Franzoni Hits the Soul Red Zone with Emotional First Indy Lights Win
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – This past week has been a roller-coaster of emotion for popular Brazilian Victor Franzoni. After losing his mentor and good friend (and fellow Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires racer) Jeff Green to an accident during a vintage event last weekend in Canada, the reigning Pro Mazda champion claimed his first Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires pole yesterday. Franzoni finished a slightly disappointed third on Saturday, but fully made amends this morning by securing his first victory on the highest rung of the Mazda Road to Indy open-wheel development ladder for Juncos Racing.
Colton Herta, from Valencia, Calif., maintained his recent run of success by finishing second for Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, while local favorite Aaron Telitz (Belardi Auto Racing), from Birchwood, Wis., overtook early leader Patricio “Pato” O’Ward (Andretti Autosport) for third with a fine pass just three laps from the finish.
O’Ward, from Monterrey, Mexico, started on pole for today’s Mazda Indy Lights Grand Prix of Road America Presented by Cooper Tires, with Franzoni alongside on the front row of the grid. A fine start saw O’Ward edge clear on the first lap, his escape aided slightly by Santi Urrutia (Belardi Auto Racing) finding his way past Franzoni.
After finishing a frustrated second in the Indy Lights championship in each of the past two years, Urrutia showed his paces by edging closer to O’Ward before glimpsing an opportunity to dive for the inside line under braking for Turn Five. The optimistic move resulted in stout contact between the pair and enabled Franzoni to pounce past both of them on the exit of the corner.
After Urrutia made a lengthy pit stop to replace his car’s nosecone, O’Ward was able to maintain second place for a few laps, despite intense pressure from championship leader Herta. Finally, on Lap Seven, Herta was able to use his AER/Mazda turbo engine’s push-to-pass feature to its optimal effect by overtaking O’Ward on the long downhill run toward Turn Five.
Herta, though, was unable to challenge Franzoni, who turned a series of fastest laps and continued to pull away to become the season’s fourth different winner. Franzoni’s eventual margin of victory aboard his distinctive Soul Red Dallara-Mazda IL-15 was a commanding 8.0153 seconds.
Herta, who has now finished on the podium in all but one of the nine races held so far this season, finished a relatively lonely second and has now stretched his championship lead to 17 points over O’Ward, 245-228, with eight races remaining. Herta also picked up the Tilton Hard Charger Award after lining up fourth on the starting grid.
Telitz delighted his home crowd by using the last of his push-to-pass capability to squeeze past O’Ward for third place on Lap 18 and secure his third podium finish of the season.
Ryan Norman, from Aurora, Ohio, rounded out the top five for Andretti Autosport.
Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires will return to action at Iowa Speedway on July 7/8 for the second oval race of the 17-race season.
Victor Franzoni (#23 Mazda Motorsports-Juncos Racing Dallara-Mazda IL-15): “This has been a difficult weekend for us. We came here with two kinds of pressure: to get back into the points fight and to make a good showing for Jeff (Green). I got the pole yesterday but had one of the worst races of my career, and today I had the best race of my career – and I’m glad that I could give that to Jeff. He’s the one who got me into Indy Lights and to give him this victory means so much. The Juncos team gave me an amazing car, it was so fast today. It took a while, but it’s so nice to have my first victory in Indy Lights and now we have to try to win every race and get back into the championship. I think when you win a race, you open a door and you start to win more races. It will be difficult, but I’ll try to use the end of the year to win and learn as much as I can. I don’t know what will happen for next year but I know I’ll be ready.”
Colton Herta (#98 Andretti Steinbrenner Racing Curb Mazda Dallara-Mazda IL-15): “I was able to get to the inside of Pato, and from there it was pretty straightforward, just braking late and getting it done. It’s opposite pressure now: I think the championship pressure is on Pato and Santi. I just need to beat them every weekend, rack up the points that I need and not take too many risks. You still have to push but if you finish on the podium and get a few wins, you’ll be in the title hunt.”
Aaron Telitz (#9 Rice Lake Weighing Systems – Belardi Auto Racing Dallara-Mazda IL-15): “Pato’s car was going off a little bit so he was struggling. I thought he might have a little bit of damage from the incident with Santi so I just kept the pressure on. I got a good run out of Turn Three, used that really good push-to-pass into Turn Five and squeezed him under braking. It’s great to get a podium at my home track, with all my friends, family and supporters here. So many of my supporters – Rice Lake Weighing Systems, Morrie’s Automotive Group, Central Standard Distillery – they’re all from Wisconsin or have stores in Wisconsin. And of course, my team owner Brian Belardi is from here. We may be down in the championship, but winning races and impressing people, showing people that I’m still fighting and not giving up in any way, is just as important right now.”