By Steve Wittich
Second-generation racer Nicolas Giaffone and DEForce Racing continued their domination that began in qualifying on Thursday afternoon.
The Brazilian led a one-two-three finish for the Houston, Texas-based DEForce Racing, the team’s third straight USF Juniors Presented by Cooper Tires win at Barber Motorsports Park.
Giaffone finished ahead of his teammates, Australian Quinn Armstrong and Brazilian Lucas Fecury.
The David and Ernesto Martinez-led squad has won three of four races this season and eight of the 19 series races in the last two seasons.
Fecury’s visit to the podium is his first as he fought off hard-charging championship leader Joey Brienza.
Giaffone scored max points, including a bonus point for his pole win, leading the most laps and setting the quickest race lap, taking over the championship lead by a slim three points.
Jimmie Lockhart (VRD Racing) made up two positions, finishing in the top five for the third straight race.
After one pace lap behind the pace car, the front row of Giaffone and Fecury brought the field to 15 cars to the green flag.
The field made it cleanly through Turn 1, but with incidents in Turn 2 and Turn 5, the yellow flag flew from the timing stand before the drivers completed one lap.
The No. 29 VRD Racing machine of newcomer Hudson Schwartz ended up backward in the gravel outside of Turn 2 after contact from Carson Etter in the No. 57 from the DC Autosport stable. Etter was penalized for incident responsibility, moving to the back of the pack for the restart.
The incident in Turn 5 involved Jack Jeffers, the driver who started fourth.
The AMR INDYCAR Safety Team got both cars going, but Schwartz lost two laps, and Jeffers No. 92 came to pit road and could not continue.
The running order under caution was Giaffone, Armstrong, Fecury, Ethan Ho (DC Autosport), Joey Brienza (Exclusive Autosport), Erick Schotten (Exclusive Autosport), Max Taylor (VRD Racing), Jimmie Lockhart (VRD Racing), Ethan Barker (VRD Racing), Juan Felipe Pedraza (Ram Racing), Brady Golan (DEForce Racing), Etter, Giovanni Cabrera (Exclusive Autosport), Schwartz (VRD Racing) and Jeffers (Exclusive Autosport).
On the first lap under green, Brienza pressured Ho for fourth while Lockhart worked on Schotten for sixth. Lockhart was able to get the move completed moving into sixth.
On the next lap, points leader Brienza got by Ho for fourth, taking after Fecury for the final spot on the podium.
On Lap 8, Sebring International Raceway race winner Armstrong turned the race’s quickest lap, moving in on his teammate in the lead.
At the crossed flags signifying the halfway point of the race, Giaffone’s lead over his teammate was down to 0.7 seconds, with the front two holding almost a four-second gap to Fecury in third.
After losing two spots earlier, F4 United States Championship race winner Lockhart moved back to sixth with seven of the 20 laps remaining.
The gap between Giaffone and Armstrong remained constant at under one second. The best battles on the track were between Ho and Lockhart for fifth and Taylor and Schottten for seventh.
Over the next two laps, Giaffone grew his lead to over two seconds with a pair of laps over a half-second quicker than his Aussie teammate Armstrong.
With four laps remaining, Lockhart moved to fifth, while Taylor got around Schotten for seventh. In front of that action, Coloradan Brienza was putting pressure on Fecury for the final spot on the podium.
With three laps remaining, Giaffone had a 2.6-second lead over Armstrong, who had six seconds over his teammate Fecury.
Brienza continued to put pressure on Fecury, crossing the line less than half a second behind Fecury over the next two laps, looking inside in Turn 5 on the final lap before settling for fourth, ending his string of podium finishes to start the season.
Cooper Tires Grand Prix Of Alabama Race #1 Unofficial Results
|1||19||Nicolas Giaffone||DEForce Racing||20 LAPS|
|2||16||Quinn Armstrong||DEForce Racing||-4.721|
|3||17||Lucas Fecury||DEForce Racing||-10.556|
|4||91||Joey Brienza||Exclusive Autosport||-10.774|
|5||48||Jimmie Lockhart||VRD Racing||-14.897|
|6||68||Ethan Ho||DC Autosport||-17.194|
|7||33||Max Taylor||VRD Racing||-21.317|
|8||90||Erick Schotten||Exclusive Autosport||-22.001|
|9||12||Ethan Barker||VRD Racing||-22.328|
|10||18||Brady Golan||DEForce Racing||-30.709|
|11||55||Juan Felipe Pedraza||Ram Racing||-31.754|
|12||57||Carson Etter||DC Autosport||-57.251|
|13||93||Giovanni Cabrera||Exclusive Autosport||-66.797|
|14||29||Hudson Schwartz||VRD Racing||-2 LAPS|
|15||92||Jack Jeffers||Exclusive Autosport||– 18 LAPS|
The second USF Juniors Presented by Cooper Tires race is scheduled to get the checkered flag at 4:15 pm.