ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – A thrilling climax to the first of three races that will comprise this weekend’s Fleet Farm Grand Prix of Road America saw Sam Corry, from Cornelius, N.C., edge out VRD Racing teammate Alessandro De Tullio, from Miami, Fla., by the slimmest of margins. Just 0.030 of a second separated the pair as they sped in echelon across the finish line this afternoon in Round 11 out of 16 races that will decide the inaugural USF Juniors Presented by Cooper Tires title chase.
Nikita Johnson, from Gulfport, Fla., ensured an emphatic sweep of the podium for VRD Racing after a challenge from Andre Castro (International Motorsport), from New York, N.Y., who had started dead last on the field but saw his strong drive end by a spin in Turn Five on the final lap.
A memorable day for VRD stood in stark contrast to DEForce Racing, whose runaway championship leader, Mac Clark, from Milton, Ont., Canada, was sidelined by a mechanical problem on the very first lap.
Clark had maintained his impressive qualifying streak this morning by posting the fastest time during the 30-minute session to ensure a remarkable 10th Cooper Tires Pole Award, but his fortunes took a dip as soon as the green flag flew. Clark was immediately engulfed by the pack as the VRD teammates swarmed to the front, and matters worsened shortly afterward when his car ground to a halt.
Less than two minutes later, at Turn 14, a multi-car incident involving Clark’s Australian teammate, Quinn Armstrong and Jeremy Fairbairn (Crosslink Kiwi Motorsport), from Wellington, Fla., brought out the caution flags.
Corry, who had started third, led at the restart with De Tullio, Ethan Ho (DC Autosport with Cape Motorsports), from Los Angeles, Calif., and Johnson hot on his heels. Elliot Cox, from Indianapolis, Ind., ran next, after having started 10th, followed by Castro, who had started from the back of the field after a gearbox failure prevented him from taking part in qualifying.
Castro breezed past Cox at the restart, then moved onto the tail of the VRD trio after Ho’s strong performance was punctuated by a spin in Turn 14. He eventually finished 13th.
The four leaders provided a tremendous spectacle as they jockeyed constantly for position. Johnson took advantage of the draft and a late-braking move down the inside to take the lead at Turn 12, Canada Corner, on the eighth lap, only to be a sitting duck as both Corry and De Tullio drafted comfortably past him into Turn One on the penultimate lap.
De Tullio was content to follow his teammate for the majority of the final 4.048-mile lap before ducking out of the draft and drawing alongside as they crested the hill just a couple of hundred yards from the finish line. Corry just managed to hold on to secure his second win of the season. De Tullio had to settle for second but now trails Clark by only 29 points with five races remaining.
Castro drafted past Johnson for third at Turn One on the final lap, only for Johnson to return the favor on the downhill run toward Turn Five. Castro’s hopes of a back-to-front fairy-tale were then finally extinguished when he spun at the exit, which gifted a season-best fourth place finish to Cox.
Dan Mitchell pocketed his sixth PFC Award as the winning car owner as VRD Racing extended its already commanding lead in the Team Championship to a whopping 124 points.
Two more races will be held tomorrow with the green flags set for 9:30 a.m. and 2:05 p.m. CDT.
Provisional championship points after 11 of 16 races:
1. Mac Clark, 282
2. Alessandro De Tullio, 253
3. Sam Corry, 241
4. Nikita Johnson, 221
5. Andre Castro, 164
6. Titus Sherlock, 141
7. Jeremy Fairbairn, 139
8. Elliot Cox, 130
9. Alan Isambard, 124
10. Ethan Ho, 123
Sam Corry (#14 Red Line Oil/Fill-Rite/Stilo Helmets-Velocity Racing Development Ligier JS): “It’s awesome to come to the iconic Road America and take a VRD podium. It’s amazing to be here. It’s such a great track and a beautiful facility. The race started out a bit rocky, but when the green came back out, we just drove a good race to try to get away from the cars behind. I was trying to catch Alessandro sleeping on the restart going up the hill – I come from a dirt track background, so that restart was nothing new! The three of us raced each other as hard as we could, and as clean as we could, of course. It was a crazy race, what happened to Mac at the start, but it was a quick race. I just kept my head down, trying to do quali laps. I saw Alessandro close up but I was able to get it done.”
Alessandro De Tullio (#20 VRD/DTI Group Inc.-Velocity Racing Development Ligier JS): ““It was a pretty good race, but definitely good points for the championship with Mac Clark not finishing. Our goal was just to finish in the top three. P2 is a good finish. It was a good battle with my teammates, a clean battle, and a good result overall. It’s a bit different when you’re racing against your teammates. You have to play the team game sometimes and today was one of those days, especially with the points leader out. The goal was for all three of us to finish 1-2-3, and we did. The goal will be to win tomorrow.”
Nikita Johnson (#7 Allen Exploration, LLC/Walker’s Cay-Velocity Racing Development Ligier JS): “Something happened to Mac on the start and that really bunched us all up, four-wide at one point. It was crazy. Sam had a great restart after the yellow and caught me asleep a bit, so I just put my head down and kept pushing. I caught up to Sam and Alessandro, but Andre Castro was right behind me until he spun. That really changed the race, because the three of us really had a gap to the field. I couldn’t catch them, so we’ll see how we can improve for tomorrow.”