Ricardo Juncos’ magic carpet ride in 2017 takes on another dimension this week.
The INDYCAR team owner collected a pair of driver’s championships in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel development ladder this season, while also making an impressive Verizon IndyCar Series debut with two cars competing in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in May. Juncos returns to Indianapolis Motor Speedway this week to drive in the Spec Miata class at the SCCA National Championship Runoffs.
Competing in the Runoffs is the culmination of a hectic dream season for Juncos, 42. In his team’s first effort in the Verizon IndyCar Series, drivers Sebastian Saavedra and Spencer Pigot posted respectable finishes of 15th and 18th place, respectively, with both Juncos Racing Chevrolets running at the finish. Earlier this month at Watkins Glen International in upstate New York, Kyle Kaiser clinched the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires championship and Victor Franzoni won the Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tires title for Indianapolis-based Juncos Racing.
As he explores opportunities to expand to a full-time Verizon IndyCar Series effort in 2018 along with the continued Mazda Road to Indy programs, Juncos made the commitment to drive in the Runoffs on the IMS road course.
“When I found out the Runoffs were at Indy, I said, ‘OK, somehow I’ve got to do it,’” Juncos said. “So I was able to do the three (SCCA) races while I was doing everything else – the Indy 500 and the other two teams and everything else. But I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to do the Runoffs.”
Juncos qualified for the Runoffs by competing in SCCA events this year at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Sebring International Raceway and Road America in his 2000 Mazda Miata liveried in the familiar green, orange and white of Juncos Racing.
The return to racing was welcome for Juncos, who competed in karting and Formula Renault in his native Argentina before funding ran out. He then worked for other racing teams in Argentina until forming his kart team in Buenos Aires in 1997.
Juncos moved to America in 2003 to continue his full-service karting team. Success in karting paved a path for Juncos Racing to grow into one of the premier teams in the INDYCAR ladder system.
But sacrifices needed to be made as Juncos built his team into a powerhouse. He bought the Miata about seven years ago but only has raced it four or five times due to his team ownership responsibilities and raising a family. Juncos and his wife, Danielle, have a son.
Still, Juncos felt at home back in the cockpit of a race car as his driving schedule increased in frequency and urgency this season to qualify for the Runoffs’ debut at IMS.
“It was OK,” he said. “Rusty, of course. I’m 42. I came here at 27. It’s a big difference.
“But in practice (last weekend), there were 47 Spec Miatas in my group and I was P5 in testing. I would love to learn, love to get better.
“I like it. I never stopped racing because I wanted to stop. I was forced to by life situations. Any time I can have the chance to be in the race car, I’m in the race car.”
Juncos has gained respect in the INDYCAR paddock for his humility, dedication and professionalism. That ethos also extends to his SCCA Miata team.
He does not pull any Juncos Racing members from the team’s shop in Speedway, less than a mile from IMS, to work on his car at SCCA events. He either works on the car alone at SCCA races or has one crew member, his 12-year-old son, Leandro, who also is an avid kart racer and soccer player.
“I don’t want to distract my racing team as a business or in a professional way,” Juncos said. “If I’m not racing myself, I’m either with a go-kart with my son or he plays soccer, so I’m always with him.”
With his stuffed schedule of running multiple racing efforts, one might wonder why Juncos doesn’t spend his rare weekends off away from the track.
It’s simple: Racing is more than just a job for Ricardo Juncos.
“The way I see racing is a way to live,” he said. “For me, I’m never tired of racing. My wife offers big support, so we have an RV and go in that (to races) every time we can. Maybe somebody else is wanting to be at home while I’m in the race shop or at races.
“The day has 24 hours for everybody, but I never stop. That’s why every day I wake up anxious to do what I have to do that day. I live very intense, very intense. Everything I do has to be 110 percent, whatever I do.”