By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — After a racing season that started with Victor Franzoni not knowing what he would be driving, the Brazilian took his second win of the weekend at Watkins Glen International and his seventh of the season on his way to winning the 2017 Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires.
Franzoni led from the start over Team Pelfrey’s Carlos Cunha while Anthony Martin’s Cape Motorsports car went from fifth to third. Franzoni pulled away by a large margin in the early part of the race but Martin knew he had to push to get to the Brazilian.
Martin wouldn’t get that opportunity. While attempting to overtake Cunha, Martin spun in the first turn, causing him to lose a lot of time. The Australian would gain lap after lap on Cunha but would not get around him.
Franzoni would go on to win the final race of the season for Juncos Racing while having to tiptoe around the track in wet conditions.
For Franzoni, this championship means so much more because of the competition he had to beat in Martin.
“I think as a driver he’s exactly like me and that’s a problem,” Franzoni said humorously. “He’s really aggressive, he’s really fast, he doesn’t make mistakes, he knows what he’s doing, he’s good on setups because they were fast all the time so it’s like I’m competing with myself so it was really difficult.
“I think if it was any other driver this season would be easier for both of us. If it wasn’t me I think he would win and if it were another guy I think I could win this season easier, but against him was crazy. He was exactly like me, (it) looks like I was competing against me so this made the season really difficult because I think I’m aggressive, he’s (as) aggressive as me, not more not less, he’s smart, he’s good, that’s why he won (USF2000) last year and that’s why he fought again for this year which was interesting. I think both of us are ready for anything.”
Franzoni won seven races; Martin won five races. In the five races Martin won, Franzoni finished second. The two of them gobbled up nearly every bonus point which made every lap all the more critical and stressful for Franzoni and Martin.
“I think to win like this was even bigger for me because I had to be really good to beat him,” Franzoni added. “So I think it was really good for me, I learned so many things that I think this year made me ready for anything and made me a better driver.
Martin was disappointed by not winning the championship but put everything on the line to win.
“I was pushing 150 percent out there with the championship on the line,” Martin said. “It sucks to be the first loser, as I call it, but I gave it my all.
“I didn’t leave anything out there. I’m very disappointed not to take the championship, but I had a great time this year. I was a Mazda Scholarship driver, which is something I never thought I would be when I first arrived in America. To come this far and to not take the championship is bittersweet.
“The season has been one big bumpy rollercoaster. Victor and I traded the lead I don’t know how many times, and we had some intense battles. Congratulations to Victor and to Juncos Racing. Consistency wins and they were just a little more consistent than me.”