ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – The battle for the inaugural USF Juniors Presented by Cooper Tires championship is heating up. Two more exciting races today rounded out the Fleet Farm Grand Prix of Road America, with VRD Racing teammates Nikita Johnson and Alessandro De Tullio each scoring a victory as America’s National Park of Speed provided some thrilling entertainment.
Johnson, from Gulfport, Fla., claimed an overdue first victory during an all-green race this morning, narrowly edging out polesitter Sam Corry, from Cornelius, N.C., who had taken the opening win on Saturday. Later in the day, De Tullio, from Miami, Fla., bounced back impressively from a DQ during the earlier event to eke out a 0.111-second margin of victory as Corry once again had to settle for second.
Johnson just beat championship leader Mac Clark (DEForce Racing) to the final podium position to ensure the top four title contenders will head to the series finale with a mere 50 points between them.
The grid for this morning’s race was established in accordance with each driver’s second fastest lap from the single qualifying session on Saturday morning or their best lap recorded during Race One. The top five positions all were determined in qualifying, with Corry edging out Clark to secure his first Cooper Tires Pole Award of the season.
Corry was able to hold onto his advantage at the start, although Johnson produced a scorching first lap to latch onto his teammate’s tail despite having lined up fifth on the grid. Behind, Clark, who started second, immediately became embroiled in a tooth-and-nail battle with De Tullio which was to last throughout the entirety of the 10-lap race.
Their infighting allowed Johnson and Corry to pull away and indulge in their own thrilling scrap for the top position. Johnson drafted his way past into Turn One on the sixth lap, and even though the pair was never separated by more than a couple of car lengths, Johnson held off Corry’s final attempt at a pass to secure a deserved maiden victory. Just 0.087 of a second separated them at the line.
The fight for second was even more intense as Clark and De Tullio made a little contact as they sped toward the finish line. De Tullio edged out his title rival by a mere 0.027 of a second, only to be later docked one position for employing an overly aggressive defense. Ultimately, that was rendered moot when De Tullio’s car was disqualified from the results due to a technical infraction discovered during the mandatory post-race inspections. The penalty delivered a serious blow to De Tullio’s title aspirations.
Andre Castro, from New York, N.Y., finished a lonely fifth for the International Motorsport team, while Ethan Ho (DC Autosport with Cape Motorsports), from Los Angeles, Calif., rebounded from an incident in Race One to finish sixth after a race-long scrap with Castro’s teammate Alan Isambard, from West Palm Beach, Fla.
Corry again lined up on pole position for this afternoon’s finale, and after a lengthy early caution following an incident farther down the field, he and De Tullio quickly distanced themselves from the pursuing pack.
De Tullio made the decisive move for the lead on the eighth lap, taking advantage of a huge draft on the long front straightaway, then had to work hard to keep his advantage. He did so by the slim margin of just over a tenth of a second.
Another fierce battle for third ended with Johnson taking the flag just 0.019 ahead of Clark, with International Motorsports teammates Giorgio Carrera, from Argentina, and Castro, as well as Ho and Jeremy Fairbairn (Crosslink Kiwi Motorsport), from Wellington, Fla., also blanketed by less than three-quarters of a second.
The weekend sweep for VRD Racing took team owner Dan Mitchell’s tally of PFC Awards to eight for the season. It also clinched the coveted Team Championship for the Dawsonville, Ga.-based organization.
The drivers’ championship, meanwhile, along with a scholarship valued at over $220,000 to graduate onto the first step of the Road to Indy, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, in 2023, will be decided during a triple-header finale at Circuit of The Americas, near Austin, Texas, on September 17/18.
Provisional championship points after 13 of 16 races:
1. Mac Clark, 324
2. Sam Corry, 294
3. Alessandro De Tullio, 284
4. Nikita Johnson, 274
5. Andre Castro, 198
6. Jeremy Fairbairn, 160
7. Ethan Ho, 154
8. Titus Sherlock, 153
9. Alan Isambard, 151
10. Elliot Cox, 140
Nikita Johnson (#7 Allen Exploration, LLC/Walker’s Cay-Velocity Racing Development Ligier JS): “Today was amazing, to get my first win this morning, it has been coming for quite some time. At Mid-Ohio, we finally got the car where we wanted it and we’ve been in the fight ever since. We finally got it done today. Going into race three, I had my head up – but after all the yellow flag laps, I knew we only had a few laps to go so I had to be super aggressive. Sam and Alessandro broke away, so I was fighting with Mac – of course, we’re all fighting with Mac for the championship lead! I defended the best I could and was able to get it done. I have some battle scars, but that was some good racing. I’m going to miss this track. It’s one of the best races on the calendar, but I’m really looking forward to COTA.”
Alessandro De Tullio (#20 VRD/DTI Group Inc.-Velocity Racing Development Ligier JS): “It was good to come back and get a win today, I needed that. The DQ was tough to take, it really hurt us in the points. I was able to gain some points on Mac in race three, so now I have to try my best to win every race. Race three was short with all the yellows, so it was a matter of staying composed and keeping Sam behind me – it’s different when you’re battling your teammate but I know how to win, so I kept it clean. Getting this win really gives us a boost, and it was great to do it at Road America. There’s a lot of space to battle all the way around, it was really fun.”
Sam Corry (#14 Red Line Oil/Fill-Rite/Stilo Helmets-Velocity Racing Development Ligier JS): “It’s cool to win the team championship, especially here at Road America. It’s so cool to be here, and so cool to get a 1-2-3 in every race. It’s great for the team. Race two was good – once Nikita and I were out in front, I could see that Mac and Alessandro were battling behind us so we worked together to push and get away from them. In race three, the yellows shortened our race, but with Mac behind me, I knew I had to secure as many points as I could. It was a good points day!”
Categories: Race Recap, Road to Indy
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