By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
A week before the 2017 Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires was set to begin, Victor Franzoni was working as a go-kart mechanic during the SuperKarts! USA WinterNationals at NOLA Motorsports Park.
During that weekend, a deal was put together that would affect his future in motorsports.
Jeff Green bought the two Pro Mazda cars that Ricardo Juncos owned and tested at Homestead-Miami Speedway. After that test, Green wanted a teammate for the 2017 season and Franzoni was the top choice.
In St. Petersburg, Anthony Martin returned to the Mazda Road to Indy with the same team he won the 2016 USF2000 championship: Cape Motorsports. Martin won both races while Franzoni was second. Franzoni would get the upper hand at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the Brazilian would win both races while Martin would finish second and fourth, the latter result caused by bad steering.
The next race weekend at Road America would set the tone for the rest of the season.
Franzoni won the first race of the weekend but would start last in the second race after a red flag near the end of his final flying lap erased the lap that probably would have landed Franzoni on the front row.
Starting 15th, he was 9th at the end of the first lap, 6th a lap later, fifth after three laps and third after four laps. It took until Lap 7 for Franzoni to get second after a one lap caution on Lap 5, but Franzoni would not be able to overcome Martin’s aggressive defensive moves in order to keep the lead.
The rivalry between the two would only get more heated at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course as Martin would win the first and third races, but race two was where tensions went through the roof. While lapping Franzoni’s teammate Jeff Green, Martin was pushed wide in one corner and Franzoni seized the opportunity to take the lead and with it, the win in the second race.
It was at this point that the tension became palpable. Neither Franzoni nor Martin stood next to each other in post race press conferences, neither would leave at the same time and neither spoke to each other. However, it was clear that both drivers would prefer that their driving did the talking.
Gateway was a prime example of that philosophy. Martin led from pole and defended himself against Franzoni’s advances but it became clear that his and Juncos’s gamble on a lower downforce setup was the right one as the No. 23 car found its way to Victory Lane again, giving Franzoni his first oval race win of the season.
However, there were still two races to go at Watkins Glen. Franzoni led by a handful of points but had one ace in the hole. Watkins Glen was the only track where he was able to do a private test thanks to Green’s generosity of funding the test.
That test paid off because Franzoni not only won both pole positions but he also won both races. The first race was especially meaningful after a daring pass into the inner loop chicane sequence allowed Franzoni to clear Martin.
The last race of the season took place in damp conditions and after a couple of errors by Martin it became clear that Franzoni would win the championship if he kept the car on track, which he did and although an official announcement has not been made, it’s expected that Franzoni will stay with Juncos Racing for 2018.
What makes this season more impressive for Franzoni was that he went into the 2017 season with pretty much no true budget to speak of. He received a lot of help from BN Racing acting as a driver coach as well as when he was a karting mechanic. It became a situation where Franzoni had to win the championship to continue his racing journey because he had no choice otherwise. Team owner Juncos summed it up perfectly in a post-race weekend interview at Watkins Glen.
“We put everything on the table the last two weekends really because we were behind and we don’t have an option,” Juncos said. “Sometimes in life and I know for a fact myself, when you don’t have an option you’re going to make it happen and we did this for Victor so I’m very happy for him and for the team.”
For that reason, I’d give Franzoni’s season an A. Making it an A+ would be simple: winning that second race at Road America would have made that drive tied for “Drive of the Year” with Aaron Telitz at Watkins Glen in the Indy Lights season finale.
The perfect summation for Franzoni’s situation might be found in the first stanza of Tracy Chapman’s 1988 hit “Fast Car”.
You got a fast car
I want a ticket to anywhere
Maybe we make a deal
Maybe together we can get somewhere
Any place is better
Starting from zero got nothing to lose
Maybe we’ll make something
Me, myself I got nothing to prove