By Steve Wittich
For the first time in Pro Mazda history, the series will visit the 1.25 mile Gateway Motorsports Park paperclip oval in Madison, Ill.
Reigning USF2000 champion Anthony Martin and his main competitor for the $790,300 Mazda Motorsports scholarship package, Victor Franzoni, headline a nine car field entered for the St. Louis Pro Mazda Oval Challenge Presented by Cooper Tires, the only oval race of the 2017 season.
Martin, a 22 year-old from Australia, outscored the Brazilian Franzoni 92-81 during the three race weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course to earn a four point lead headed into the final three races of the year.
“My mindset is the same as Mid-Ohio – to maximize every championship point I can get,” explained Martin. “I have to really focus on working with the team to make my car perfect from practice through to the race.
“We tested here two weeks ago. We learned a lot with the car and we were able to get faster and faster each session. The surface is brand new and it is soooooo smooth. It really is like a billiard table! I have never driven an oval that is high speed like this one so it is definitely different to be driving around corners at those speeds.”
Martin who’s come from behind win on the oval at Lucas Oil Raceway Park was the turning point in his battle with Parker Thompson during the 2016 USF2000 Championship battle, will be making his third oval start, but his first in the Mazda Renesis powered Pro Mazda machine.
Franzoni made a Pro Mazda oval start at Lucas Oil Raceway Park in 2015, starting ninth and finishing sixth , and will be making his fourth career oval start. Franzoni finished third in USF2000 races at the Clermont, Ind. oval in 2014, and 2016.
With the tight title fight between Anthony Martin and Victor Franzoni, don’t be surprised if the championship comes down bonus points. The MRTI doles out one bonus point each – for winning the pole, leading the most laps, and turning in the quickest race lap.
Martin’s five poles, six races with the most laps led, and four races with the quickest race lap equates to 15 bonus points.
With three poles, three races with the most laps led, and four races with the quickest race lap, Franzoni has scored 10 bonus points.
2017 Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire bonus points through nine of 12 races
While most of our attention will be focused on the Martin vs. Franzoni championship tilt, TSO is also watching a few other interesting battles.
TJ Fischer currently leads Team Pelfrey teammate Carlos Cunha for third in the championship by a slim eight point margin. But, it’s the Brazilian Cunha that has been the hotter of the two, outscoring Californian Fisher by 12 points over the past two events. Both drivers are making their first ever oval starts.
Further down the points table, TSO is watching the fight between 49 year-old three-time Pro Mazda expert class champion Bobby Eberle, and 60 year-old Juncos Racing rookie Jeff Green who are separated by only six points for seventh place. Once again, both drivers are making their oval debuts.
The first Pro Mazda practice of the weekend will take place at 5:15pm on Saturday. The second rung of the Mazda Road To Indy presented by Cooper Tire will qualify at 1:45pm, and race at 4:55pm on Sunday.
Don’t miss any of the action: