Canada’s Clark Claims a $221,00 Scholarship to Graduate into USF2000
AUSTIN, Texas – VRD Racing teammates Sam Corry and Nikita Johnson shared the final two race wins of the inaugural USF Juniors Presented by Cooper Tires season today at Circuit of The Americas, but it was Canadian Mac Clark who won the overall battle for the championship. The 18-year-old from Milton, Ont., Canada also secured a scholarship valued at more than $221,000 to graduate onto the first official step of the Road to Indy, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, in 2023.
Corry, from Cornelius, N.C., emerged on top of a dramatic contest this morning. It was enough to keep his slim title hopes alive, but he needed another victory in this afternoon’s finale to have any chance of wresting away the championship from Clark. In the end, Johnson, from Gulfport, Fla., proved too strong, winning by 2.189 seconds over Corry, while Clark drove a carefully measured race to third, despite having faded to the back of the field at the start.
Clark also finished third in the earlier contest behind impressive USF Juniors debutant Bryson Morris (Crosslink Kiwi Motorsport), from Nashville, Tenn.
This morning’s race developed into one of the most exciting of the entire season. Following an early red flag to clear the track after an incident on the opening lap, six drivers became embroiled in a thrilling battle for the lead which was waged throughout the remaining 13 laps. Johnson had started from the pole position, gaining his very first Cooper Tires Pole Award by virtue of having posted the best of every driver’s second fastest lap during qualifying on Saturday morning.
But it was VRD Racing teammate Alessandro De Tullio, from Miami, Fla., who vaulted from third on the grid to the lead on the opening lap. Morris then grasped the advantage with a bold outside-line move at the first corner at the restart. Title protagonists Clark, who started seventh, and Corry also joined in the fun, along with Morris’ teammate, Austin, Texas-based Ryan Shehan.
Morris remained out front for most of the way, but behind him positions were changing regularly among the leading pack. Corry finally made his way to the front with an incisive pass at Turn 15 with just over two laps remaining. He then edged clear over the course of the final lap as Johnson finally emerged in second ahead of Morris and Clark after De Tullio and Shehan collided at the final corner. De Tullio’s car flipped over into the gravel trap but the youngster was able to emerge without injury.
Afterward, Johnson was penalized 30 seconds by Race Control following an incident earlier in the race, which relegated him to 10th in the final results.
The final 15-lap race of the season was relatively tame by comparison. Johnson, who again started from pole, clearly had the measure of the field. His progress was interrupted by a couple of brief full-course cautions, after which he romped clear of Corry to secure his third win of the year.
The pair’s wins ensured a 10th and 11th PFC Award of the season for VRD Racing team principal Dan Mitchell as the winning car owner.
Clark, who needed only a few points to wrap up the title, opted to drop to the tail of the field at the start. He didn’t stay there for long, moving into the top 10 after six laps and continuing to charge forward. Clark finally made it into third with three laps remaining. The championship was assured.
Ethan Ho, from Los Angeles, Calif., secured his best result of the season for DC Autosport with Cape Motorsports, finishing hot on Clark’s tail in fourth ahead of Morris and Shehan.
Clark’s magnificent season will be honored this evening at a special Championship Celebration banquet which will see a total of more than $300,000 distributed among the USF Juniors field.
Provisional championship points after 16 of 16 races:
1. Mac Clark, 393
2. Sam Corry, 369
3. Nikita Johnson, 352
4. Alessandro De Tullio, 314
5. Andre Castro, 233
6. Jeremy Fairbairn, 201
7. Ethan Ho, 182
8. Titus Sherlock, 178
9. Jake Bonilla, 160
10. Alan Isambard, 151
Mac Clark (#17 MIR Raceline USA/Sekanskin/Valkyrie AI-DEForce Racing Ligier JS): “We just finished up the championship at COTA and we are the inaugural USF Juniors champions! It feels amazing. I have to thank the team, all my supporters and my family. We actually have Valkyrie AI here with us, and to win the championship with them in attendance is an amazing feeling. This is something we have been pushing for all year and to get the job done is definitely a big weight off the shoulders.
“It was a little nerve-racking going into the last race knowing that we didn’t have the championship sealed up, but I knew that I had to make smart decisions on track. I had two amazing driver coaches behind me giving me updates throughout the entirety of the race and we managed to come away with enough points to win the championship.”
Sam Corry (#14 Red Line Oil/Fill-Rite/Stilo Helmets-Velocity Racing Development Ligier JS): “Today was a really tough day. I had the win earlier which was great, but I didn’t have enough to win this last race. Nikita just had a ton of pace that we didn’t have. I just really want to thank all of the VRD boys – the whole team – my family and all my sponsors for everything I really need in this sport. I was pushing as hard as I could to push Nikita for the win, but even if I would have won, I don’t think we could have taken the championship either way. It really hurts but it means that we will come back next year a hundred times stronger in USF2000.”
Nikita Johnson (#7 Allen Exploration, llc/Walker’s Cay-Velocity Racing Development Ligier JS): “It was a great race. I knew we had the pace. The VRD team gave me a great race car. I went out there and knew I would be able to run away. I ran away two times before the yellow flags. I had a good last restart, broke the draft and just kept doing consistent laps to bring it home in one piece.”
Bryson Morris (#39 Crosslink Kiwi Motorsport Ligier JS): “It was another good race [this morning]. I was able to take the lead after the first restart and held it for most of the race. Unfortunately, towards the end, I got passed and fell back to sixth place but I was able to fight back the last few laps to third position.”
Categories: Race Recap, Road to Indy
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