Kiko Porto claimed today’s opening leg of the Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Road America Powered by Elite Engines for DEForce Racing after starting on the pole position. But the 17-year-old from Recife, Brazil, had to work hard for his second Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship victory of the year. After briefly losing the lead to Cape Motorsports’ Michael d’Orlando, Porto fought back to regain the advantage before taking the checkered flag 0.8813s clear of d’Orlando in second. Rookie Spike Kohlbecker posted his best run of the season so far by completing the podium for Ignite Autosport with Cape Motorsports.
Porto, who had been unable to attend the opening two races of the 2020 season at Road America due to travel restrictions brought about by the pandemic, returned in style to score his second Cooper Tires Pole Award of the season yesterday in qualifying. But any hopes of being able to work with DEForce teammate Nolan Siegel, who started second, evaporated almost immediately when d’Orlando drafted past Siegel on the long, downhill run toward Turn 5 on the opening lap.
The caution flags flew after two laps following a couple of incidents further down the 25-car field, but at the restart it was once again Porto and d’Orlando to the fore as they sped side-by-side into Turn 1. Remarkably, the pair continued to run in that formation for almost the entire 4.014-mile lap before d’Orlando finally grasped the advantage under braking for Turn 12, Canada Corner.
But d’Orlando wasn’t able to hang on for long as Porto took advantage of the slipstream to draft alongside d’Orlando on the long uphill drag race toward Turn 1. The Brazilian duly regained the point with an incisive move around the outside. Porto never managed to pull out much of a lead, and indeed it was d’Orlando who gained the extra bonus point for posting the fastest lap of the race, but Porto held on to secure the victory.
“This is such a special moment in the championship. I remember last year, when I couldn’t get here to start the season, and that was so hard. To come to Road America this year and win is so very special,” related Porto.
“I opened a gap over the first three laps, but then the yellow came out. Michael got into my draft at the restart and we spent half a lap side-by-side — it was super-hard. I was able to get back by him and get a gap back, but he was able to use the draft on the straights to stay right behind me. At that point, I put my head down and turned my mode into qualifying laps. I was so happy with how the car felt — it’s never easy starting on pole here, but it just felt perfect.”
Kohlbecker settled into a strong third as the remainder of the pack jostled for position in his wake. Siegel, Christian Brooks (Exclusive Autosport) and Simon Sikes, who made rapid early progress from 16th on the grid for Legacy Autosport, were the primary protagonists before Siegel managed to extricate himself from the group and edge clear of Brooks in the closing stages.
Another rookie, Jace Denmark (Pabst Racing), also was part of the entertaining battle, crossing the line in sixth ahead of Sikes, who capped a solid performance by taking the Tilton Hard Charger Award. Behind them, championship leader Yuven Sundaramoorthy could do no better than eighth, narrowly ahead of Pabst Racing teammate Pierson at the finish.
Porto’s performance snared a third PFC Award of the season for winning car owners David and Ernesto Martinez. It was also enough to move Porto into a 12-point lead in the championship at the halfway point of the 18-race season. He will have an opportunity to extend that lead after securing a second pole position of the weekend during a separate qualifying session on Friday afternoon for tomorrow’s race which will take the green flag at 8:00 a.m. CDT.