Remembering Ronnie Peterson, Gonzalo Rodriguez on Sept. 11

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September 11 stirs the emotions like few other days on the calendar. As Americans, we tend to get caught up in the patriotism and the emotions of what happened on Sept. 11, 2001.

Racing has its own form of memorials on Sept. 11, in the form of two very talented drivers who we lost on that day many years ago. Ronnie Peterson died Sept. 11, 1978, and Gonzalo Rodriguez passed on Sept. 11, 1999.

Peterson (pictured), better known as “Super Swede,” was a World Champion-in-waiting in the 1970s. His stint at March to open his career, including a runner-up finish in the 1971 World Championship, led to an opportunity with Colin Chapman’s all-conquering Team Lotus, where he won 10 Grands Prix.

As Mario Andretti’s teammate in 1978, Peterson won twice and entered the Italian Grand Prix just more than a race win back. But the tragic crash just after the start of the race, where Peterson’s Lotus went in several different directions and caught fire, was enough to claim his life. He died in hospital the day after the race, aged 34. A tribute video compiled on the 30-year anniversary, five years ago, is below.

Rodriguez, a Uruguayan driver, starred in 1999 with a famous victory in the F3000 race at Monaco with the lesser-rated Astromega team. His performances caught the eye of Roger Penske, who invited him to America to drive a second CART Champ Car at Detroit and Laguna Seca in the second half of the season.

At Detroit, Penske announced Gil de Ferran and Greg Moore would be his new drivers for 2000, but still wanted to provide Rodriguez an opportunity to showcase himself to other team owners. A point on debut with a 12th-place finish was a very good result, indeed.

Come Laguna, though, Rodriguez had an accident in practice with a stuck open throttle at the notorious Corkscrew corner. His car front-flipped over the barrier and catch-fencing and landed upside down on the other side. Rodriguez was pronounced dead from a basilar skull fracture.

That was a particularly gut-wrenching time for Penske, whose other future driver, Moore, was killed later that year in the season finale at the California Speedway. Rodriguez was on several teams’ shortlists for drives in 2000. Sadly, neither was able to fulfill their potential in the new century.

MRTI: Juncos signs Carlos Cunha for Pro Mazda campaign

Photo: Juncos Racing
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Juncos Racing continued to bolster its entries in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires by signing Carlos Cunha to pilot a third Juncos Pro Mazda entry for 2018. Cunha, who finished third in the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda season on the back of seven podium finishes, joins Rinus VeeKay and Robert Megennis in Juncos’ Pro Mazda lineup for 2018.

Cunha previously tested with the team at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in October and joined Juncos for the Chris Griffis Memorial test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in November, testing cars for both the Pro Mazda and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires teams.

“It’s great to become a part of Juncos Racing,” said the 18-year-old Cunha. “I am really excited to start the 2018 season with Juncos Racing. This fall we did some testing together and from there I was able to see how focused everyone on the team is and I even felt like I became a part of their family in no time. I am confident we will get great results together next year and I look forward to learning and growing more with the team. It will be a huge pleasure and also a great responsibility to carry the number one on my car, thanks to (2017 Pro Mazda champion Victor Franzoni) and I hope to deliver it back to the team at the end of the year!”

Team owner Ricardo Juncos added, “We are excited to add Carlos to our Pro Mazda lineup. From the moment we started testing with him in early October, we knew he would be a great fit for our team. Carlos has been very quick in testing and even had an impressive showing in the Indy Lights car at the Chris Griffis test back in October. He had a great run this past season in the Pro Mazda series and we are confident he will carry that momentum into the 2018 season.”

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