Honors were shared Saturday as the USF Juniors Presented by Cooper Tires series wrapped up its Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio weekend. Alessandro De Tullio scored his fourth victory for VRD Racing while Canadian Mac Clark gave himself a cushion in his quest to win a scholarship valued at over $220,000 to move onto the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires in 2023 by winning the final race of the triple-header weekend.
Clark finished second this morning after starting on pole position and leading most laps, with Nikita Johnson (VRD Racing) in third. Johnson went one better in the final 20-lap race around the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course as De Tullio had to settle for third.
The morning’s ninth round of the 16-race season began in familiar style after positions were established according to each driver’s second fastest lap set during the lone qualifying session on Friday. Once again it was Clark who lined up on the inside of the front row of the grid after claiming his eighth Cooper Tires Pole Award.
Clark maintained his advantage at the start, albeit under pressure from a three-car VRD Racing pack. As had been the case on Friday, Corry led the chase initially, with Johnson battling ahead of De Tullio on the second lap before the caution flags waved following a couple of incidents farther down the 18-car field.
A fraught restart saw De Tullio vault from fourth to second, but Clark held firm in the lead as the pace gradually picked up. One more incident after 15 laps was cleaned up quickly to allow for a two-lap dash to the checkers, during which De Tullio made an aggressive move on the back straightaway to take the lead on lap 19. He held on to secure his fourth win of the season.
“I was chasing Mac [Clark] throughout the first 15 laps and then we had a safety car,” De Tullio said after the second race. “I was able to make a really good restart and we battled throughout the first half of the lap. It was a good and clean battle. Towards the end, I just had to keep it together and cross the finish line. It was a good race; good win and a good race for Mac as well. I want to thank the whole VRD team, my sponsors and my family – everyone who supports me.”
Clark had to be content with second place ahead of Johnson, who also took advantage of the restart to sneak past Friday winner Corry.
A tremendous late battle between International Motorsport teammates Giorgio Carrara and Andre Castro fell in favor of Carrara, while Jeremy Fairbairn (Crosslink Kiwi Motorsport) sliced past Castro on the final lap to complete a magnificent charge from the back of the field after being involved in one of the first-lap incidents.
Clark once again lined up on pole position for the final race of the weekend, and made not the hint of an error as he led all 20 laps to secure his fifth win of the season.
De Tullio overtook Corry, who started second, on the third lap when Corry slid wide at the exit of the Keyhole, but couldn’t shake off the attentions of Johnson, who finally found a way past with five laps remaining. Johnson closed on Clark in the waning stages, finishing less than a quarter of a second back at the checkered flag for his fifth podium of the season.
“Moving forward, it is nice to have this points cushion,” Clark said. “The restart was the defining factor in this race. I managed to pull a little gap on Alessandro and Nikita and, after that, I just settled in and hit my marks. I knew Nikita was coming and he was pushing hard so I was pushing hard too and doing consistent 1m21.5s. I started to lose the rear tires at the end of the race but keeping Nikita behind was definitely the goal. I haven’t been top of the box in about five races so this feels good. To have this victory going into the last two rounds and a nice points lead is definitely comforting for myself and the team.”
Carrara posted another fine drive by finishing fourth, hot on the heels of De Tullio. Corry took fifth ahead of Alan Isambard (International Motorsport), from and Fairbairn, who overtook Ethan Ho (DC Autosport with Cape Motorsports) on the final lap.
Dan Mitchell (VRD Racing) and Ernesto and David Martinez (DEForce Racing) shared today’s PFC Awards as the winning car owners.
Clark now leads De Tullio by 47 points, 275-228, as the USF Juniors head next to Road America for another triple-header event on July 30/31.