Alessandro De Tullio vaulted himself into contention for the inaugural USF Juniors Presented by Cooper Tires championship title following a weekend sweep of the Cooper Tires VIR Grand Prix for Velocity Racing Development at VIRginia International Raceway. A couple of weeks shy of his 16th birthday, De Tullio made hard work of winning the second race Sunday morning, recovering after an early error dropped him to the back of the pack. He led the majority of this afternoon’s finale and held off points leader Mac Clark (DEForce Racing) by less than three tenths of a second.
Titus Sherlock (Crosslink Kiwi Motorsport) and Alan Isambard (International Motorsport) both claimed their maiden podium finishes following a dramatic race this morning, while De Tullio’s teammate, Sam Corry finished third in an all-green 15-lap weekend finale.
The morning race began with a sense of normality as Clark lined up at the head of the starting grid. Clark, having won each of the first four races of the season, secured his fifth Cooper Tires Pole Award by virtue of posting the fastest second-best lap among the field during the lone qualifying session on Saturday morning.
It didn’t stay that way for long. A hectic beginning to the race included a couple of full-course cautions, plus a brief red-flag stoppage while damaged cars were removed from the scene of an incident in Turn 15. Clark maintained his position in front through the opening dramas but was unable to break away from an array of challengers once the race was restarted for a four-lap uninterrupted run to the checkered flag.
Positions changed regularly as De Tullio powered through from the back of the pack after he had slipped off the road in Turn One earlier in the race. Remarkably, he made up eight positions in just three laps and was running fifth as the leading pack of cars began their final trip around the 3.27-mile circuit.
De Tullio’s task was eased by an incident at the end of the long back straightaway between Clark, who had held the lead, Corry and Nikita Johnson aboard another VRD Ligier JS. Corry crossed the line in second place but later was relegated to 12th after being served with a 30-second penalty for avoidable contact following an earlier clash with Jeremy Fairbairn (Crosslink Kiwi Motorsport). A disappointed Clark recovered to finish 10th, while Johnson, who fell to the back of the field, was also issued a penalty from Race Control for his part in the final-lap incident.
Sherlock and Isambard were credited with second and third, while Jake Bonilla (DEForce Racing), Elliot Cox (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Development) and Andre Castro (International Motorsports) were within one second of the race winner at the checkered flag.
Sunday afternoon’s race was less dramatic but no less exciting as Clark, who once again started from pole position, waged a race-long battle with VRD teammates De Tullio, Corry and Johnson. Once again it came down to the final lap. This time it was relatively clean, although Johnson found himself on the grass at the exit of the Roller Coaster section less than a half-mile from the finish line, which resulted in him falling from second to fourth.
Isambard produced another strong result to finish fifth, well clear of Sherlock who narrowly headed Bonilla, Castro and Ethan Ho (DC Autosport w/Cape Motorsports).
“This was a big confidence booster,” said De Tullio after Race 2. “But at the same time, I made mistakes that I need to look [at] in the video and the data and calm down and fix it. It’s good that I won but with that mistake, I don’t think I deserve the win. I need to work to fix my mistakes.”
The young driver was more pleased after the final race of the weekend.
“Honestly, I wasn’t expecting three wins,” he said. “I knew the pace was getting there and the racecraft was there so I knew the win was there. It was at least up for grabs. I definitely didn’t think about sweeping the whole weekend. I knew our pace was strong after all the tests. Honestly, the first session — the first lap I knew [from the sim] that it is obviously not the same but it helps so much. The first lap, I was probably a second off someone that was here before, and in session one I was P1 so it came pretty quickly.
Another solid finish from Clark enabled him to stretch his points to 37 over De Tullio, whose hat-trick catapulted him from sixth to second in the standings. Seven of 16 races are now in the books. At stake is a scholarship valued at $220,000 to graduate onto the first official step of the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel development ladder, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, in 2023.De Tullio’s weekend also included a trio of PFC Awards for Velocity Racing Development team principal Dan Mitchell as the winning car owner.
Next up for the USF Juniors is another triple-header weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, on July 7-9.
Provisional championship points after 7 of 16 races:
1. Mac Clark, 189
2. Alessandro De Tullio, 152
3. Sam Corry, 143
4. Nikita Johnson, 132
5. Andre Castro, 119
6. Titus Sherlock, 101
7. Jeremy Fairbairn, 91
8. Ethan Ho, 82
9. Jake Bonilla, 81
10. Alan Isambard, 76