Sebastian Wheldon after winning at NOLA Motorsports Park. (Gavin Baker Photography)

Wheldon Dominates NOLA USF Juniors Opener

NEW ORLEANS — Second-generation racer Sebastian Wheldon romped to an emphatic USF Juniors Presented by Continental Tire debut victory to kick off this weekend’s busy Continental Tire Grand Prix of Louisiana at NOLA Motorsports Park.

Wheldon, 15, claimed the lead shortly after the start from polesitting Englishman Liam McNeilly and quickly pulled away to an unassailable lead for VRD Racing.

“The race went really well,” Wheldon said. “I was able to lead early on at the start and just create a big gap on the field. The car felt really good. We’ve had a fast car since practice, and it felt amazing.

“It feels good to start the season like this and I gained a lot of confidence and should be good for the next round.”

McNeilly eventually secured second position after a thrilling battle with Wheldon’s teammate, Max Taylor, as an impressive 25-car field provided some superb action during an all-green flag 12-lap race on the 2.74-mile road course just a few miles from downtown New Orleans, La.

After regularly topping the timing charts during the pre-season Spring Training test at NOLA last month, McNeilly continued his fine form by claiming the first Continental Tire Pole Award of the new season. McNeilly maintained his edge at the start, but Wheldon, who started second, remained alongside his rival on the outside line as the two leaders negotiated turn one, which in turn gave him the advantage – and the lead – at turn two.

Taylor, who lined up fifth on the grid, also muscled his way past McNeilly on the opening lap, which allowed Wheldon to consolidate his lead. He never looked back. Wheldon turned a series of fast, consistent laps to extend his advantage to almost eight seconds before finally heeding the instructions from race engineer/driver coach Jacob Loomis and eventually taking the checkered flag some 7.6285 seconds to the good.

Taylor for many laps managed to resist the pressure from McNeilly and hold onto second place, despite the JHDD Tatuus JR-23 exhibiting considerably more straight line speed. Finally, with three laps remaining, McNeilly executed a fine outside-line pass under braking for turn one, then edged clear to cement his runner-up finish.

Taylor next came under attack from Brazilian Vinicius Tessaro, Jack Jeffers and Israeli Ariel Elken, who rampaged through the field following a qualifying that left him a distant 14th on the grid. Taylor barely managed to hold off Tessaro for third on the dash to the line, with Elkin capping a fine performance by usurping Jeffers with three laps remaining.