Taylor Wins Dramatic Opener in USF Juniors VIR Tripleheader
 June 15, 2024| 
  • Series News
ALTON, Va. – Max Taylor began the Continental Tire VIR Grand Prix tripleheader this afternoon with a hard-fought victory for VRD Racing after an action filled 15-lap race. The teenager from Hoboken, N.J., has been on a roll in recent weeks, securing a pair of victories in his parallel USF2000 Presented by Continental Tire program. But today represented his first win of the season in USF Juniors, and allowed him to close to within 14 points of the championship lead.

Augusto Soto-Schirripa, from Miami, Fla., claimed his third successive podium finish for the InterMS team, while Jack Jeffers (Exclusive Autosport), from San Antonio, Texas, was credited with third after Soto-Schirripa’s teammate, Israel’s Ariel Elkin, was penalized five positions following contact earlier in the race with another title contender, England’s Liam McNeilly.

Brazil’s Bruno Ribeiro this morning continued the good form he displayed in testing for DEForce Racing by earning his first Continental Tire Pole Award during the first of two qualifying sessions. The pair of InterMS cars lined up next on the grid with Elkin ahead of Soto-Schirripa.

Ribeiro continued to lead the way when the opening three laps were completed largely behind the pace car following an incident on the opening lap, although a subsequent error at Turn 17 on the first lap of green-flag racing saw him tumble down the order.

Elkin took over the lead but remained under pressure from a long string of cars as the infamous draft on the 3.27-mile VIRginia International Raceway’s long straightaways made it virtually impossible to eke out any appreciable advantage.

After setting the pace in all three test sessions on Friday, McNeilly, from Brentwood, England, was disappointed to qualify his Jay Howard Driver Development car only seventh on the grid. He didn’t stay there for long. McNeilly quickly worked his way through the pack, moving up into second place soon after half distance and immediately challenging Elkin for the lead.

Unfortunately, McNeilly’s attempt to repeat an earlier outside-line maneuver at Turn One ended badly when he found himself out on the grass and losing places quickly.

Championship leader Sebastien Wheldon (VRD Racing), from Coral Gables, Fla., was next to challenge Elkin’s superiority, whereupon some more contact at the top of the Roller Coaster, Turn 13, on the 11th lap enabled teammate Taylor, who had been running fourth, to leapfrog his way into the lead.

Next time around, Wheldon’s hopes of victory also were erased when a broken nose-wing caused him to understeer wide at the exit of Turn Five and slide into the tire barrier.

Another couple of incidents in the late stages ensured the race would finish under yellow, with Taylor securing the victory over Soto-Schirripa and Elkin. Jeffers crossed the line in fourth, but with Elkin’s penalty was elevated to third ahead of a pair of Jay Howard Driver Development-run Californians G3 Argyros and Timothy Carel, who had also been among the thick of the race-long battle for the lead.

Remarkably, Ribeiro managed to climb from 16th following his early mistake to finish in sixth, just ahead of a similarly recovering McNeilly.

Taylor’s rise from sixth on the grid to the race win also earned him the Tilton Hard Charger Award, plus another PFC Award for VRD Racing’s Dan Mitchell as the winning car owner.

The weekend will round out with a pair of races on Sunday. The first one, slated to start at 10:00 a.m. will see new points leader Elkin starting from pole position by dint of posting the fastest time during the second of two qualifying sessions earlier today.

Provisional championship points after six of 16 races:
1. Ariel Elkin, 137
2. Sebastian Wheldon, 131
3. Max Taylor, 123
4. Liam McNeilly, 115
5. Augusto Soto-Schirripa, 103
6. Jack Jeffers, 96
7. Leandro Juncos, 63
8. Joao Vergara, 59
9. Ayden Ingratta, 56
10. Bruno Ribeiro, 53

Max Taylor (#33 PINK ETF/Susan G Komen Foundation-VRD Racing Tatuus JR-23): “It was a really strong race for the VRD car. I used a lot of patience and maturity throughout the entire race. Ultimately, it let me get the win. It was all about letting the race come to me. The VRD team is really on a roll here. We are really picking up some stride and I am really happy with that.”

Augusto Soto-Schirripa (#24 InterMS Tatuus JR-23): “Coming into this weekend, we knew to win this championship that we had to get points. To win at this track, you have to keep it on four wheels. It is really technical and it is really easy to get one tire off the race track and you are in the wall. It was kind of like damage limitation the whole race trying to wait for it to pan out in front of me. I fell back to fifth at one point. I had no pace but I knew that with the immense draft you get on the back straightway that everyone was going to bunch up eventually. I just watched it unfold and took advantage of the opportunity. I can’t thank my team enough. This is an honor to be on the podium and just even to be here. I am super grateful.”

Jack Jeffers (#92 Corpay Cross Border Solutions-Exclusive Autosport Tatuus JR-23): “The race definitely could have gone better from both ends. I think I could have made better decisions out there but I also think we could have done better with the set up as a team. We did what we thought was right after qualifying. We got lucky with some crashes and penalties and salvaged a third. It’s good points considering some of my main competitors either DNF’d or finished further back. I have to thank my whole crew at Exclusive Autosport and Corpay for all their support today.”
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