[Source: Pro Mazda press release]
Sonoma, Calif. – No one could have written a script as convoluted as the one which played out in today’s Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Sonoma. The Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires was at stake, along with a $588,800 MAZDASPEED Driver Development Scholarship for the series champion to graduate to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the next step on the Mazda Road to Indy, in 2015.
A sequence of almost unbelievable dramas enabled 17-year-old Mexican Jose Gutierrez to emerge with his first-ever victory, while Juncos Racing teammate Spencer Pigot claimed the championship spoils after Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing’s Scott Hargrove experienced a broken transmission while in the lead with just four laps remaining.
The action began moments after the start when Pigot tucked in behind polesitter Hargrove on the entry to Turn One… only to be hit from behind by Hargrove’s teammate, Neil Alberico. The contact sent Pigot spinning and caused several other cars to be caught up in the melee. The resulting full-course caution enabled Pigot to catch up to the back of the field at the restart, but his title hopes were virtually in tatters with Hargrove leading the race and, following the incident between the pair yesterday, Pigot needing to finish ahead of his rival to stand any chance of winning the championship.
Hargrove soon began to inch clear at the restart, with Gutierrez in second ahead of Nicolas Costa (Team Pelfrey), Shelby Blackstock (Andretti Autosport) and impressive newcomers Jack Aitken (Team Pelfrey) and Joey Bickers (World Speed Motorsports), both of whom were making their Pro Mazda debuts this weekend.
Hargrove looked to be set for the title and was told by his crew over the radio to look after his car and “bring it home.” Even as Gutierrez whittled away at the deficit, reducing it from 2.2 seconds on Lap 8 to 1.3 seconds on Lap 11, Hargrove seemed to be in control. Then, suddenly, he lost the use of third gear. Shortly afterward, the caution flags waved again as Kyle Kaiser’s Juncos Racing entry stalled on the race track.
The restart came with four laps remaining and Hargrove still in the lead. Pigot, meanwhile, had charged from 18th to seventh, then relieved Bickers of sixth at Turn Four. But surely it still wasn’t enough. Well, moments later, Hargrove abruptly slowed. His gearbox was failing.
Hargrove kept going – and almost collided with Pigot as his rival rounded the stricken Canadian at Turn Eight – but only as far as the pits. His title hopes, along with his transmission, had been shattered.
Gutierrez duly stroked home to the win, while Costa maintained his streak of top-five finishes with second place ahead of Blackstock, who secured his second podium within a week. Aitken came home fourth ahead of an elated Pigot and Bickers, then teammate Alex Keyes who capped an excellent debut weekend with another strong result.
Bobby Eberle, from Houston, Texas, cemented his Expert division championship crown with his third win for World Speed Motorsports, while Juncos Racing overcame a one-point deficit to secure the Team Championship by a 29-point margin over Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing.
Felipe Donato claimed the Quarter Master Hard Charger Award after moving up from 20th on the grid to 13th for M1 Racing, while Aitken took home the Staubli Award. Pigot was awarded the RePlay XD Move of the Race for his avoidance of Hargrove while taking over fifth place on lap 15.
Spencer Pigot, #7 Doug Mockett & Company/Rising Star Racing/Vitamin-D Pro App/California Scents: “I can’t really believe it. I am still a little bit in shock. I was looking backwards at all of these cars coming at me in Turn Two and I was sure I was going to get clobbered by someone but luckily they all missed me. The Juncos guys did an amazing job not just this weekend but all season. I am just happy we were able to fight back and pass as many guys as we could because you never know in racing. We got a bit of a break. It’s a nice change with yesterday’s contact with Scott [Hargrove] and today with Neil [Alberico]. We really didn’t catch a break until the last few laps and those were the ones that counted. In the end, we are the ones with a smile on our faces and we can celebrate tonight. I have to thank all my supporters and my parents.”
Jose Gutierrez, #5 Prisma Desarrollos: “I don’t have words to describe how it feels to win my first Pro Mazda race, it’s incredible! We had a really good race, we made no mistakes and just kept the pressure on Hargrove until he ended up having a problem. What an amazing day for Juncos Racing. Huge congratulations to Spencer on his championship and to Kyle for winning yesterday. The team does an amazing job and they deserve all this success. This is a huge confidence boost going into the off-season. I can’t wait to come back next year to fight for more wins and the championship!”