VRD Racing teammates Sam Corry and Nikita Johnson shared the final two race wins of the inaugural USF Juniors Presented by Cooper Tires season Sunday at Circuit of The Americas, but it was Canadian Mac Clark who won the overall battle for the championship. The 18-year-old Canadian also secured a scholarship valued at more than $221,000 to graduate onto the first official step of the Road to Indy, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, in 2023.
Corry emerged on top of a dramatic contest Sunday morning. It was enough to keep his slim title hopes alive, but he needed another victory in this afternoon’s finale to have any chance of wrestling away the championship from Clark. In the end, Johnson proved too strong, winning by 2.189s over Corry, while Clark drove a carefully measured race to third, despite having faded to the back of the field at the start.
Clark also finished third in the earlier contest behind impressive USF Juniors debutant Bryson Morris (Crosslink Kiwi Motorsport).
Sunday morning’s race developed into one of the most exciting of the entire season. Following an early red flag to clear the track after an incident on the opening lap, six drivers became embroiled in a thrilling battle for the lead which was waged throughout the remaining 13 laps. Johnson had started from the pole position, gaining his very first Cooper Tires Pole Award by virtue of having posted the best of every driver’s second fastest lap during qualifying on Saturday morning.
But it was VRD Racing teammate Alessandro De Tullio who vaulted from third on the grid to the lead on the opening lap. Morris then grasped the advantage with a bold outside-line move at the first corner at the restart. Title protagonists Clark, who started seventh, and Corry also joined in the fun, along with Morris’ teammate Ryan Shehan.
Morris remained out front for most of the way, but behind him positions were changing regularly among the leading pack. Corry finally made his way to the front with an incisive pass at Turn 15 with just over two laps remaining. He then edged clear over the course of the final lap as Johnson finally emerged in second ahead of Morris and Clark after De Tullio and Shehan collided at the final corner. De Tullio’s car flipped over into the gravel trap but the youngster was able to emerge without injury.
Afterward, Johnson was penalized 30s by Race Control following an incident earlier in the race, which relegated him to 10th in the final results.
The final 15-lap race of the season was relatively tame by comparison. Johnson, who again started from pole, clearly had the measure of the field. His progress was interrupted by a couple of brief full-course cautions, after which he romped clear of Corry to secure his third win of the year.
The pair’s wins ensured a 10th and 11th PFC Award of the season for VRD Racing team principal Dan Mitchell as the winning car owner.
Clark, who needed only a few points to wrap up the title, opted to drop to the tail of the field at the start. He didn’t stay there for long, moving into the top 10 after six laps and continuing to charge forward. He finally made it into third with three laps remaining. The championship was assured.
“It feels amazing,” Clark said after the final race. “I have to thank the team, all my supporters and my family. We actually have Valkyrie AI here with us, and to win the championship with them in attendance is an amazing feeling. This is something we have been pushing for all year and to get the job done is definitely a big weight off the shoulders.
Ethan Ho secured his best result of the season for DC Autosport with Cape Motorsports, finishing hot on Clark’s tail in fourth ahead of Morris and Shehan.
Clark’s magnificent season will be honored Sunday evening at a special Championship Celebration banquet which will see a total of more than $300,000 distributed among the USF Juniors field.