A thrilling climax to the first of three races that will comprise this weekend’s Fleet Farm Grand Prix of Road America saw Sam Corry edge out VRD Racing teammate Alessandro De Tullio by the slimmest of margins. Just 0.030s separated the pair as they sped in echelon across the finish line Saturday afternoon in round 11 out of 16 races that will decide the inaugural USF Juniors Presented by Cooper Tires title chase.
Nikita Johnson ensured a sweep of the podium for VRD Racing after a challenge from Andre Castro (International Motorsport), who had started dead last on the field but saw his str ong drive end by a spin in Turn 5 on the final lap.
A memorable day for VRD stood in stark contrast to DEForce Racing, whose runaway championship leader, Mac Clark was sidelined by a mechanical problem on the very first lap.
Clark had maintained his impressive qualifying streak this morning by posting the fastest time during the 30-minute session to ensure a remarkable 10th Cooper Tires Pole Award, but his fortunes took a dip as soon as the green flag flew. He was immediately engulfed by the pack as the VRD teammates swarmed to the front, and matters worsened shortly afterward when his car ground to a halt.
Less than two minutes later, at Turn 14, a multi-car incident involving Clark’s teammate, Quinn Armstrong and Jeremy Fairbairn (Crosslink Kiwi Motorsport) brought out the caution flags.
Corry, who had started third, led at the restart with De Tullio, Ethan Ho (DC Autosport with Cape Motorsports) and Johnson hot on his heels. Elliot Cox ran next, after having started 10th, followed by Castro, who had started from the back of the field after a gearbox failure prevented him from taking part in qualifying.
Castro breezed past Cox at the restart, then moved onto the tail of the VRD trio after Ho’s strong performance was punctuated by a spin in Turn 14. He eventually finished 13th.
Johnson took advantage of the draft and a late-braking move down the inside to take the lead at Turn 12 on the eighth lap, only to be a sitting duck as both Corry and De Tullio drafted comfortably past him into Turn 1 on the penultimate lap.
De Tullio was content to follow his teammate for the majority of the final 4.048-mile lap before ducking out of the draft and drawing alongside as they crested the hill just a couple of hundred yards from the finish line. Corry just managed to hold on to secure his second win of the season. De Tullio had to settle for second but now trails Clark by only 29 points with five races remaining.
Castro drafted past Johnson for third at Turn 1 on the final lap, only for Johnson to return the favor on the downhill run toward Turn 5. Castro’s hopes of a back-to-front fairy-tale were then finally extinguished when he spun at the exit, gifting a season-best fourth place finish to Cox.
Dan Mitchell pocketed his sixth PFC Award as the winning car owner as VRD Racing extended its already commanding lead in the Team Championship to a whopping 124 points.
Two more races will be held tomorrow with the green flags set for 9:30 a.m. and 2:05 p.m. CDT.