ALTON, Va. – Alessandro De Tullio vaulted himself into contention for the inaugural USF Juniors Presented by Cooper Tires championship title following a weekend sweep of the Cooper Tires VIR Grand Prix for Velocity Racing Development at VIRginia International Raceway. A couple of weeks shy of his 16th birthday, De Tullio, from Miami, Fla., made hard work of winning the second race earlier this morning, recovering brilliantly after an early error dropped him to the back of the pack, but he led the majority of this afternoon’s finale and held off points leader Mac Clark (DEForce Racing), from Toronto, Ont., Canada, by less than three tenths of a second.
Titus Sherlock (Crosslink Kiwi Motorsport), from Prosper, Texas, and Alan Isambard (International Motorsport), from West Palm Beach, Fla., both claimed their maiden podium finishes following a dramatic race this morning, while De Tullio’s teammate, Sam Corry, from Cornelius, N.C., finished third in a thrilling, all-green 15-lap weekend finale.
The morning race began seemingly with a sense of normality as Clark lined up at the head of the nicely formed starting grid. Clark, having won each of the first four races of the season, secured his fifth Cooper Tires Pole Award by virtue of posting the fastest second-best lap among the field during the lone qualifying session on Saturday morning.
It didn’t stay that way for long. A hectic beginning to the race included a couple of full-course cautions, plus a brief red-flag stoppage while damaged cars were removed from the scene of an incident in Turn 15. Clark maintained his position in front through the opening dramas but was unable to break away from an array of challengers once the race was restarted for a four-lap uninterrupted run to the checkered flag.
Positions changed regularly during a thrilling denouement which had begun with De Tullio at the back of the pack after he had slipped off the road in Turn One earlier in the race. Remarkably, De Tullio made up eight positions in just three laps and was running fifth as the leading pack of cars began their final trip around the challenging 3.27-mile road course. Even more remarkably, De Tullio somehow managed to outmaneuver all of his rivals to emerge with a sensational victory.
De Tullio’s task was eased by an incident at the end of the long back straightaway between Clark, who had held the lead, Corry and Nikita Johnson, from Gulfport, Fla., aboard another VRD Ligier JS. Corry crossed the line in second place but later was relegated to 12th after being served with a 30-second penalty for avoidable contact following an earlier clash with Jeremy Fairbairn (Crosslink Kiwi Motorsport), from Wellington, Fla. A disappointed Clark recovered to finish 10th, while Johnson, who fell to the back of the field, also was issued a penalty from Race Control for his part in the final-lap contretemps.
Sherlock and Isambard were credited with second and third, while Jake Bonilla (DEForce Racing), from San Antonio, Texas, Elliot Cox (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Development), from Indianapolis, Ind., and Andre Castro (International Motorsports), from New York, N.Y., also were within one second of the race winner at the checkered flag.
This afternoon’s race was rather less dramatic but no less exciting as Clark, who once again started from pole position, waged a race-long battle with VRD teammates De Tullio, Corry and Johnson. Once again it came down to the final lap. This time it was relatively clean, although Johnson found himself on the grass at the exit of the Roller Coaster section of track less than a half-mile from the finish line which resulted in him falling from second to fourth.
Isambard produced another strong result to finish fifth, well clear of Sherlock who narrowly headed Bonilla, Castro and Ethan Ho (DC Autosport w/Cape Motorsports), from Los Angeles, Calif.
Another solid finish from Clark enabled him to stretch his points to 37 over De Tullio, whose hat-trick catapulted him from sixth to second in the standings. Seven of 16 races are now in the books. At stake is 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.
De Tullio’s magnificent weekend also included a trio of PFC Awards for Velocity Racing Development team principal Dan Mitchell as the winning car owner.
Next up for the USF Juniors is another triple-header weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, on July 7-9.
Provisional championship points after 7 of 16 races:
1. Mac Clark, 189
2. Alessandro De Tullio, 152
3. Sam Corry, 143
4. Nikita Johnson, 132
5. Andre Castro, 119
6. Titus Sherlock, 101
7. Jeremy Fairbairn, 91
8. Ethan Ho, 82
9. Jake Bonilla, 81
10. Alan Isambard, 76
Alessandro De Tullio (#20 VRD/DTI Group Inc.-Velocity Racing Development Ligier JS): “[After Race Two this morning] This was a big confidence booster but at the same time, I made mistakes that I need to look in the video and the data and calm down and fix it. It’s good that I won but with that mistake, I don’t think I deserve the win. I need to work to fix my mistakes.”
[After Race Three] “Honestly, I wasn’t expecting three wins. I knew the pace was getting there and the racecraft was there so I knew the win was there. It was at least up for grabs. I definitely didn’t think about sweeping the whole weekend. I knew our pace was strong after all the tests. Honestly, the first session, the first lap I knew [from the sim] that it is obviously not the same but it helps so much. The first lap, I was probably a second off someone that was here before and in Session 1 I was P1 so it came pretty quickly.
“I only had one mistake (in Race Three) when I had a big gap and locked it up in Turn One. I went a bit wide and they caught up and that made the race a bit harder for sure. I have to learn from that one too so it is just learning and learning more every day with this car. My confidence was pretty high but I also knew there was a lot to work on myself so I just focused on minimizing the mistakes. I want to thank the whole VRD team, they are all amazing, my family and all of my sponsors and supporters.”
Titus Sherlock (#31 Rayne Nutrition/Sun Baked CBD-Crosslink Kiwi Motorsport Ligier JS): “This feels great. We have been a lot stronger this weekend than the last two. We still need a little bit of pace but I was able to stay in the draft this time and I was able to be there at the end when all the carnage happened. I am more comfortable with the wheel-to-wheel racing and more comfortable in the car. We didn’t have a lot of pre-season testing so it’s been learning the car as the season goes on and we are starting to get the setup better and me better. I think we still have a lot to find in myself and the car. I don’t feel like we have reached our potential yet so I think eventually we will be going for race wins.”
Alan Isambard (#53 International Motorsport Ligier JS): “The race was pretty crazy, especially the start. We lost a few positions but came back and got lucky with some yellows and were there at the end for the carnage that ensued on the last lap. I’m super happy considering we struggled through qualifying and a little bit through Race One. We fixed everything and now we are good for Race 3.”
Mac Clark (#17 MIR Raceline USA/Sekanskin/Valkyrie AI-DEForce Racing Ligier JS): “I think we were just fighting the VRD cars. I was really conscious this weekend of trying to maintain the championship lead and not do anything silly and just try to finish clean races inside the top three and top five. We had it in Race 2 until the last sector where we were shuffled off a little bit but, overall, not a horrible weekend. The racing this weekend was amazing. It was a lot of fun. At Barber and Ozarks, the racing was a little more spread out but here, VIR produced some really good pack racing. My expectation coming in was to be fast and try to win all three. That’s always the goal for any driver. Coming out, we realize that we need to do more work. At Mid-Ohio, we need to be a bit stronger and have more pace and really maintain that championship lead. For me, I am going to put my head down and really put in the work when I get back to Toronto.”
Sam Corry (#14 Red Line Oil/Fill-Rite/Stilo Helmets-Velocity Racing Development Ligier JS): “It was a really good race and I want to thank all of the VRD boys and everyone that has helped me. Early on, I got into the lead and was pulling from Mac, just the three of us once Nikita caught up. Towards the end of the race, we started battling a bit which wasn’t smart and it brought Mac right back into it and he got around me. I dropped back to fourth and was waiting for the race to come to me. I felt I just didn’t have the pace towards the end of the run but Nikita went off course and we capitalized on that and ended up with a podium. I was just trying to be consistent for the championship.”