“It’s got a bit of character to it I think so it’s definitely going to be interesting as to how the Pro Mazda handles around the track. I can’t wait for it. It’s definitely going to be a lot of fun and i think there’s going to be some good racing there.”
Pro Mazda normally raced at Lucas Oil Raceway or at Iowa Speedway or even at Milwaukee but the recent addition of Gateway to the calendar made it an interesting choice for Pro Mazda to use as the sole oval venue.
Martin on Franzoni, Franzoni on Martin
Both drivers were asked the same question at Mid-Ohio after the third race. What is it about the other driver that brings out the best in you? Here are their responses, starting with Martin.
“The fact that he’s right up my tail a lot of the time,” Martin said.
“He’s been pushing me extremely hard. Obviously, we’ve been very close all year switching backward and forward having very close races, so I think that just makes you push extremely hard because it puts the fire in your eyes to go harder.”
Franzoni echoed his competitor’s sentiment.
“I think he’s really consistent,” said Franzoni.
“When we’re fighting there’s no mistakes on his part and also my part. We don’t make mistakes, so it’s really difficult to fight against someone that doesn’t make a mistake but I think we have to beat him to win the championship – so we have to work even harder.”
A word to the wise. While both drivers are extremely competitive on track, they respect each other’s abilities, even if they stand at odds with one another over the on-track conduct. That being said, both drivers must remember that the on-track antics must be contained so that either driver isn’t taken out in a collision that could have been avoided.
Any collision now can spell disaster for their championship hopes.