By Road to Indy
For Victor Franzoni, as with rival Anthony Martin, winning the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires will provide an opportunity to move on to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires – one step away from the Brazilian’s ultimate goal, a career in the Verizon IndyCar Series – in 2018.
The fact that Victor Franzoni entered the 2017 Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires at all was something of a miracle. But after inking a deal with Juncos Racing mere days before the season opener, the 22-year-old Brazilian now stands on the verge of achieving a dream: entry into the 2018 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and perhaps a chance to graduate with the team from the Mazda Road to Indy to the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Franzoni, who finished third in the 2016 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, tested with the Pro Mazda team at Indianapolis last October. He impressed, but without the funding for Pro Mazda – and with Ricardo Juncos planning to take a hiatus from the middle step on the Mazda Road to Indy to focus on Indy Lights and his maiden entry into the Indianapolis 500 – Franzoni made the decision to return to USF2000 with ArmsUp Motorsports (with which he had finished third last year). But a phone call one week before the season began changed everything.
“The Chris Griffis Memorial Test at Indianapolis went really well,” said Franzoni. “But Juncos decided not to run the Pro Mazda program this year so I had to look for another team. I was able to put something together with ArmsUp, so I did the series test with them at Homestead in March. But then Ricardo called me and told me that he would indeed have a Pro Mazda team and between me and my dad, and with some help from some of the karting teams I work with, we were able to make the deal work. It was difficult but Ricardo helped me a lot.”
Like so many talented young drivers, Franzoni has had to fight hard to find the funding for his racing efforts. He works with karting teams Orsolon Racing and BN Racing, both at the track and in their race shops. Franzoni coaches young David Malukas with BN’s USF2000 team and helped the youngster to a pole position in only his third race in the series at Road America. In exchange for the help, the team purchases Franzoni’s Cooper tires and helps with entry fees. Knowing that the coffers are not deep puts immense pressure on the young Sao Paulo native not only to succeed, but to do so with a minimum of damage. That makes his 2017 stats (and a 100 percent finishing record last season in USF2000) all the more impressive.
“Honestly, I have to win this year, to win the championship, so there is more pressure this year. I can’t make any mistakes. I don’t have the money for crash damage, so I have to finish. I’ve been lucky, that both teams [in 2016 and 2017] were really, really good so the car was so good at every race, so fast. Both teams were amazing – I could always trust the car. I think it helps that I’ve been on the Mazda Road to Indy for a few years, so I know all the tracks so well. I really enjoyed my time with ArmsUp, those guys work so hard and did so much for me.”
Franzoni and Anthony Martin served notice of things to come right out of the box, with Martin sweeping the first two races at St. Petersburg, Fla. (with Franzoni second) and Franzoni sweeping both races at Indianapolis (with Martin finishing second and fourth). The pair have split the 10 races this season, with Martin holding the edge in pole positions with six, to Franzoni’s three. With the two combatants for the championship battling in seemingly every single moment of every single race, Franzoni knows there will be no escaping his rival in the season finale at Watkins Glen.
“What’s been really difficult this year is that Anthony and I have been fast at every track, which means we’re really close to each other. When he wins, I’m second, and when I win, he’s second. It makes the points too close!
“It’s made the season really hard, because I have to finish in front of him every race, and I have to get all the points I can, like the points for leading the most laps and setting the fastest lap. If I had a 20-point lead, I would try harder to manage the race but now, I just have to be in front of him no matter what. Don’t think – just do it.”
That Franzoni has the experience of Juncos and his eponymous team – winners of the 2015 Pro Mazda Championship and 2016 Indy Lights title with Spencer Pigot – behind him has made all the difference. Combine that with the advice he receives from fellow South American Juan Montoya, and Franzoni has plenty of racing knowledge in his arsenal.
“The Juncos team has so much experience and Ricardo is not just a team owner. He was a mechanic for so long so he knows the car so well. At the Gateway test earlier this month, he was my engineer as well. So I had my regular engineer, Emanuel (Talquenca) and Ricardo, along with my mechanic Alejandro (Juncos), and those kinds of things are really nice. And they’re an IndyCar team as well. They have a lot of good people working there and that’s what makes the team really, really good.”
With so much at stake this weekend, Franzoni tries not to think too far into the future. But it’s impossible not to consider the possibilities, especially given the expectation that Juncos Racing will soon be in the Verizon IndyCar Series. As far as Franzoni is concerned, just a few planets need to align to get him to his dream goal.
“It would mean everything in my life, to win the Mazda Scholarship and be in Indy Lights next year. The scholarship is my only chance to be in Indy Lights and the chance is so close to me now. I would stay with Juncos Racing and I think we would do well. They have a great car and I think I would have a chance for a good season. Our plan is to do IndyCar together so we are trying to win Pro Mazda and then Indy Lights. It would be so amazing to go to IndyCar with Ricardo, since we are both from South America. I know they would do well and be a fast team and it would be nice doing almost all of the steps of the Mazda Road to Indy together. It’s hard to realize. At the end of last season, I didn’t know what I would do about my career, because there were no options. Now, I’m close to getting to Indy Lights.
“That’s the best part of the Mazda Road to Indy,” Franzoni continued. “So many other series, there are no options as you move up. Here, you have opportunities if you don’t have the money. If I wasn’t here, I don’t think I would be racing anymore. Now, I can actually think about going to IndyCar, if I’m good and have the luck.”