ALTON, Va. – Alessandro De Tullio claimed his first career USF Juniors Presented by Cooper Tires win in dramatic fashion this afternoon at VIRginia International Raceway in an all-green flag race that saw four different lead changes during the course of the 15-lap contest on the 3.27-mile, 18-turn road course. De Tullio, 15, of Miami, Fla., proved his pace at the top of the timesheets yesterday in testing was no fluke as he rebounded from a fall to 10th position at the start due to contact.
Nikita Johnson, 14, from St. Petersburg, Fla., claimed his third podium finish of the season with a hard-fought second-place result with Sam Corry, 14, from Chicago, Ill., rounding out an all Velocity Racing Development podium with his fourth top-three drive.
Mac Clark’s perfect streak of four pole positions and four wins to commence the inaugural USF Juniors season finally came to an end this morning when Jeremy Fairbairn, 18, of Pembroke Pines, Fla., took advantage of a scrambled qualifying session to earn a first Cooper Tires Pole Award both for himself and his Crosslink Kiwi Motorsport team.
De Tullio and Corry had shown themselves to be the top contenders during testing yesterday and practice earlier this morning. But both made mistakes during the 30-minute session to bring out red flags and earn penalties which negated their best lap times and relegated them to fifth (De Tullio) and seventh (Corry) on the grid. Fairbairn, meanwhile, having never been higher than sixth during the previous sessions, laid down the fastest lap at 1:55.970, an average speed of 101.509 mph, to earn the best starting position for today’s first of three races which comprise the Cooper Tires VIR Grand Prix.
Clark, who started on the front row, made his move on Fairbairn in Turn Two on the opening lap. The 18-year-old from Toronto, Ontario, Canada, held the advantage until Lap 5 when Johnson and Corry battled through to take the point. De Tullio, meanwhile, was on a charge. After dropping to 10th at the start, De Tullio had powered through into fourth by the fifth lap insuring an entertaining four-driver battle at the front.
As Johnson and Corry swapped the lead on Lap 7, De Tullio displaced Clark for third and the fight was on. De Tullio made his move on Johnson on Lap 11 and Corry on Lap 13 to take the checkered flag 1.955 seconds clear as his VRD teammates battled for second with Johnson eventually winning out.
Titus Sherlock, 17, of Proper, Texas, rounded out the top five with his second top-five finish of the season after posting his best qualifying result of third.
De Tullio picked up an extra bonus point for the fastest lap of the race – and the first PFC Award for team owner Dan Mitchell – with Corry adding a bonus point for most laps led.
Clark of DEForce Racing still holds a commanding 38-point lead in his quest for a scholarship valued at $220,000 to graduate onto the first official step of the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel development ladder, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, in 2023.
The first of two more races tomorrow is set to start at 8:30 a.m. EDT. Live streaming can be found at RoadToIndy.TV, the new USF Juniors App as well as usfjuniors.com.
Provisional championship points after 5 of 16 races:
1. Mac Clark, 150
2. Sam Corry, 112
3. Nikita Johnson, 104
4. Andre Castro, 91
5. Alessandro De Tullio, 90
6. Ethan Ho, 65
7. Jeremy Fairbairn, 63
8. Titus Sherlock, 61
9. Elliot Cox, 54
10. Jake Bonilla, 48
Alessandro De Tullio (#20 VRD/DTI Group Inc.-Velocity Racing Development Ligier JS): “It all started in qualifying with the red flag. It was a tough qualifying and I started in P5. Going into Turn One, the goal was just to be clean and stay in position. If I could gain a position or two, that would be good. There was a car on my inside and he couldn’t stop and he ran into me unfortunately. I felt the damage. The hit was pretty hard and I was worried there for a second but throughout the lap, the car was pretty decent so I just kept my head down and kept pushing. When I caught Mac it was for P3 or P4, and I made some mistakes and he passed me back. The gap to Nikita and Sam was quite big at that point, and I just tried to calm myself down. I got by Mac again and just pushed and caught Nikita and Sam. We had a good battle in the end. The car was good. There is some damage that we will fix for tomorrow but I want to thank my whole VRD team, my sponsors and my family and everyone who supports me. As a team to do a 1-2-3 here is perfect for our confidence and the whole team is going to be positive, like always, but this is going to be a boost.”
Nikita Johnson (#7 Allen Exploration, llc/Walker’s Cay-Velocity Racing Development Ligier JS): “It was a great race. I would like to thank everyone from VRD, Walker’s Cay, Allen Exploration and my family. We started fourth and I went around the outside and was battling with Jeremy for second. Once I passed him, I kept my head down and put in some really great laps with Sam behind me. We caught and passed Mac and made a bit of a gap and I just focused on turning good laps. Alessandro came back from his incident. He was really fast in testing and qualifying and there was no stopping him. I dropped back to third and passed Sam in the Rollercoaster. Overall, it was some great teamwork and a very fun race.”
Sam Corry (#14 Red Line Oil/Fill-Rite/Stilo Helmets-Velocity Racing Development Ligier JS): “It was a great race. We started P8 and had a really good start and I just worked my way up. Once I was behind Nikita, we just clicked off laps to catch Mac. We passed Mac and were just hauling to try to pull away from him. Alessandro had a really good run after his incident and caught us. He broke away a little bit towards the end. Nikita, Mac and I had a good, clean race. Going down the straight with Mac and I side-by-side made for a photo finish there. It was a really good race overall.”