Packed USF Juniors Field Heads to Alabama
 April 23, 2024| 
  • Series News
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Second-generation racer Wheldon holds slim points lead over McNeilly

PALMETTO, Fla. – After an impressive opening weekend of the new USF Juniors Presented by Continental Tire season earlier this month, a full field of competitors on the first step of the USF Pro Championships open-wheel development ladder will return to action later this week at Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds, Ala. No fewer than 27 drivers are expected to be on the starting grids for a pair of races to be held on Friday, April 26, as part of the Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix.

The USF Juniors field will be led to the green flag by the new Honda Civic Type R Pace Car – Pace Carthe most powerful model in the Type R’s 30-year history and the most powerful Honda production vehicle ever sold in the U.S. The turbocharged 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine produces 315 horsepower and utilizes a six-speed manual transmission with rev-matching and a limited-slip differential. The Honda Civic Type R Pace Car will be the Official Pace Car for all three levels of USF Pro Championships Presented by Continental Tire.

Honors were shared during the tripleheader at NOLA Motorsports Park in Louisiana, with second-generation racer Sebastian Wheldon scoring two race wins and Liam McNeilly one.

Jay Howard Driver Development’s McNeilly, from Brentwood in the United Kingdom, set the pace in qualifying and started from the pole position for the first encounter. But it was VRD Racing’s Wheldon, from Coral Gables, Fla., who took the lead at the start and never relinquished his advantage. McNeilly turned the tables by scoring the win in Race Two, whereupon Wheldon once again emerged on top in the finale to grasp an early championship lead.

Each young racer finished second to the other in all three races and will head to the challenging 2.3-mile, 17-turn road course as the top-two point scorers. Wheldon currently holds a slight edge, 90-81, in the quest for a scholarship valued at $263,700 to advance onto the next step of the ladder, USF2000 Presented by Continental Tire, in 2025, although McNeilly has every intention of evening the score – and earning himself a slightly belated present after celebrating his 18th birthday last Friday.

Max Taylor, from Hoboken, N.J., driving a second VRD Racing Tatuus JR-23, and Israeli Ariel Elkin (InterMS) shared the other honors in Louisiana and will be seeking to build upon their strong starts to the season. Taylor is one of only four drivers in the field with prior USF Juniors experience at Barber Motorsports Park.

Other top contenders likely will include Exclusive Autosport’s Jack Jeffers, from San Antonio, Texas, and Elkin’s InterMS teammate August Soto-Schirripa, from Miami, Fla.

Jeshua Alianell, from The Woodlands, Texas, is set to make his official USF Juniors debut with DEForce Racing after finishing second in the Skip Barber Formula Race Series in each of the past three years.

After a pair of 50-minute test sessions and 30 minutes of official practice on Thursday, April 25, the huge field will be split into two groups for a pair of qualifying sessions starting at 4:15 p.m. CDT. A final 20-minute warmup on Friday morning will provide competitors with one more opportunity to find some speed in time for Race One of the Continental Tire Grand Prix of Alabama, which is set to start at 10:00 a.m. The green flag for Race Two will fly at 4:15 p.m., immediately after the first NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice.
 
Full coverage will be available on the free USF Pro Championships App, YouTube channel and series’ website, usfjuniors.com.

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