Elkin and InterMS Sweep Barber USF Juniors Doubleheader
 April 26, 2024| 
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LEEDS, Ala. – Israel’s Ariel Elkin and the InterMS team proved to be the class of the field during today’s Continental Tire Grand Prix of Alabama. Less than two weeks after celebrating his 17th birthday, Elkin was never headed in the pair of USF Juniors Presented by Continental Tire races at the challenging Barber Motorsports Park road course.

Exclusive Autosport’s Jack Jeffers, from San Antonio, Texas, followed him home this morning, with Elkin’s teammate, Augusto Soto-Schirripa, from Miami, Fla., close behind in third.

Sebastian Wheldon (VRD Racing), from Coral Gables, Fla., pressured Elkin all the way to the checkered flag this afternoon to finish second and extend his championship lead, with Soto-Schirripa once again completing the podium.

A huge field of 27 cars was split into two separate groups for qualifying on Thursday afternoon. Elkin, in Group Two, was the fastest driver overall, securing his first Continental Tire Pole Award, while Brazilian Bruno Ribeiro set the best time among the first group to ensure he would start on the outside of the front row for DEForce Racing in Race One this morning. Jeffers and Soto-Schirripa were second fastest in their respective groups, and therefore lined up alongside each other on row two. The remainder of the grid followed an identical pattern.

Elkin made an exemplary start to leap into the lead at the start, while behind him Jeffers managed to slip past Ribeiro for second.

After a brief early caution following an incident at Turn 12, the top two soon began to inch away from Ribeiro in third, leaving Soto-Schirripa to fight off the attentions of Briton Liam McNeilly (Jay Howard Driver Development).

Unfortunately, the second half of the race was peppered with incidents, including a nasty crash soon after a restart with 17 laps in the books when Ribeiro, shortly after losing second place to Soto-Schirripa at Turn One, lost control at Turn Four and came to rest broadside in the middle of the track. Most of the field was able to take evasive action, but an unsighted Ava Dobson (Jay Howard Driver Development), from Brookfield, Wis., had absolutely nowhere to go and caromed into the wreckage at high speed. Thankfully, the state-of-the-art safety systems of the Tatuus JR-23 ensured that Dobson was not seriously hurt.

The race was flagged shortly thereafter with 19 of the 20 laps completed and Elkin declared a deserving winner. Jeffers and Soto-Schirripa completed the podium, followed by McNeilly, Evan Cooley (Exclusive Autosport), from Frankfort, Ill., and points leader Wheldon.

Zanella Racing’s Teddy Musella, from Orlando, Fla., made an impressive debut by rising from 18th on the grid to 10th, although it was fellow Floridian Giovanni Cabrera (Exclusive Autosport) who garnered the Tilton Hard Charger Award after working his way from 26th to 16th.

The grid for Race Two was set according to each driver’s second-fastest lap during qualifying yesterday. Elkin once again led the way after securing his second straight Continental Tire Pole Award, this time with Jeffers for company on the front row.

A couple of incidents split up the early part of the race, albeit with Elkin maintaining his stranglehold at the front. Behind, at the first corner, Wheldon found a way past Jeffers, whose hopes of another podium finish were dashed shortly afterward when he tangled with McNeilly at Turn Five. Jeffers resumed a lap down to finish a disappointed 19th, while McNeilly’s title hopes took a beating when he was forced out of the race immediately.

The final 12 laps of the 20-lap race featured a thrilling battle for the lead. Elkin and Wheldon exchanged fastest laps on several occasions, but there was no way through for Wheldon as Elkin completed his daily double.

Soto-Schirripa similarly triumphed after an exciting back-and-forth battle for third with Leandro Juncos, from Carmel, Ind., as the son of NTT INDYCAR SERIES team principal Ricardo Juncos recorded his best finish to date.

Jay Howard Driver Development’s Aiden Potter, from Brentwood, Tenn., earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award by virtue of climbing from 25th in the starting lineup to 12th at the finish.

Elkin’s double victory moved him to second in the points table, while Soto-Schirripa’s pair of third-place results capped a breakthrough day for InterMS team principal Juan Garavaglia, who claimed both PFC Awards as the winning car owner.

Next on the docket for the USF Juniors Presented by Continental Tire contingent is an open test at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on May 15-16, followed by a tripleheader race event at VIRginia International Raceway on June 14-16.

Provisional championship points after five of 16 races:
1. Sebastian Wheldon, 130
2. Ariel Elkin, 123
3. Liam McNeilly, 101
4. Max Taylor, 92
5. Augusto Soto-Schirripa, 78
6. Jack Jeffers, 74
7. Leandro Juncos, 58
8. Ayden Ingratta, 48
9. Evan Cooley, 47
10. Joao Vergara, 47

Ariel Elkin (#25 Monaco Friends of Israel/Swift Garage/Mossad/IDF-InterMS Tatuus JR-23): “An absolutely great week – super amazing, super excited. We did pole positions for both races, broke the track record in qualifying and led each lap of both races from start to finish. We just swept the event. Super glad, super happy. A big thanks to InterMS and the entire Israeli nation all over the world. I am here to support everyone during these difficult times and I am willing to do it in the future and win as much as I can.”

Jack Jeffers (#92 Corpay Cross Border Solutions-Exclusive Autosport Tatuus JR-23) – After Race One: “We were putting the pressure on but as you know, Barber is a tough track to pass on and it is also known to bring out a lot of yellows. That’s one thing I had on my mind. After the start he had a little bit of a gap, I was trying to chip away at that and trying to run him down. It was about trying to make a move and, unfortunately, we couldn’t make the move. A lot of yellows at the end prevented me from having another shot. P2 is a good result considering our first weekend was not ideal. It’s a good way to start momentum and keep building on it. Considering we had to do a car change – P2 for how hard the team has worked and how late they had to stay last night, I am grateful and hopefully I can repay them with a win in the afternoon.”

Sebastian Wheldon (#98 Gainbridge Andretti-VRD Racing Tatuus JR-23) – After Race Two: “Overall, I feel like the race went pretty well. I felt like I had the pace advantage over Ariel and I tried my best with the dirty air. I felt it was a good race after struggling a little bit in practice.”

Augusto Soto-Schirripa (#24 InterMS Tatuus JR-23): “I came into this weekend a lot more comfortable than NOLA. I think because I was more comfortable with the car and we learned a lot at NOLA. It was super important for us to score points, especially me, because I lost out in Race One at NOLA with electrical issues. In summary, it was a super positive week for the team – a super, super positive week. We scored important points and now we will carry that momentum to VIR, keep our heads down and work hard. We are always trying to find a way to be faster, in and out of the car.”

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