Third generation racer Nicolas Giaffone captured his fourth win of the season – and third in succession for DEForce Racing – following a spirited drive this afternoon in USF Juniors Presented by Cooper Tires competition. There was little breathing room throughout the opening round of the Cooper Tires VIR Grand Prix tripleheader for the 18-year-old from Sao Paulo, Brazil, who rebounded from a crash in practice earlier in the day.
Jack Jeffers, from San Antonio, Texas, claimed his third podium of the season for Exclusive Autosport with Quinn Armstrong, of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia, rounding out the top three with his fourth podium for DEForce Racing.
Ethan Ho of DC Autosport displayed consistent top-five pace during the trio of test sessions yesterday on the challenging 3.27-mile road course. The 17-year-old Korean-American based in Los Angeles posted only the 10th fastest time in practice this morning, but when it counted in qualifying, he laid down a fast lap early. His time of 1:55.327 was matched, precisely, on the final lap by Joey Brienza of Exclusive Autosport, but it was Ho who was credited with his first Cooper Tires Pole Award.
After a solid start, Ho came under attack almost immediately from a charging Jeffers, who had lined up third on the grid and displaced Brienza in the opening turns, and then Giaffone, who started fourth but had moved into second by Lap 3.
Ho’s podium hopes were extinguished on Lap 5 when contact from VRD Racing’s Max Taylor – who had dropped a wheel off track – resulted in a spin and the loss of seven positions.
Lap 6 proved to be a pivotal point in the race as a brief rain cell moved into the area, catching several drivers out and necessitating the caution flags. The running order for what would be a five-lap dash to the finish saw Jeffers leading Giaffone followed by Hudson Schwartz (VRD Racing), Lucas Fecury (DEForce Racing) and Armstrong.
A tremendous battle ensued between Jeffers and Giaffone when the field went back to green on Lap 11, with Giaffone managing to finally make his pass for the lead stick with three laps to go. Armstrong was able to work his way by Schwartz and Fecury, who lost ground after contact with Brienza but still managed to finish fifth behind Taylor and earn the Tilton Hard Charger Award. It was also an impressive drive from Taylor, who had dropped back to 11th at one stage, and set the fastest lap of the race.
Brienza’s promising day from a front-row starting spot ended with an unrepresentative 14th-place finish after suffering right-rear tire damage.
Giaffone now holds a 40-point edge in his quest for a Discount Tire Driver Advancement Scholarship valued at $241,800 which will enable the series champion to progress onto the next step of the USF Pro Championship ladder in 2024.
Another PFC Award went to winning car owners David and Ernesto Martinez of DEForce Racing.
The action will continue with two more races tomorrow. The first is slated to start at 9:10 a.m. EDT, with the finale set for a green flag at 12:55 p.m. As usual, full coverage can be found on the free USF Pro Championships App, YouTube channel and the usfjuniors.com website.
Provisional championship points after 6 of 16 races:
1. Nicolas Giaffone, 171
2. Quinn Armstrong, 131
3. Joey Brienza, 127
4. Jack Jeffers, 106
5. Lucas Fecury, 102
6. Jimmie Lockhart, 97
7. Max Taylor, 86
8. Ethan Ho, 82
9. Ethan Barker, 77
10. Erick Schotten, 75
Nicolas Giaffone (#19 OMNI-DEForce Racing Tatuus JR-23): “We started the day with a crash in practice, which was unfortunate, but it showed me once again how good my team is and how good they are working under pressure. I have never been to VIR before and the team had never been here with this car, so I think we did an amazing job in setting the car right for qualifying and then setting the car even better for the race. The race here is difficult because the draft keeps everyone kind of close. You can be a half-a-second faster but you won’t be able to pull away. This made things interesting with the rain. Overall, a pretty solid race. We still have two to go and I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but it is very good to be starting the weekend P1.”
Jack Jeffers (#92 Corpay Cross Border Solutions-Exclusive Autosport Tatuus JR-23): “I knew I had the pace to pull away or at least make it tough for him to keep up with me, so that was my strategy. It was just to hit my marks and make him have to really work for it to keep up with me. He gave me a run every lap into Turn One and we battled side-by-side. It was really fun and some of the best racing I have had in a long time and he is a really respectful driver. It started raining and that put a wrench into things as we followed the pace car around. Once it was safe enough to go, we started racing again. We battled for a few laps and he finally got ahead of me. On the last lap, I used the tow to get up alongside and almost ahead of him. We battled in the last sector and he came out on top.”
Quinn Armstrong (#16 NDA-DEForce Racing Tatuus JR-23): “I really didn’t think we would end up third after the first start didn’t go well and then the restart again really didn’t go our way. I am really happy to be back on the podium. This is three in a row and I want to continue this momentum because DEForce puts so much work in. When they show up with cars like this, I believe we can keep showing up to the podiums.”