Brazilian rookie Kiko Porto claimed a well-deserved maiden Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship victory in today’s USF2000 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Andersen RacePark. Porto’s emotional triumph capped a roller coaster year which began with him missing the opening race of the season after he was unable to enter the country; then was forced to skip the most recent event in New Jersey after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
But spare a thought for DEForce teammate Cameron Shields, who led impressively from the pole before experiencing a mechanical failure.
Porto’s good friend and countryman Eduardo Barrichello finished close behind in second place for Pabst Racing, with Floridian Reece Gold taking third for Cape Motorsports.
After securing his first-ever Cooper Tires Pole Award yesterday in qualifying, Shields took off into the lead of the 20-lap race, intent on making it a banner day for Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia, directly after the town’s more famous resident, Will Power, had snatched a dramatic NTT IndyCar Series pole on the streets of St. Petersburg.
Porto and third-place qualifier Barrichello followed Shields closely from the start, chased by Gold. But behind them at Turn 1 there was drama as Yuven Sundaramoorthy (Pabst Racing) misjudged his braking and vaulted over the rear of Christian Brooks (Exclusive Autosport), before slamming into the side of an innocent Christian Rasmussen (Jay Howard Driver Development). All three were done for the day, which left Rasmussen thanking his lucky stars he had already clinched this year’s championship last time out at NJMP.
Shields took off again into the lead following a lengthy cleanup. But just before half-distance, as it seemed he was beginning to edge clear, his car abruptly slowed on the front straightaway.
His race, too, was over.
Teammate Porto instead took up the running, still chased by Barrichello and Gold, who claimed The Ticket Clinic Fastest Lap Award on Lap 14 but was unable to get close enough to mount a serious challenge.
“I can’t describe this feeling!” exclaimed the young Brazilian. “I’ve worked so hard this year, and so many things have happened: I couldn’t get to the United States, and then I got COVID. But the team has worked so hard and the car was so good today. And I’m so happy for Dudu, my ‘brother.’ I am so happy to (finish) 1-2 with him.
“I’ve loved this track from my first lap here (last March), so I’m glad we were able to come back and do this race,” Porto continued. “It’s one of my favorites. I pushed hard the whole time and it was a very difficult race – especially that first corner – so to bring home the win means so much. I will remember this moment for the rest of my life.”
Cape Motorsports teammates Josh Green, the top rookie finisher, and good friend Michael d’Orlando crossed the line together in fourth and fifth, followed by Jack William Miller (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports).
Englishman Matt Round-Garrido took seventh for Pabst Racing ahead of rookie Simon Sikes (Legacy Autosport). Sikes had been the biggest beneficiary of the first-lap shenanigans, vaulting from 17th on the grid to as high as sixth. Even though he slipped a little to eighth by the finish, Sikes still had done enough to earn the Tilton Hard Charger Award.
Kyle Dupell (Cape Motorsports) and Christian Bogle (Jay Howard Driver Development) completed the top 10.
Porto’s victory secured the first PFC Award for the winning team, DEForce Racing.
Although the unfortunate Brooks was eliminated on the opening lap, he still leads the Hyperco Rookie of the Year standings by 17 points over Green and will start on pole position for tomorrow’s final race of the season after posting the fastest lap in qualifying earlier this morning.
Also still up for grabs is second place in the championship. Barrichello and Gold began the day tied on points, with the former now holding a slender two-point edge prior to the season finale.
The green flag for tomorrow’s race will fly at 9:30 a.m. ET.