Soto-Schirripa, Wheldon share USF Juniors wins at VIR

The battle for this year’s USF Juniors Presented by Continental Tire championship – and a scholarship valued at $263,700 to graduate onto the next step of the USF Pro Championships driver development ladder, USF2000, in 2025 – is heating up nicely.

The points order fluctuated wildly as a hectic Continental Tire VIR Grand Prix tripleheader weekend unfolded at VIRginia International Raceway, with every one of this season’s drivers changing positions at one point or another. But once the dust had settled, the narrowest of victories in the final race by VRD Racing’s Sebastian Wheldon was enough to vault him back atop the standings by a solitary point with eight of 16 races now in the books.

Augusto Soto-Schirripa also tasted the fruits of victory for the InterMS team.


Leonardo Escorpioni (Zanella Racing) and G3 Argyros (Jay Howard Driver Development) claimed their first podium finishes in Race 2, while title contenders Jack Jeffers (Exclusive Autosport) and Saturday’s winner Max Taylor (VRD Racing) could barely be split from Wheldon in a climactic photo-finish finale.

Spare a thought for Ariel Elkin, too, who displayed prodigious pace throughout the weekend for InterMS, briefly grasped the championship lead on Saturday, and was unfortunate to be shuffled out of contention in both of Sunday’s races.

Elkin started at the front of the 23-car field yesterday morning having earned his third Continental Tire Pole Award during qualifying on Saturday afternoon. He was then embroiled in a titanic scrap for the first five laps with teammate Soto-Schirripa, Jeffers and Jay Howard Driver Development stablemates Liam McNeilly and Ayden Ingratta.

Unfortunately, a series of incidents led to a flurry of full-course cautions and even a red-flag stoppage before Soto-Schirripa emerged on top when the race was called one lap short of the scheduled 15-lap distance. His maiden victory was nonetheless extremely well-deserved.

Argyros and Escorpioni took the checkered flag in second and third, although their positions were later reversed following a stewards’ inquiry which determined that Argyros’ final pass had been completed moments after the yellow flags flew.

Saturday’s polesitter Bruno Ribeiro was credited with fourth for DEForce Racing ahead of Taylor, whose win in Race 1 catapulted him into title contention, and Diego Guiot, who earned by far his best finish of the season in sixth for Zanella Racing.

Of the other contenders, McNeilly and Jeffers collided while battling for the lead in Turn 3, with Elkin also taken out as an innocent victim, while Wheldon slid off the road at Turn 11 and fell to the back of the field.

Brady Golan emerged from the carnage to claim the Tilton Hard Charger Award after rising from 22nd on the grid to seventh.

Astonishing work from the InterMS crew saw Elkin’s badly damaged car back together again in time for the final race, for which he also earned the Continental Tire Pole Award by virtue of having set the best of each driver’s second fastest laps during the second qualifying session on Saturday.

Elkin led the opening six laps before another red-flag interruption following contact in Turn 14 which resulted in Soto-Schirripa’s retirement due to extensive damage.

A couple of action-packed restarts led to a one-lap shootout to the finish with Taylor, Jeffers and Wheldon all leading at one point or another during the hectic final 3.27 miles. Incredibly, the trio crossed the line virtually as one with Wheldon declared the winner by a scant 0.047 of a second over Jeffers with Taylor just 0.010 of a second farther back in third. Wheldon’s triumph represented a remarkable turnaround after incidents in both of the opening two races of the weekend.

McNeilly somehow brought his car home in fourth, despite losing his front wing during one of the earlier scrapes, as teammate Ingratta finally earned a finish worthy of his speed in fifth. Guiot once again finished in sixth.

Exclusive Autosport’s Joao Vergara took home the Tilton Hard Charger Award after improbably rising from 23rd and last on the grid to eighth at the finish.

The day’s two PFC Awards went to Juan Garavaglia of InterMS and VRD Racing’s Dan Mitchell as the winning car owners.

USF Juniors will return to action at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course where they will share the billing with the two other steps on the USF Pro Championships ladder, USF2000 and USF Pro 2000, all in support of the NTT IndyCar Series on the weekend of July 6-7.

Provisional championship points after eight of 16 races:
1. Sebastian Wheldon, 163
2. Max Taylor, 162
3. Ariel Elkin, 149
4. Liam McNeilly, 144
5. Augusto Soto-Schirripa, 135
6. Jack Jeffers, 122
7. Joao Vergara, 84
8. Bruno Ribeiro, 79
9. G3 Argyros, 75
10. Ayden Ingratta, 74

Story originally appeared on Racer