Giaffone, Brienza Share USF Juniors Spoils at Sebring
 March 24, 2023| 
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SEBRING, Fla. – Nicolas Giaffone (DEForce Racing) and Joey Brienza (Exclusive Autosport) shared the victories today at a hot, sunny Sebring International Raceway as USF Juniors Presented by Cooper Tires produced two more all-green-flag races to continue an entertaining start to its 2023 season. Giaffone, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, narrowly headed Brienza, from Golden, Colo., in this morning’s 10-lap race, while the positions were reversed this afternoon which enabled Brienza, who also finished second yesterday, to claim an early lead in the point standings.

Jack Jeffers (Exclusive Autosport), from San Antonio, Texas, and Jimmie Lockhart (VRD Racing), from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., each earned a third-place finish.

An exciting first race this morning began with Brienza once again at the front, courtesy of his second Cooper Tires Pole Award by virtue of posting the best second-fastest lap among the USF Juniors field in qualifying on Thursday.

Brienza breezed to a comfortable lead of more than three seconds after the opening three laps as the field jostled for position in his wake. Max Taylor (VRD Racing), from Hoboken, N.J., muscled his way past front row starter Jeffers at Turn Three, whereupon Jeffers cost himself several more positions by sliding briefly off the road later in the lap.

Giaffone was on the move early, rising from sixth on the grid to third, despite sliding onto the grass in Turn Three on the second lap. Undeterred, Giaffone proceeded to overtake Taylor for second, then rapidly closed the gap to Brienza.

Both had elected to run a fresh set of Cooper tires, but Giaffone’s pace was relentless, and he grasped the lead from Brienza with a bold pass at Turn Three on the seventh lap. Brienza fought back in the closing stages, but the Brazilian held him off to claim a fine victory.

Giaffone’s fine drive netted him the Tilton Hard Charger Award, as well as a second straight PFC Award for DEForce Racing’s David and Ernesto Martinez as the winning car owners.

Jeffers also mounted a fine recovery drive, finishing third after having slipped back to sixth following his early error. Ethan Ho (DC Autosport), from Los Angeles, Calif., inherited fourth after VRD teammates Taylor and Lockhart tangled in Turn 10 with four laps remaining.

Brienza led throughout this afternoon’s final race of the Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Sebring triple-header after once again starting from the pole.

Giaffone lost a little ground to Brienza as he battled Lockhart for the first couple of laps, and even though the Brazilian soon made second place his own, he was unable to make any inroads into Brienza’s advantage.

Instead, all eyes were on a thrilling battle for third place which saw Lockhart, Taylor, Jeffers and DEForce Racing teammates Quinn Armstrong and Lucas Fecury all exchanging places on a regular basis. A mistake midway through the race by yesterday’s race winner, Armstrong, from Surfers Paradise, Australia, cost him any chance of defending his initial points lead. Lockhart faded from second to fifth after five laps, but then mounted a rousing challenge during which he made two bold passes and posted the fastest lap of the race before wrestling away the final podium position from teammate Taylor at Turn 17 on the last lap.

Brazil’s Erick Schotten (Exclusive Autosport) earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award, rising from 12th on the grid to eighth, while team owner Michael Duncalfe capped a fine day by securing his first USF Juniors PFC Award.

Next up for the USF Juniors is a double-header event at Barber Motorsports, in Leeds, Ala., in advance of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES weekend on Thursday and Friday, April 27/28.

Provisional championship points after 3 of 16 races:
1. Joey Brienza, 86
2. Nicolas Giaffone, 75
3. Jack Jeffers, 61
4. Quinn Armstrong, 59
5. Jimmie Lockhart,48
6. Ethan Ho, 44
7. Lucas Fecury, 44
8. Ethan Barker, 40
9. Brady Golan, 39
10. Erick Schotten, 36.

Joey Brienza (#91 UBS-Exclusive Autosport Tatuus JR-23): “This was about how you would imagine it when you go to sleep or when you are in the car 10 minutes before. I made a good start, nothing fantastic, but enough to keep the lead through Turn One. Nicolas (Giaffone) and Jimmie (Lockhart) both pushed hard at the start of the race and applied a lot of pressure but I was able to hold them off. As soon as I got some clear track, I was able to push. The car was fantastic. The team did an awesome job with the car and I can’t say thank-you enough to them. This gives us good momentum for the long season.”

Nicolas Giaffone (#19 OMNI-DEForce Racing Tatuus JR-23): “The track changed a lot in the afternoon. We were able to adapt and that was very nice. I feel like in the beginning the tires weren’t there, but by the sixth or seventh lap, the tires were really good and that’s when I felt more on pace. I really struggled because it is hard to get away from the guys that are behind in a line in a track so big as Sebring. It is hard to let them off your tow. I struggled and that’s what put me away from Joey (Brienza). Overall, a very good weekend for me and I am happy to be in the hunt for this championship.”

Jack Jeffers (#92 Corpay Cross Border Solutions-Exclusive Autosport Tatuus JR-23): “The race started off decent. We didn’t have the pace of the other guys and we fell back a little bit. We were still fighting hard and then they were battling so I was able to catch up a little bit. My pace really came through as I gained more confidence with the car. I was able to get past the two VRD cars and catch the leaders. Giaffone made a mistake at the end that allowed he and Brienza to battle a bit more. I think if we had a few more laps, I could have been there. Overall, a good comeback from what wasn’t an ideal start.”

Jimmie Lockhart (#48 Yacht Next-VRD Racing Tatuus JR-23): “It started off really well. I was able to get up to second but after the start I dropped back two positions and was able to reel it back. Towards the end, I had a good run going on the back straight and went around the outside in Turn 17 and I was able to get the position. It was racing  through my head that if I could just get a run going down that back straight and get around him, but he was able to defend me down the inside and I had a run around the outside. I did it before in one of the other races and it is really bumpy and I almost lost it, but I made it."

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