Michael d’Orlando loves the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. One year on from claiming his first Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship victory at the challenging 2.258-mile venue, d’Orlando, from Hartsdale, N.Y., repeated the feat this afternoon for Cape Motorsports in the first of three races that will comprise this weekend’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio.
After starting from pole position, championship leader Brazilian Kiko Porto had to settle for second for DEForce Racing, with Simon Sikes, from Augusta, Ga., scoring his second successive podium finish in third for Legacy Autosport.
Porto claimed his series leading fourth Cooper Tires Pole Award of the season in qualifying this morning and was able to hang onto his lead at the start. Unfortunately, an incident further down the field between Porto’s teammate Prescott Campbell, from Newport Beach, Calif., and Myles Rowe (Force Indy), from New York, N.Y., resulted in the first few laps being run under caution.
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Porto maintained his position at the restart but was never able to shake off the attentions of d’Orlando, who started second and remained in his wheel tracks when the caution flags waved again after 11 laps due to contact between Erik Evans (Velocity Autosport Development), from Johns Creek, Ga., and Michael Myers (Michael Myers Racing) from Lizton, Ind.
The restart with six laps remaining provided d’Orlando with the opportunity he had been seeking as he moved boldly to the outside line at Turn 4 and drove around the outside of his rival to gain the advantage of the preferred inside line at Turn 5.
Once into the lead, d’Orlando set a series of fastest laps to extend his lead to 1.6140 seconds at the checkered flag, and his second victory of the season vaults him from fourth to second in the points table, albeit 25 markers behind Porto. d’Orlando’s win ensured a third PFC Award of the season for winning car owners Dominic and Nicholas Cape.
“That was super fun!” d’Orlando said. “I’m super proud of how that race ended, and I know the points are so tight. Kiko was really fast and hard to chase down – I would get close, but then fall back from the aero wash and that was hard to overcome. Down the back straight, I made a move and I knew I had him. I out braked him and he really respected my pass. It’s been a crazy weekend so far, extremely difficult to manage with the changing weather conditions. Thankfully, I’ve been here a few times in the past so that experience really helped. It was difficult but, in the end, we figured it out.”
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“What a difficult race with Michael – again, just like Road America,” Porto said. “We didn’t have the same pace that he had early in the race, but once the tires came up to temperature, I was able to get a gap – but then the yellow came out and we had to start again. I didn’t have a good restart and Michael got a good draft and I couldn’t do anything. I didn’t try to defend to the outside because the championship could be right there. Second place isn’t bad and it means a bit of a gap in the championship. This is my first podium at Mid-Ohio so I hope to keep it going. It will be fun for the rest of the season.”
Sikes, who also finished on the podium at the most recent race at Road America, gained the upper hand over fellow second-row starter Nolan Siegel (DEForce Racing), from Palo Alto, Calif., at the first corner and maintained that edge to the finish line, while former New Zealand Formula Ford champion Billy Frazer enjoyed his most impressive race of the season so far to claim top rookie honors with a fourth-place finish for Exclusive Autosport.
“We got off to a good start and I was able to take third right after the first corner. After a few laps, I knew that was probably where we would finish,” Sikes said. “We had a great car, but the top two were so fast. I tried to run them down but they had pace on me and I had pace on the guys behind me, so overall a solid day. I’m thrilled to get another podium for Legacy Autosport and Metalloid. We’ve been working at this for a long time. We’ve worked on developing things and we’re comfortable with where we’ve gotten – hopefully that first win will come this weekend.”
Siegel followed him home in fifth ahead of Bijoy Garg, from Atherton, Calif., who also secured his best result of the season for the Jay Howard Driver Development team.
The Pabst Racing pair of Jace Denmark, from Scottsdale, Ariz., and Josh Pierson, from Wilsonville, Ore., chased home in seventh and eighth, with Josh Green (Turn 3 Motorsport), from Mount Kisco, N.Y., and a third Pabst Racing Tatuus USF-17 of Yuven Sundaramoorthy, from Delafield, Wis., rounding out the top 10.
Evans Stamer (Ignite Autosport with Cape Motorsports), from Glen Carbon, Ill., snagged the first Tilton Hard Charger Award of his rookie campaign after rising from 26th on the grid to 16th.
The triple-header weekend for USF2000 will continue with Race Two tomorrow afternoon at 2:30 p.m. EDT.
Provisional championship points after 11 of 18 races:
1. Kiko Porto, 247
2. Michael d’Orlando, 222
3. Yuven Sundaramoorthy, 216
4. Josh Pierson, 205
5. Christian Brooks, 192
6. Spike Kohlbecker, 154
7. Josh Green, 144
8. Prescott Campbell, 151
9. Thomas Nepveu, 145
10. Jace Denmark, 132