Before the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy test last December, few in North America had heard of Victor Franzoni. In fact, few probably recognized the name after the test. Tim Walsh and Brian Tomasi of Afterburner Autosport, however, knew the name well.
It wasn’t that Franzoni, 18, had a bad test with the team on Dec. 9-10 on the 2.38-mile Alabama circuit. The young Brazilian performed well, but failed to really stand out, unable to crack the top-seven while running about two seconds off of the leaders’ fast laps. Basically, he flew under the radar unless you were paying close attention, that is.
Walsh, owner of Afterburner Autosport, and Tomasi, team manager/lead mechanic, took notice and focused on continued improvement during tests leading up to the USF2000 Winterfest opener in New Orleans. It paid off.
Franzoni, a native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, who stands, maybe, 5’5″ tall with his racing shoes on, captured the attention of all in the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder by winning the first race of 2014 at NOLA Motorsports Park in New Orleans. It was his first USF2000 race.
Franzoni followed Henrik Furuseth past early-leader RC Enerson on Lap 6. Two laps later a slight mistake by Furuseth allowed Franzoni to take the point. On the next lap, caution flags flew after Aaron Telitz suffered a suspension failure and the race ended under caution. Franzoni took the checkered.
“I’m really, really happy,” he said, in a post-race interview released by USF2000. “It’s been three years since I won my last race (in Formula Future in Brazil), so it feels great to win again. I’m still learning the car but it feels really good. I think we made a good start to the season, so let’s see if we can keep it going.”
In the second race, Franzoni finished runner-up behind Enerson trailing by 0.393 seconds on the 2.75-mile circuit. He set the third quickest time, trailing Telitz and Clark Toppe. Toppe, who was impressive all week, went on to win the third race at NOLA.
Prior to racing in North America, Franzoni spent time in karts. He finished 11th in the 2010 Granja 500 — a 500-mile kart race in Brazil that draws some of the biggest names in motorsport — sharing seat-time with Skip Barber Karting Scholarship winner Leonardo Jafet (5th-place in 2011), former Indy Lights driver Mario Romancini, Vinicius Perdigao (the winner of the opening USF2000 Winterfest race in 2011), among others.
Franzoni’s last win in a race car occurred in 2011 when he finished fifth in the Formula Future series in Brazil. Since then, he’s raced in the Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup and Alps series as well as the Brazilian F3 Open.
With two wins in the final four races of the 2013 USF2000 National Championship and a win in the opening race of the 2014 USF2000 Winterfest, Afterburner Autosport appears to be a team to watch. Franzoni, meanwhile, has proven to be a driver to watch.