DEForce Racing’s Nicolas Giaffone has emerged as the 2023 USF Juniors Presented by Cooper Tires champion and will earn a Discount Tire Driver Development Scholarship valued at $241,890 to advance to USF2000 in 2024. Giaffone, 18, of Sao Paulo, Brazil, has had a stranglehold on the championship and merely needed to start the second race of a tripleheader event at Circuit of The Americas Sunday to secure the title.
Giaffone, son of former INDYCAR race winner Felipe Giaffone, claimed a record six wins as well as five poles and 11 top-three finishes in the 16-round championship – the first step on the USF Pro Championships driver development ladder.
After honing his skills in karting, Giaffone graduated to cars in 2022 in the F4 Brazilian Championship where he was a multiple race winner before joining the USF Juniors grid.
“This is amazing,” Giaffone said. “I can’t even put into words what I am feeling. It’s been an amazing season. I didn’t see past to it to be honest as I was just focusing on the next race, the next event, the next race. I realized the amazing job we were doing.
“I have to thank DEForce. They gave me a competitive car every single weekend and because of them, I am here. I have been saying this a lot and will say it again – a driver is just a driver and we cannot do anything without a good team and a good car. They have given me the opportunity to race in a very competitive car, so I thank them for that.
“I also want to thank my family for the support as always. I am not the easiest guy to be with on a race weekend, and they help me a lot. I also have to thank my sponsors for an amazing season. They have made it possible and I am super happy to be here. I can’t even express how much.”
It was a big weekend for DEForce Racing, which also claimed Team Championship honors.
The accomplishments of the 2023 USF Juniors competitors will be acknowledged at a Championship Celebration featuring all three levels of the driver development system on September 4 in Portland, Ore.
Gavin Baker Photography
Lockhart first-time winner in race two
After sniffing at victory in several races, Jimmie Lockhart, 16, of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., claimed his first career USF Juniors win – becoming the sixth different race winner this season. The VRD Racing driver had three podiums to his credit entering the weekend and was finally able to complete the job with a dominant performance in the second round of the Cooper Tires Circuit of The Americas Grand Prix.
Quinn Armstrong returned to the podium following a three-race top-three absence to finish second for DEForce Racing with Joey Brienza of Exclusive Autosport third.
Jack Jeffers started on pole – his second Cooper Tires Pole Award of the weekend – with Giaffone lining up on the front row followed by Max Taylor (VRD Racing) and Armstrong.
Drama began at the start when the caution flags flew on lap one for the stranded car of Bianca Bustamante (Exclusive Autosport) which ground to a halt on the pace lap and was not able to re-fire. A red flag resulted as race control had to reorder the grid due to numerous cars passing under the yellow.
With the green flag on lap two, Jeffers was in charge of the field followed by Giaffone, Lockhart, who had qualified sixth, and Taylor. More drama unfolded on lap seven with contact between Jeffers and Giaffone as they battled for the lead. Giaffone was able to continue, although dropping to 11th place, while Jeffers was forced to retire.
Lockhart was then on point with Brienza and Armstrong in pursuit. Armstrong was able to make his move on Brienza with three laps remaining to secure second. VRD Racing teammates Hudson Schwartz and Ethan Barker rounded out the top five.
Giaffone managed to claw his way back to seventh, after a series of consecutive fastest race laps.
VRD Racing’s Dan Mitchell picked up another PFC Award as the winning team owner, while Giovanni Cabrera of Exclusive Autosport took home the Tilton Hard Charger Award for a gain of six positions.
Gavin Baker Photography
Lockhart puts his stamp on race three
Lockhart continued his form from earlier in the day to close out the season finale with another victory. While Jeffers took the checkered flag in second, a subsequent post-race 30s penalty for avoidable contact dropped him down the order to 14th, moving Armstrong into second and Hudson Schwartz (VRD Racing ) into third.
Jeffers once again started on pole with Giaffone alongside, and Taylor and Armstrong on row two. Multiple incidents on the opening lap brought out the yellow flags as the AMR Safety Team went to retrieve the stranded cars of Lucas Fecury (DEForce Racing) in Turn 1 and Cabrera in Turn 11.
The race resumed a lap later as Jeffers and Giaffone battled for the lead, but it wasn’t long before another incident involving Dane Scott and Aiden Potter, both of Jay Howard Driver Development, brought out a second caution period.
The race went green in time for a three-lap dash to the checkers, after which more contact among the leaders enabled Lockhart to nip through and score an opportunist win as well as claim the Tilton Hard Charger Award. The penalty for Jeffers allowed Barker and Brienza to round out the top five.
For the second time today, the PFC Award went to winning team owner Dan Mitchell.