MRTI Road America recap: Franzoni’s last-to-first charge falls just short

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ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – Juncos Racing’s Victor Franzoni saw his pole lap for Race 2 of the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires weekend nullified when a red flag came out at the end of Friday’s qualifying session. It relegated Franzoni to the rear of the field, but that did not prevent Friday’s race winner from putting on a show in today’s race.

Despite starting last in the 15-car field, Franzoni nearly completed a last-to-first effort, finishing second to Anthony Martin by a mere 0.1799 of a second. Franzoni, in the No. 15 Juncos Mazda, charged to the top five within three laps and was in third place by Lap 5. Franzoni then made quick work of Team Pelfrey’s TJ Fischer on a restart, but two additional full-course cautions in the waning laps limited his chances to overtake pole sitter Martin.

The Brazilian, vying for his fourth consecutive race win, challenged several times on a last-lap shootout, but Martin fought him off to claim his third win of the season and first since the season-opening weekend in St. Petersburg, Florida.

“The first laps were like a video game,” Franzoni said with a laugh. “It was crazy. I had to try some passes, try to see where everybody was going. Some people were fighting (each other), so I had to go inside the fight and pass everybody. That part was really, really difficult, but it was good fun.”

However, a day after Franzoni complimented Martin’s driving in a fight for Friday’s win, he admitted displeasure with his championship rival’s aggressive defense of the lead in the final laps today.

“Today he was dirty from my point of view,” said Franzoni, who holds a seven-point lead over Martin halfway through the 12-race championship. “He put me in the grass two times really badly. If I didn’t lift, we would have crashed, so I think today he was not so nice.

“But for me, the problems this weekend were the (officials’) flags; they took points from me. The red flag in qualifying and the three yellows in the race, but it’s OK, it happens.”

VeeKay completes USF2000 weekend sweep at team’s home track

Rinus VeeKayPabst Racing’s Rinus VeeKay completed a back-to-back winning weekend, scoring his first two Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires wins on consecutive days at Road America in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda, the initial rung of the MRTI development ladder sanctioned by INDYCAR.

“We’re so happy,” said a beaming VeeKay. “It’s great to do this here, the home track for the team. I was screaming on the radio again. I’m so happy that we have the speed and we can really show what we can do.”

Today’s win was additionally special for Pabst Racing, located 70 miles away in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. Teammate Calvin Ming claimed runner-up honors when Friday’s pole sitter David Malukas, a 15-year-old from Chicago, spun while running second in the final corner of the 4.014-mile circuit.

USF2000 points leader Oliver Askew came home third. Askew leads VeeKay by 24 points after eight of 14 races.

Leist drives to win in Indy Lights weekend opener

The Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires championship saw a new name jump into the title fight today.  Carlin’s Matheus Leist led every lap at Road America and scored a win from pole for the second consecutive race, following May’s triumph in the Freedom 100 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.

Matheus LeistThe win vaults 18-year-old Leist, an MRTI rookie from Brazil, from sixth to second in the Indy Lights championship, just 21 points behind leader Kyle Kaiser.

“Of course I want to win the championship, but you have to be cautious that the championship is very long,” said Leist, who had never competed on any of the 2017 Indy Lights circuits prior to this year. “Still a lot of rounds, still a lot of tracks that I’ve never been (to). I’m sure it’s going to be a tough year for me, but anyway, here we are fighting for the championship.”

After scoring just two top-five finishes in the first five races, Leist has ripped off three straight podiums and back-to-back wins.

“The (Indy Lights) car is very tricky to drive,” said the reigning British Formula 3 champion, “so the beginning of the season was very difficult for me. Now each time I go to the track, I’m getting more used to the car, so it’s helping me.

“I’m really happy because I know that I had a great car at the beginning of the season as well, but I still didn’t manage to put everything together. Now I am managing to do it, so things are going our way. I’m very happy about it.”

Leist has a chance at a third straight win Sunday when Indy Lights takes the green flag for Race 2 at 9:45 a.m. ET (live stream on RaceControl.IndyCar.com). The Brazilian will start on the outside of the front row, alongside pole sitter Colton Herta from Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing. Herta set an Indy Lights track record in Race 2 qualifying today.

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