ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – The battle for the inaugural USF Juniors Presented by Cooper Tires championship is heating up.
Two more exciting races on Sunday 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 claimed an overdue first victory during an all-green race this morning, narrowly edging out polesitter Sam Corry, who had taken the opening win on Saturday. Later in the day, De Tullio 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 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, finished a lonely fifth for the International Motorsport team, while Ethan Ho rebounded from an incident in Race One to finish sixth after a race-long scrap with Castro’s teammate Alan Isambard.
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 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.