By Steve Wittich

Victor Franzoni used a daring outside pass of Anthony Martin with three laps remaining in the penultimate Pro Mazda race to win his sixth race of the season, and increase his three point lead to eight points as the middle rung of the Mazda Road To Indy presented by Cooper Tire heads into the final race of the season.

Victor Franzoni was all smiles after winning the first Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire race at Watkins Glen International, and taking a 8 point championship lead into the final race of the season. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

“It was crazy, the race was crazy. I knew I had a really good car because when Anthony passed me
in the bus stop, I could drive behind him really well,” explained the 21 year-old Brazilian. “So, I
knew I had a really fast car, I just needed a chance to make the move and go back to the front.

“In Turn 1, I was focusing on making a great exit, and I think he (Martin) made a mistake and I had a
great exit, so that helped a lot at the end of the straight.

“The “Bus Stop” is the safest place to make a pass, but every time I tried on the outside there,
I needed just one more foot of the straight to be in front of him. On the lap I made the pass, I was
able to get a half-car in front of him. While I was on the straight, I was asking myself ’what do I
do, what do I do? Do I brake late – that was a little risky, but I broke really late, and I did it.’”

Pole sitter Franzoni lead Martin into Turn 1, but the Australian was able to get through Turn 1 and Turn 2 on the gearbox of the Brazilian. Martin pulled to the outside of Franzoni on the run up-hill to the Inner-Loop, and made a clean pass as they entered the “Bus Stop.”

The Pro Mazda field for the first race of the 2017 “Soul Red Finale” at Watkins Glen International. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

The running order after the first lap was Martin, who was able to pull a half-second lead over pole sitter Franzoni, Cunha, Megennis, Lastochkin, Fisher, Machciko, Wright, Eberle, Green, Puderbach, and Finelli.

On Lap 2, Team Pelfrey teammates Nikita Lastochkin and Robert Megennis, who were battling for fourth place, made contact in Turn 9. Both drivers were forced to retire, ending both of their races only one lap into the 30-lap timed race.

It took a little while to get that incident cleaned up, and the timed 30-minute race didn’t go green until their were fifteen minutes remaining.

At the end of Lap 6, the first lap back to green, Martin’s lead was only four-tenths of a second over Franzoni. The front two were followed closely by Cunha. Further back, TJ Fischer was in a five car battle with, Kris Wright, Sting Ray Robb, Matt Machiko and Bobby Eberle. Fisher, who was third in points heading into the race, was pushed wide by Wright in the middle of the “Bus Stop” and ended the race in 10th.

On lap 9, Martin and Franzoni went side-by-side up through The Essess, but Fraznoni was not able to get by Martin, and followed him closely through the remainder of the lap.

On the very next lap, the two drivers went side-by-side through almost the entire Boot section of the 11-Turn, 3.4 mile road course, before Martin pushed Franzoni off track in the Heel of the Boot (Turn 8). Franzoni was able to hold of Cunha through Turn 9, and took the next lap and a half to catch back up to the Soul Red No. 3 of Martin.

“Not just any racers can do that. Victor and I have been racing extremely hard all year. Even
though we have been racing hard, we also give each other racing room. I think that’s one of the
important things about this year. We have been racing hard, but we haven’t take each other out.

On Lap 12, Franzoni was able to get a better run than Martin through Turn 1 and Turn 2, and popped to outside of Martin as the duo exited Turn 3. Franzoni was able out drag Martin to the “Bus Stop” and when the drivers finished the quick left-right, left-right sequence it was Franzoni who entered the Boot with the lead.

Franzoni, who clearly had the quicker car, immediately pulled away from Martin, and took the white flag at the end of Lap 13 with a 2.2 second lead, and when Franzoni took the checkered flag, his lead was 3.5 seconds.

The win was the Brazilan’s 10th career MRTI win, and his 22nd career MRTI podium. Martin’s second place finish was his 24th in three seasons of MRTI competition.

Pro Mazda Watkins Glen Grand Prix Presented by Cooper Tires Race #1 results

1 23 Victor Franzoni 14 LAPS
2 8 Anthony Martin 3.5743
3 81 Carlos Cunha 4.2811
4 14 Sting Ray Robb 25.2132
5 12 Kris Wright 38.4547
6 3 Matt Machiko 39.7758
7 13 Bobby Eberle 42.2304
8 31 Brendan Puderbach 46.8016
9 83 Charles Finelli 91.2220
10 82 TJ Fischer – 1 LAP
11 60 Jeff Green -2 LAPS
12 84 Robert Megennis -13 LAPS
13 80 Nikita Lastochkin -13 LAPS

The Pro Mazda drivers and teams will be back on track at for a 20 minute qualifying for the second
Pro Mazda Watkins Glen Grand Prix Presented by Cooper Tires race at 5:30pm.