Third-generation racer Nicolas Giaffone earned his fourth win of the season—and third in a row for DEForce Racing—after a spirited ride this afternoon in the USF Juniors Presented by Cooper Tires competition. On the opening lap of the Cooper Tires VIR Grand Prix tripleheader, there was little breathing room for the 18-year-old from Sao Paulo, Brazil, who was recovering from a crash in practice earlier in the day.
Jack Jeffers of San Antonio, Texas took his third podium of the season for Exclusive Autosport with Quinn Armstrong of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia, rounding out the top three with his fourth podium for DEForce Racing.
DC Autosport’s Ethan Ho showed consistent top-five pace throughout Friday’s three testing sessions on the challenging 3.27-mile road course. The 17-year-old Korean-American from Los Angeles only set the 10th fastest time in Saturday morning practice, but when it counted for qualifying, he set a fast lap early. His time of 1m55.327 was exactly matched on the final lap by Exclusive Autosport’s Joey Brienza, but it was Ho who took his first Cooper Tires Pole Award.
After a solid start, Ho was attacked almost immediately by a charging Jeffers, who was third on the grid and had displaced Brienza in the opening corners, and then Giaffone, who started fourth but had slipped into second on lap three.
Ho’s podium hopes were dashed on lap five when contact from VRD Racing’s Max Taylor – who had dropped a wheel off the track – resulted in a spin and the loss of seven positions.
Lap six proved to be a crucial point in the race as a brief rain shower swept into the area, taking out several drivers and necessitating the caution flags. In the running order for what would be a five-lap sprint to the finish, Jeffers Giaffone led, followed by Hudson Schwartz (VRD Racing), Lucas Fecury (DEForce Racing) and Armstrong.
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A huge fight ensued between Jeffers and Giaffone as the field turned green again on lap 11, and Giaffone finally managed to make his pass for the lead stick with three laps to go. Armstrong was able to push his way through Schwartz and Fecury, who lost ground after contact with Brienza, but still finished fifth behind Taylor and earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award. It was also an impressive ride from Taylor, who had dropped back to 11th at one point and set the fastest lap of the race.
“We started the day with a crash in practice, which was a shame, but it showed me once again how good my team is and how well they work under pressure,” said Giaffone. “I’ve never been to VIR before and the team had never been here with this car, so I think we’ve done a fantastic job setting the car up for qualifying and then setting it up even better for qualifying. race. The race here is tough because the draft keeps everyone close. You can be half a second faster, but you can’t pull away. This made it interesting with the rain. Overall a pretty solid race. We still have two to go and I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but it’s very good to start the weekend in P1.”
Brienza’s promising day from a front row start ended with an unrepresentative 14th after right rear tire damage.
Giaffone now has a 40-point lead in his search for a $241,800 Discount Tire Driver Advancement Scholarship that will allow the 2024 series champion to advance to the next step on the USF Pro Championship ladder.
Another PFC Award went to winning car owners David and Ernesto Martinez of DEForce Racing.
The action continues on Sunday with two more races. The first starts at 9:10 a.m. EDT, with the final for a green flag at 12:55 p.m. .
Story originally appeared on Racer