There are so many words that can describe the last Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires weekend. Intense, dramatic, chaotic, unbelievable, amazing, etc. It really was a weekend no one could have predicted. In the end we came out on top. I won the 2014 Pro Mazda Driver’s Championship and we won the Team Championship for Juncos Racing. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds….
I hadn’t been to Sonoma Raceway before so I was really looking forward to it; I had been told by many drivers that it was a great track. After the first practice session on Thursday I could agree with them. Lots of elevation changes, blind corners, high speed and low speed sections. It has a little bit of everything which is what you want in a road course. Practice went well, I was second in both sessions. We made a few changes and we were right up at the front again in the final practice session on Friday morning. Qualifying was close. The second and third flying laps were the ones you had to get the most out of, that’s when you had optimum grip from the Cooper tires. I came up just short of pole position by less than a tenth to my championship rival Scott Hargrove. Going into Race One I had a 19-point lead in the championship. I didn’t need to take any big risks but we knew if I could win Race One it would be a much more relaxing finale on Saturday.
I was right behind Scott for the opening laps. He seemed to be struggling with grip, he locked up and went wide a few times. Going into the final corner he went wide again and I passed him on the exit. It didn’t last long, as we turned left into the easy flat-out Turn One I was on the outside so I had the preferred inside line for Turn Two which was a right hand corner. He tried to push me wide and hit my left rear wheel with his right front. It spun me sideways and he hit my sidepod. Unfortunately it ripped my oil radiator off the car. My Mazda engine didn’t like the lack of oil and seized as I tried to get back to pit lane. A DNF for me and third-place finish for Scott. Not what we wanted. The situation had changed dramatically and I trailed by two points heading into Saturday’s race. It came down to a winner-take-all showdown in the final race of the season. My mechanics worked long into the night to strap on a new Mazda engine and repair all the damaged parts.
Again I started the race second and again it all went horribly wrong…to begin with. I got hit at Turn Two by Scott’s teammate. Facing backwards with 20 cars trying to dodge me isn’t how I pictured the race to go. It went full course yellow and I restarted in 18th position. The only option I had was to put my head down and pass as many cars as I could. One by one I was up to seventh with about six laps to go. We had another brief safety car period which bunched the field back up. I passed for sixth at the restart. As I exited Turn Four I saw my teammate Jose Gutierrez passing Hargrove. He was slowing and everyone was passing him. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I caught up to him in Turn Seven and passed him on the exit. It seemed much easier for everyone else to pass him as he limped back to the pits. He made his car extremely wide when I was passing, forcing me to pass him jumping over the curbs in the dirt as we entered the esses. I got by cleanly and remained in fifth for the rest of the race. I didn’t need to take any additional risks by trying to improve my position even more.
It was a rollercoaster weekend for me, the team, my family and supporters. Emotions went from rock bottom to sky high several times. In the end we are the champions. It’s the biggest accomplishment of my career so far and I couldn’t have done it without my supporters and everyone at Juncos Racing. Two of my teammates scored their first Pro Mazda wins as well, Kyle Kaiser and Jose Gutierrez. Could it get any better for Juncos Racing? Well yes, it did. Less than an hour after the race ended my team owner, Ricardo, had a new baby daughter. His wife gave birth to Gabriella Juncos. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Along with the honor of being champion I won a $588,800 scholarship from Mazda and Cooper Tires to move up to Indy Lights in 2015 and drive the brand new Dallara IL-15. I’m extremely excited to get behind the wheel of the new car and start working towards a successful 2015 season.
I couldn’t do it without the help of my supporters: Mockett, Rising Star Racing, California Scents, The Stutz, Vitamin-D Pro, OMP, RaceLite Protection and of course Juncos Racing
Thanks for reading,