Polesitters Victor Franzoni (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) converted those perfect starting positions into victories in the first of two races for each series on the Mazda Road to Indy Grand Prix Presented by Royal Purple Supporting the Lupus Foundation of America weekend on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
The win is Franzoni’s first in Pro Mazda in the series’ third race of the year. Meanwhile Askew has his fourth consecutive win in USF2000, in that series’ fifth race.
Victor Franzoni saw his lead disappear at the start of the 30-minute third round of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires season.
But the Brazilian then made the gap disappear shortly thereafter, before emerging back up front in a brilliant passing maneuver after a two-lap battle with Anthony Martin.
Franzoni is now a winner in the Pro Mazda series for Juncos Racing, and has made significant inroads into Martin’s championship lead after the Australian won both races at St. Petersburg to open the season on top.
Finishing third for the third time in as many races was TJ Fischer, which in keeping the theme of threes alive again made him first of the three Team Pelfrey cars.
Given Franzoni’s dominance in practice and qualifying thus far this weekend, the only way he figured to be headed was if he had a bad start in the race – which he did.
He was swarmed at the start and Martin, who’d qualified third, made it into the lead by the end of the first lap with Franzoni falling to fourth. Franzoni recovered, however, to make it back to second at the end of the lap.
A slightly altered order after the first lap saw Martin ahead of Franzoni, Nikita Lastochkin, Fischer, Phillippe Denes and Carlos Cunha.
Franzoni quickly lowered the gap to 0.4606 of a second on Lap 3 and 0.2353 of a second on Lap 4, which meant a pass was going to be imminent.
On Lap 5, Franzoni darted in behind Martin exiting the final corner. Martin held the lead as Franzoni drafted down the frontstraight before Franzoni darted to the outside through Turns 1 and 2.
The two drivers promptly ran side-by-side through the right, left and pair of right-handers through Turn 4 before Martin held him off into the Turns 5/6 chicane.
But having had a dry run at the passing attempt on the previous lap, Franzoni completed it to perfection a lap later on Lap 6. Having tried to Martin’s outside at Turn 1, it again positioned him to the inside for Turn 2, and he made it past.
Gaps of 0.7036 of a second after Lap 6 followed by 1.3712 on Lap 7, 1.9838 on Lap 8 and 2.4719 on Lap 9 were proof positive Franzoni was in the clear for the rest of the race.
Other than a minor hiccup on Lap 10 when Franzoni lost 1.5 seconds to Martin, he was never challenged the rest of the way, and had to control the race from there en route to the victory, by 5.0012 seconds.
Behind the top two, Fischer rebounded from a slow start as he fell from second down to fourth to emerge at the head of the Pelfrey scrap and make it back to the podium once more. Cunha was fourth followed by Denes in fifth, and Lastochkin dropped to sixth.
Franzoni said afterwards he’d play the move on Martin depending on which way Martin darted. The confidence boost in the win comes with Juncos Racing’s preparation, and Franzoni noted how cool it was to win in a series team owner Ricardo Juncos knows, Pro Mazda, before making his Verizon IndyCar Series debut in the Indianapolis 500.
Martin said his only realistic chance to pass Franzoni for the win would be on the start. While he defended as best he could and could thank Franzoni for racing him clean, as they have in USF2000 before Pro Mazda, he was unable to hold him back fully.
Fischer said he recovered from a poor start nicely and carved his way back through the field. It was a solid result for him at a race where a year ago, his USF2000 season came apart and ultimately led to his Pro Mazda debut that came the next month at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.
Franzoni again has the pole for Saturday’s race, which gives him a great chance to equalize Martin on two wins for the year and tighten up the points race even further. The window for the 40-minute race runs from 8:15 to 9:05 a.m.
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Very little in terms of an actual race occurred for the opening Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda race of the weekend, interrupted by a waved off initial start and then a crash that ate nearly two-thirds of the clock for the 30-minute race.
And additionally, very little changed at the top of the leaderboard, either.
Oliver Askew completed a start-to-finish drive in what wound up as only a 15-lap race to continue a number of streaks, taking the checkered flag by 3.3461 seconds over Kaylen Frederick.
It is the talented Floridian’s fourth consecutive win this season. It is the fifth straight win for Cape Motorsports on the IMS road course, now its first with the Tatuus USF-17 Mazda after four straight with the previous Van Diemen chassis. It is the sixth straight win by the polesitter in USF2000 at IMS.
He did so after a bit of delay to get the race going. The initial start was waved off, and then on the second attempt to get going, a heavy crash between Kory Enders (DE Force Racing) and Kris Wright (John Cummiskey Racing) occurred at Turn 7 and put the race under a full-course caution period.
After 17-plus minutes and seven laps, the race resumed on Lap 8, with Askew leading Frederick. He gained 1.3166 seconds on the first lap, and that was all the margin he needed to streak away from there in his No. 3 Soul Red Mazda.
Frederick lost anywhere from one to four tenths per lap in the remaining 11-plus minutes of the race after the initial restart, but nonetheless was able to stay in second place for the third consecutive race in the No. 81 Team Pelfrey entry.
In third, after starting fourth and passing Ricky Donison of Cape on the opening lap, was Guyana driver Calvin Ming. This is Ming’s first career podium finish in USF2000 in his No. 22 Pabst Racing entry.
Donison was fourth in the second Cape car, the No. 2 entry, for his best result this season and Dakota Dickerson completed the top five in the No. 36 Newman Wachs Racing entry.
Series debutantes Callan O’Keeffe in the No. 31 Team BENIK Tatuus and David Malukas in the No. 79 BN Racing Tatuus impressed to finish sixth and 11thh after starting sixth and 15th, respectively.
O’Keffe was ahead of Rinus VeeKay, Robert Megennis, Ayla Agren and Moises de la Vara in the top 10.
It was a tough race for Exclusive Autosport with Luke Gabin the best of its four cars in 12th. Parker Thompson pitted on the opening lap and again during the yellow, and was left to finish a frustrating 21st, a tough result to take for last year’s series runner-up.
Post-race, Askew said it almost becomes a “mind trick” to try to keep your head in the game when there is a long yellow. He hasn’t had much time to run behind people this week as he has been fastest in most sessions, but said that with a little bit of a draft, you can be quicker. This is his first win at Indianapolis and he called it a dream; this is the first year he will be able to attend the Indianapolis 500 in person.
Frederick was surprised by how strong Askew’s restart was. He also said his rear tires fell off a little bit faster even in the limited green flag running. He said that for a day as long as this, with two qualifying sessions and the race, keeping your mind focused is key to success. He said the track grip and conditions were good without having any sports car rubber down; just the Cooper for the Mazda Road to Indy and Firestone for IndyCar is down here.
After his first podium, Ming said he got a good run on Donison at the initial start, which was enough to secure third place around the outside.
Unofficially Askew stretches his points lead to 42 over Frederick, 155 to 113, with VeeKay in third at 102 points and the only other driver north of 100 scored this year.
The second 30-minute race is in the 10:05 to 10:45 window tomorrow morning.
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