By Tony DiZinno
It has been an emotional whirlwind week-plus for Victor Franzoni and the entire Juncos Racing team heading into Road America.
Today Franzoni paid tribute to his fallen friend and 2017 Pro Mazda teammate, Jeff Green, with an overdue first career victory in the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires series. This means he has now won in all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, after also winning in Pro Mazda and USF2000.
“My feelings are that it’s amazing. When you win it’s good, but when you win the first time in Indy Lights is a different feeling,” Franzoni told the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network’s Rob Howden.
“It’s been a difficult weekend. Yesterday was the worst race of my career. I made the most number of mistakes. But today was the best race of my career.
“This victory is for him,” Franzoni said of Green. “What he did for me is amazing. He took me to Indy Lights. I wouldn’t have been in Pro Mazda. I wouldn’t be here today. Now we have to win all the races. Today was the day I learned the car, to where I know how to do a full race with this car.”
He’s also ended Colton Herta’s four-race win streak in the process. Herta was second to extend his championship lead, while Aaron Telitz got a home podium in third.
Herta entered Sunday’s second Mazda Indy Lights Grand Prix of Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. on a four-race winning streak. If he could win five in a row, he’d match Alex Lloyd’s mark from 2007. The fifth straight win for Lloyd that year was also scored in Wisconsin, at the Milwaukee Mile.
On the opening lap, Santi Urrutia got past Franzoni on the start for second place. Telitz briefly got ahead of Herta for fourth but that changed.
Things got a bit crazy on Lap 3. Urrutia tried to the inside of O’Ward for the lead at Turn 5 but goes in a bit too deep. There’s contact between the two of them, Urrutia damages his front wing, and they both go way off on corner exit, with O’Ward deeper into the grass. Franzoni takes advantage and makes the pass for the lead, three-wide, with both left-side wheels off course.
Urrutia meanwhile is in trouble on the exit of Turn 8 and has fallen behind Herta and O’Ward. He pits with front wing damage from sixth place, and heads to the pits where he pulls off course from the race. This is a big hit to his championship hopes for the moment.
Franzoni has expanded his lead over O’Ward from 2.3 seconds to then 2.5, and 3.1 seconds by Lap 5.
O’Ward is withstanding pressure from Herta, with Telitz having a front row seat to the proceedings in fourth.
However on Lap 7, Herta goes past O’Ward on the outside at Turn 5 for second place, and immediately defends to the inside to prevent O’Ward from repassing him on the inside.
Franzoni leads Herta by 4.0535 seconds on Lap 7, with O’Ward third, 4.6 seconds back, Telitz fourth 5.4 seconds back and Norman the last car on the lead lap. Kellett needed to pit to replace a cut left rear tire on Lap 1 (caused when Norman’s right front wing contacted Kellett’s tire) and is running sixth, on the tail end of the lead lap.
The gap is 4.2 seconds at the end of Lap 8, and 4.3 seconds a lap later as Franzoni settles into a rhythm up front.
It’s crossed flags at Lap 10 with Franzoni 4.5 seconds ahead of Herta, and O’Ward now behind him a little bit closer. Further back, the Belardi Auto Racing team has repaired the broken wishbone of Urrutia’s No. 5 Dallara IL-15 Mazda and sent him back out.
Kellett was trying to get out of the way to allow Herta through, but the two Andretti Autosport teammates made contact at Turn 14 as Herta was on the inside and Kellett on the outside.
With five laps to go, Franzoni remains in control by over 5 seconds to Herta. O’Ward, now out of push-to-pass, will have to defend against Telitz for third.
Telitz has one more push remaining and on Lap 18, uses it to get a run on O’Ward into Turn 5. He gets around on the outside and brakes on the inside. He defends against O’Ward through Turns 6, 7 and 8.
On the final lap, Franzoni has a 7.9 second lead on Herta, as he looks to bring it home for his first Indy Lights victory.
He does so at the end of Lap 20 by a margin of victory of 8.9153 seconds over Herta, with Telitz scoring his third podium finish of the season.
All three teams are on the podium with Juncos Racing, Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing and Belardi Auto Racing.
For Franzoni, he joins Sage Karam, Spencer Pigot, Matty Brabham, Aaron Telitz and Nico Jamin as winners in all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires.
A visibly emotional Franzoni had a few tears after the race – justifiably – given the week. He’ll be pushing from here to get more victories and more points.
Herta had a smart drive to end second, getting a couple passes done and maintaining his championship lead.
Telitz was thankful to be on the podium in front of his home friends and family. It was a hard drive for him but he took advantage of the day.
Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires Race #2 – Unofficial Results
|6||28||Dalton Kellett||19||1 LAPS|
|7||5||Santi Urrutia||13||7 LAPS|