ALTON, Va. – Brazilian Nicolas Giaffone and first-time winner Jack Jeffers, from San Antonio, Texas, shared the victory spoils today as this weekend’s Cooper Tires VIR Grand Prix concluded with a pair of exciting USF Juniors Presented by Cooper Tires races at VIRginia International Raceway.
Giaffone this morning scored his fourth win in a row for DEForce Racing, but he was unable to prevent Exclusive Autosport’s Jeffers from turning the tables this afternoon. Giaffone finished strongly in second place, however, and now holds a commanding 61-point advantage in the chase to secure a scholarship valued at over $241,800 to advance to USF2000 Presented by Cooper Tires in 2024 as part of the Discount Tire Driver Advancement Scholarship program.
Joey Brienza (Exclusive Autosport), from Golden, Colo., and 14-year-old Hudson Schwartz (VRD Racing), from Arlington, Va., completed the podium in the first race, with Giaffone and Max Taylor (VRD Racing), from Hoboken, N.J., claiming the places in the finale.
This morning’s race brought significantly cooler conditions than the day before and began with 16-year-old Jeffers taking the Cooper Tires Pole Award by virtue of having posted the fastest of each drivers’ second best lap during the lone qualifying session on Saturday morning.
Jeffers maintained a slender advantage over a snarling pack for the opening four laps, but points leader Giaffone was on a mission. The on-form Brazilian displaced both Brienza and yesterday’s polesitter Ethan Ho (DC Autosport), from Los Angeles, Calif., in the opening stages before slipping past Jeffers with an imperious move on the outside of Turn One.
Soon afterward a problem with his car’s steering wheel eliminated the unfortunate Jeffers from contention and allowed Giaffone to pull clear of the field.
A couple of incidents punctuated the final third of the race. The leading pack ran three abreast as they raced toward Turn One at the first restart, whereupon Ho ran wide and then spun. Jimmie Lockhart (VRD Racing), from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., also gyrated onto the grass.
Taylor took the challenge to Giaffone after the final restart with two laps remaining. The pair ran side by side through the Roller Coaster, Turn 14, and Taylor nosed briefly ahead as the leaders plunged downhill through the final sequence of corners before attempting to carry a touch too much speed into Turn 17, which took him wide onto the damp grass and out of contention.
Brienza briefly drafted past Giaffone as the leaders began their last lap, but Giaffone reasserted himself at Turn One and held on to take the victory by less than a quarter of a second.
Schwartz emerged amid the excitement to claim third ahead of Brady Golan, from Austin, Texas, who nosed ahead of DEForce Racing teammate Lucas Fecury, from Sao Luis, Brazil, at the finish line. Golan’s fine effort earned him the Tilton Hard Charger Award, having lined up 13th on the starting grid.
A new race lap record for Giaffone was enough to secure him another Cooper Tires Pole Award for the third and final race of the weekend, with the grid established according to either each drivers’ second fastest lap in qualifying or their best lap from Race 2.
Giaffone maintained his early advantage but this time it was Jeffers who was on the charge and anxious to make up for his earlier disappointment. He did so in style, marching confidently around the outside of Giaffone in Turn One and asserting himself in the lead before the ensuing the left-handed Turn Three. Jeffers then checked out to secure a well-deserved maiden victory.
Giaffone was untroubled in second, well clear of Taylor, who broke away from the pack to finish similarly clear of VRD teammate Lockhart in fourth.
Brienza finished fifth ahead of Quinn Armstrong (DEForce Racing), although a subsequent penalty to the Australian for avoidable contact dropped him to 10th in the final results behind Brazilian Erick Schotten (Exclusive Autosport), Carson Etter (DC Autosport), from Villa Park, Calif., Golan and Ho. Etter’s career-best result after starting in 12th earned him the Tilton Hard Charger Award.
The day’s pair of PFC Awards to the winning car owners were shared by DEForce Racing’s David and Ernesto Martinez and Exclusive Autosport’s Michael Duncalfe.
Next up for the USF Juniors is a double-header event at the similarly undulating Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, on July 7/8 in support of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
Provisional championship points after 8 of 16 races:
1. Nicolas Giaffone, 230
2. Joey Brienza, 169
3. Quinn Armstrong, 149
4. Jack Jeffers, 147
5. Jimmie Lockhart, 131
6. Lucas Fecury, 129
7. Max Taylor, 118
8. Ethan Ho, 105
9. Brady Golan, 104
10. Erick Schotten, 102
“It started off a bit slow,” said Jeffers, “I sent it down the inside of Giaffone in Turn One but he was able to hold the lead and I lost a few positions. Then the yellow came out and after the restart, I lost another position. I slowly picked my way back up and was able to get by Jimmie in an unorthodox way which surprised me, but respectful racing from him. I caught up to Giaffone in the draft and was able to get by him. My teammate Joey Brienza battled him a little bit which gave me a gap and it led me to have my own race track. I know I have had the pace all weekend to pull away. I just needed to break the draft.”
“As soon as I saw the first caution come out, I was like oh, no, this is going to be interesting,” said Brienza, “This is going to get tasty. I am happy for the guys. They had to work hard last night. A crash is never easy to fix and, unfortunately, it falls into their hands. I appreciated that they got it fixed and the car was good to go this morning. This is a big testament to them and everyone at Exclusive. I am happy to bounce back.”
Race Report Provided by USF Pro Championships PR
Photo Credit: Gavin Baker