Michael d’Orlando this morning won his second out of three races which comprised this weekend’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio. The 19-year-old’s third win of the season for Cape Motorsports moved him into serious contention for this year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship. With title rival Kiko Porto finishing fourth, despite starting from the pole position, d’Orlando, from Hartsdale, N.Y., now trails Porto by only 19 points with five races remaining on the schedule.
Simon Sikes capped a tremendous weekend for Legacy Autosport with a second-place finish, matching his career best from the previous event at Road America. Yuven Sundaramoorthy rounded out the podium for Pabst Racing following a one-position penalty for blocking assessed on Exclusive Autosport’s Matt Round-Garrido.
For the third day in a row, Porto started from the pole position, courtesy of his fine performance during the lone qualifying session on Friday. The Brazilian capitalized on his sixth Cooper Tires Pole Award of the year by leading from the start, although as was the case on Friday, the first few laps were completed under caution following a couple of incidents further down the field.
At the restart, d’Orlando piled the pressure on Porto through the first few corners before leaving his braking as late as possible on the outside line at the end of the long back straightaway. Porto was wise to that maneuver, so d’Orlando tried on the outside again at Turn 4, which immediately assured him of the preferred inside line for Turn 6, where he completed the pass to take over the lead.
Another couple of brief caution periods proved even more costly for Porto, who slipped behind not only Sikes but also Round-Garrido, who somehow had managed to leap from 10th on the grid to fourth on the opening lap. Porto then proceeded to lose two more positions to Pabst Racing teammates Jace Denmark, a rookie from Scottsdale, Ariz., and Sundaramoorthy, the former championship points leader who had started way back in 13th.
While d’Orlando made his escape and Sikes chased him home in second, the main focus of attention instead was on the battle for third, with Round-Garrido working hard to hold off the Pabst pair in his mirrors. A moment with two laps remaining cost Denmark a couple of positions, but Sundaramoorthy was charging hard. The 18-year-old claimed a valuable championship point for establishing the fastest lap of the race on the 20th and final lap, and later was awarded the final podium position after Round-Garrido was adjudged to have exceeded the limits of defensive driving. Sundaramoorthy also claimed the Tilton Hard Charger Award.
“That was amazing. It’s so cool to have an American win – and an all-American podium – on July Fourth. This is incredible,” said d’Orlando. “Kiko was so fast, I had to really work to get by. After the restart, I made my move – he knew I was going to try it on the outside and he broke a little later, and I knew that would mess up his exit. It was a complete setup and a perfect move and I’m so pleased with the way that turned out. For the rest of the race, it was about staying in the rhythm and being consistent, but Simon was there the whole way and wouldn’t let go so that kept me on my toes. The Capes really had it this weekend. Obviously, they have a ton of experience here and we had a great car. The points are tighter now, so with five races to go anything can happen.”
Round-Garrido instead was credited with fourth ahead of Porto, Christian Brooks (Exclusive Autosport),, who fought his way from 16th on the grid, and Denmark.
Rookie Peter Vodanovich earned the best finish of his rookie season to date for Jay Howard Driver Development as fellow rookies and Cape Motorsports teammates Thomas Nepveu and Spike Kohlbecke completed the top 10.
Brothers Dominic and Nicholas Cape took home yet another PFC Award as the winning car owners. Cape Motorsports also closed the gap to DEForce Racing to just seven points with Pabst Racing only an additional seven points further adrift in the Team Championship.
Just two race weekends and five races remain on the 2021 USF2000 schedule, which will continue with a triple-header at New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville, N.J., on August 28-29.
Provisional championship points after 13 of 18 races:
1. Kiko Porto, 297
2. Michael d’Orlando, 278
3. Yuven Sundaramoorthy, 243
4. Josh Pierson, 224
5. Christian Brooks, 220
6. Spike Kohlbecker, 175
7. Thomas Nepveu, 174
8. Josh Green, 166
9. Prescott Campbell, 160
10. Jace Denmark, 158