Over the span of 15 years in America, Ricardo Juncos has gone from owning all of $400 and a backpack to fielding two cars in the 2017 Indianapolis 500.
It wasn’t an easy journey.
Juncos competed in his native Argentina in Formula Renault and in sports cars, building the cars himself with his family’s team while they operated a car repair shop. The bottom fell out of the Argentinian economy in late 2001 and Juncos moved to Miami in early 2002.
“We lost the business after the economy (collapsed) and we were selling everything we had to keep eating and keep living,” Juncos said. “So, at that time, we lost pretty much everything. We had nothing left. So my grandmother gave me $400, and I came with my backpack and $400.”
He arrived in the U.S. around 3 p.m.; by 5 a.m. he was already working, building window frames. By the next week, he was working for a karting team as a mechanic.
“There was an opening, and they used me for two weeks,” Juncos said of the karting opportunity. “I remember they told me that they don’t have money to pay me because they don’t know me, so if I was willing to work for free for two weeks, that would be fine. I said yes, no problem, and that’s what I did.
“Three months later I was kind of the team manager. I had a lot of experience from Argentina so it was kind of the right moment.”
Juncos poured all he had into his own karting team. When he started, he had enough for a toolbox and rent for a small shop for a few months. Fortunately, with driver Sebastian Ordoñez, the team was winning races and attracting attention of other drivers.
Enter Spencer Pigot.
“We were one of the first people to join his go-kart team, which was then called Juncos Competition,” Pigot said. “Even before he could speak English very well, we were racing for him, and we just felt like he was a guy (who) really knew what he was doing.”
Juncos and Pigot teamed up in 2005, winning a couple Florida karting titles and a national karting championship before parting ways for a few years. In 2009, the team moved on to what was then known as the Star Mazda series — today it’s called the Pro Mazda Series and is part of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system.
Success came quickly, as Conor Daly won the team’s first Star Mazda championship in 2010. However, the next title didn’t come until a familiar face rejoined the team in 2014.
Barry Pigot found sponsorship for his son Spencer to rejoin Juncos Racing in 2014 for Pro Mazda after Juncos promised they’d win the championship.
And win they did, with six victories from 14 races. That led to a jump to Indy Lights, where Pigot won that championship for Juncos in 2015. Bigger things were still on the horizon.
Juncos bought three cars from the Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser-owned KV Racing, an IndyCar team that closed its doors in February. Juncos also secured enough other assets from KV to allow the team less than three months later to race two cars in the 2017 Indianapolis 500, with Pigot and Sebastián Saavedra driving.
“You need to start pretty much from zero, building your own fuel tanks, timing stands, and the whole equipment, the pit boxes, everything,” Juncos said. “I thought it was absolutely the right time, the right opportunity, the right price. Everything was so good.
“I have to pay back the money I found to buy the team but I have five years to do it, so that’s the risk I have.”
The month of May was a challenge on the IndyCar side, with Pigot having an accident during Indianapolis 500 practice, but the Pro Mazda and Indy Lights teams were victorious at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
“I sleep in the shop,” Juncos said. “My wife and myself we don’t stop; we work 24 hours if it’s necessary, and I do everything, and I have a good team with good people.”
Good enough people that most of his pit crew members on race day at Indianapolis were from his Pro Mazda and Indy Lights teams.
“I think he’s a very unique guy, a lot of determination, his will to succeed is high,” Spencer Pigot said. “His passion is motor racing, so I think he’s very fortunate.”
For Juncos, the focus is always on the next challenge for the organization.
“It’s huge. I mean, it’s good, but to be honest, I’m not looking back; you want to keep going,” Juncos said. “I always say that you always have to have something else to do. Sometimes I look at the mirror and say I should be more happy than I am, but I am happy.
“But I just want more and more and it never stops.”