Nicolas Giaffone and DEForce Racing have taken control of the USF Juniors Presented by Cooper Tires title-chase following an emphatic performance Friday at Barber Motorsports Park. Giaffone, 18, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, cruised to victory in both 20-lap races and now holds a relatively comfortable 21-point lead in his quest for a Discount Tire Driver Advancement Scholarship — valued at $241,890 — which will enable the series champion to progress onto the next step of the USF Pro Championships ladder in 2024.
DEForce Racing teammate Quinn Armstrong, from Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia, finished second in both races. Brazilian Lucas Fecury, aboard a third DEForce Tatuus JR-23, and VRD Racing’s Jimmie Lockhart, from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., each earned a third-place finish.
DEForce Racing first served notice of its intentions when Giaffone, Fecury and Armstrong topped the timing chart in official practice on Thursday afternoon. The Texas-based team’s dominance continued into the pair of qualifying sessions, one yesterday and the other bright and early this morning, as the trio once again was fastest, and in the same order.
After securing his first Cooper Tires Pole Award, Giaffone paced the 15-car field into the first corner in this morning’s opening round and was never seriously under threat for the entirety of the 20-lap race.
The first four laps were run behind the pace car following a pair of minor incidents, after which Giaffone took charge of the proceedings. His teammates, Armstrong and Fecury, exchanged positions moments after the start, and while Armstrong remained within a second of Giaffone for the first half of the race, the Brazilian soon stretched his legs and edged clear. Giaffone eventually took the checkered flag a comfortable 4.721s clear of the Australian.
Armstrong finished a similar distance clear of Fecury, who had to fight off a determined challenge toward the end from former points leader Joey Brienza (Exclusive Autosport), from Golden, Colo.
Lockhart had an eventful race before crossing the line in fifth. He lost one position at the start, quickly gained two, then lost them again with a mistake on the seventh lap before once again rising up the field and overtaking Taiwanese American Ethan Ho (DC Autosport) with a handful of laps remaining.
Ethan Barker (VRD Racing), from Houston, Texas, picked up the Tilton Hard Charger Award, rising from 12th on the grid to ninth, while DEForce Racing principals David and Ernesto Martinez claimed their second PFC Award of the young season as the winning car owners.
The picture-perfect day for Giaffone continued Friday afternoon, once again with only a few clouds punctuating a glorious blue sky. Giaffone took full advantage of his second Cooper Tires Pole Award of the day by once again leaping into the lead at Turn 1. As was the case earlier, Armstrong muscled past teammate Fecury on the opening lap, but there was no topping Giaffone, who displayed a devastating mixture of pace and consistency as he romped to another clear victory.
Armstrong again was untroubled in second, while Lockhart quickly moved up from sixth on the grid to challenge Fecury, whom he passed with a slick move on lap seven.
VRD stablemate Max Taylor, from Hoboken, N.J., also was on the move, climbing from ninth on the grid to finish fifth and claim his first Tilton Hard Charger Award of the season.
“We were able to snatch the second win. It makes me incredibly happy and I still can’t believe that,” Giaffone said after his dominant day. “It was a perfect weekend – P1 in practice, P1 in two qualifying sessions and P1 in both races. It is beyond imaginable. If I knew this would happen coming into Alabama for the first time, I wouldn’t have believed it. I have to thank DEForce. They gave me an amazing car and we, as drivers, can’t do much without a good team. All the glory to them. I am just driving. I hope I can come back to Alabama soon. I really, really like the track. Now it is time to think about the championship, and we are in a good position.”
The PFC Award to the winning car owners once again fell the way of David and Ernesto Martinez, whose DEForce Racing team now holds a commanding 37-point edge over Exclusive Autosport as the series heads next to VIRginia International Raceway, in Alton, Va., for a triple-header event on June 3-4.