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Max Taylor won on Saturday at Virginia International Raceway. (USF Pro Photo)

Taylor Wins Dramatic Opener In USF Juniors VIR Tripleheader

ALTON, Va. — Max Taylor began the Continental Tire VIR Grand Prix triple-header this afternoon with a hard-fought victory for VRD Racing after an action-filled 15-lap race. The teenager from Hoboken, N.J., has been on a roll in recent weeks, securing a pair of victories in his parallel USF2000 Presented by Continental Tire program. But Saturday represented his first win of the season in USF Juniors and allowed him to close to within 14 points of the championship lead.                   

Augusto Soto-Schirripa claimed his third successive podium finish for the InterMS team, while Jack Jeffers (Exclusive Autosport) was credited with third after Soto-Schirripa’s teammate, Ariel Elkin, was penalized five positions following contact earlier in the race with another title contender, Liam McNeilly.

Bruno Ribeiro continued the good form he displayed in testing for DEForce Racing by earning his first Continental Tire Pole Award during the first of two qualifying sessions. The pair of InterMS cars lined up next on the grid with Elkin ahead of Soto-Schirripa.

Ribeiro continued to lead the way when the initial three laps were completed largely behind the pace car following an incident on the opening lap, although a subsequent error at turn 17 on the first lap of green-flag racing saw him tumble down the order.

Elkin took over the lead but remained under pressure from a long string of cars as the infamous draft on the 3.27-mile VIRginia International Raceway’s long straightaways made it virtually impossible to eke out any appreciable advantage.

After setting the pace in all three test sessions on Friday, McNeilly was disappointed to qualify his Jay Howard Driver Development car only seventh on the grid.

He didn’t stay there for long.

McNeilly quickly worked his way through the pack, moving up into second place soon after half distance and immediately challenging Elkin for the lead. Unfortunately, McNeilly’s attempt to repeat an earlier outside-line maneuver at turn one ended badly when he found himself out on the grass and losing places quickly.

Championship leader Sebastien Wheldon (VRD Racing) was next to challenge Elkin’s superiority, whereupon some more contact at the top of the Roller Coaster, turn 13, on the 11th lap enabled teammate Taylor, who had been running fourth, to leapfrog his way into the lead.

The next time around, Wheldon’s hopes of victory also were erased when a broken nose wing caused him to understeer wide at the exit of turn five and slide into the tire barrier.

Another couple of incidents in the late stages ensured the race would finish under yellow with Taylor securing the victory over Soto-Schirripa and Elkin. Jeffers crossed the line in fourth, but with Elkin’s penalty, was elevated to third ahead of a pair of Jay Howard Driver Development-run Californians G3 Argyros and Timothy Carel, who had also been among the thick of the race-long battle for the lead.

Remarkably, Ribeiro managed to climb from 16th following his earlier mistake to finish in sixth, just ahead of a similarly recovering McNeilly.

Taylor’s rise from sixth on the grid to the race win also earned him the Tilton Hard Charger award, plus another PFC award for VRD Racing’s Dan Mitchell as the winning car owner