Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Victor Franzoni seals Pro Mazda title; delivers Juncos a double

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Victor Franzoni has completed a weekend sweep in the pair of Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires races at Watkins Glen International, and secured the 2017 Pro Mazda title in the process.

The Brazilian driver led flag-to-flag from pole in tricky conditions with mist peppering the 3.37-mile circuit, and the track damp from earlier rain, for his seventh win of the year in the No. 23 Juncos Racing entry. His win Saturday came following a pivotal pass of title rival Anthony Martin for the lead on the outside into the Bus Stop.

This capped off the run for the Mazda Renesis rotary engine and the existing chassis before the new Tatuus PM-18 enters the series next year, the second rung on the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder.

More to the point, Franzoni has now secured the Mazda Motorsports advancement scholarship valued at more than $790,000, to move into the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires series in 2018.

“I am so happy, but there are so many things in my mind right now. It’s unbelievable. So many people helped me to get into Pro Mazda this season,” Franzoni said. “I grew up five or 10 years in my career this season. The difference for me was Juncos Racing this year, they gave me such a great car. The fight with Anthony was incredible. He’s really, really good. I had to push so hard to stay with him. We were so close in every single race and pushed to the limit all the time. This was the hardest season of my life, because I knew I could not make a mistake. We both did a great job and I think we both deserve to move forward. I want to thank everyone at Mazda, Cooper Tires and Andersen Promotions.

“There were so many things on my mind on that last lap that I couldn’t focus. The team told me to be careful when the white flag came out, and suddenly, I couldn’t drive! When I saw the checkered, it was so great. To know where I will be next year now is the best thing in the world. I didn’t get just prize money today, I got hope.”

With this win, Franzoni will join Kyle Kaiser in winning a title for Juncos Racing this year, giving Ricardo Juncos bragging rights as the first team owner and first team to win two MRTI titles in the same season. Kaiser will only need to start today’s Indy Lights season finale to score enough points to secure that title.

Franzoni entered the day with an eight-point lead over his closest title rival, Martin, and with Martin needing to win and hope Franzoni finished off the podium to realistically be able move ahead to bring the title back within his grasp.

Martin, however, was hamstrung as it was by starting fifth in his No. 8 Cape Motorsports entry after being assessed a two-spot grid penalty for running the checkered flag during qualifying late Saturday afternoon.

While he made it up to third place on the opening lap, Martin’s title hopes evaporated when he spun off at Turn 1 trying to pass Carlos Cunha’s No. 81 Team Pelfrey car for second place. Martin lost several seconds to fall more than 11 back of Franzoni in the lead, and resumed on track just ahead of Nikita Lastochkin’s No. 80 Pelfrey car, repaired after yesterday’s accident with teammate Robert Megennis.

Although Martin gained five seconds over the next three laps, he was unable to get any closer to Cunha for second, and was forced to settle into third.

“I was pushing 150 percent out there with the championship on the line. It sucks to be the first loser, as I call it, but I gave it my all,” Martin said.

“I didn’t leave anything out there. I’m very disappointed not to take the championship but I had a great time this year. I was a Mazda Scholarship driver, which is something I never thought I would be when I first arrived in America.

“To come this far and to not take the championship is bittersweet. The season has been one big bumpy rollercoaster. Victor and I traded the lead I don’t know how many times, and we had some intense battles. Congratulations to Victor and to Juncos Racing. Consistency wins and they were just a little more consistent than me.”

Up front though Franzoni enjoyed a comfortable drive to the win by 1.5903 seconds over Cunha, who scored his fifth straight podium to end the year, and his first runner-up result of the season with the race’s fastest lap of 1:59.8161 set on the final lap. All of his five prior podiums were third places. The 20-lap, 40-minute race ran to the checkered flag without a caution flag.

Martin’s third place, was, fittingly, his first third place of the year and only the second race where he didn’t finish first or second.

But with Franzoni having won seven races and finished second in the other five, the Brazilian is now the one who will don a Soul Red Mazda in Indy Lights next season.

NHRA: Dodge/Mopar to unveil new Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car today in Denver

Photos/video courtesy Dodge/Mopar
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If you’re a fan of NHRA Funny Car racing and Dodge/Mopar, you may notice something different at this weekend’s Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in suburban Denver, Colorado.

Two-time (2011 and 2014) NHRA Funny Car champ Matt Hagan – who has won the last two NHRA national events in the last four weeks – will be piloting a newly-designed 2019 Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, a 10,000-horsepower Funny Car that makes its debut today at Dodge/Mopar’s premier NHRA national event.

The new Charger SRT Hellcat succeeds the former Mopar Dodge Charger R/T, which had been in use since 2015.

“We improved on the body design,” Hagan said of the new Charger Hellcat. “It was already a great design, a great body. But now, we’re going to have a little more downforce, a little more traction on these racetracks and it will be a huge performance advantage.”

The new Hellcat includes a number of innovations, including a new front splitter to increase downforce. Just like its predecessor, the R/T, the Hellcat will go head-to-head with Chevrolet’s Camaro in the NHRA Funny Car ranks.

“We will be able to press harder with more downforce on the nose, which translates into huge amounts of downforce on the run,” Hagan said.

According to a media release, the new Hellcat features major design changes in three key areas: the front end, bodysides and burst panel placement:

* “At the front, the shape of the nose has been tweaked and a new splitter (photo), built of carbon fiber and Kevlar like the rest of the Funny Car body, has been added. The splitter substantially mimics the look and shape of the production vehicle’s splitter while generating greater downforce to help plant the Funny Car to the track.

* “Bodyside scallops have been redesigned to more closely identify with the production Hellcat while also enhancing on-track function and performance. The deeper character lines provide greater visual ties to the street version of the Hellcat, while also helping to mitigate the “body burn” common on all Funny Cars due to the close positioning of the exhaust headers.

* “The location of the burst panel on the hood has also been reworked. The panel is now centered over the top of the engine to more efficiently release energy and pressure in the event of engine issues, a common occurrence in race cars that are pushed to the razor’s edge of performance.”

Since the R/T was first introduced into the Don Schumacher Racing corps, it has gone on to 50 wins, 42 runner-up finishes and 40 No. 1 qualifiers in NHRA national events and one NHRA Funny Car World Championship (Ron Capps, 2016).

The new Charger SRT Hellcat, which can exceed 330-plus mph and covers 1,000 feet in under four seconds, is the drag strip version of the supercharged, 707-horsepower production Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, the quickest, fastest and most powerful sedan in the world.

While Hagan will drive the first Hellcat, his other three Dodge-powered DSR teammates – Capps, Jack Beckman and Tommy Johnson Jr. – will soon take delivery of their own versions of the car over the remaining 11 races of the 2018 season.

One day after winning two weeks ago at Norwalk, Ohio, Hagan and crew chief Dickie Venables put the new Hellcat through its paces with several test runs. The results were so strong that it was decided to debut the car at Denver and run all qualifying and elimination rounds with it.

“We made four good, solid runs in testing at Norwalk,” said Hagan. “We put the body through a lot of different things and were really, really pleased with it.

“I really think it’s going to translate over to performance on the race track, and hopefully more win lights in the future.”

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