Myles Rowe produced a sensational performance in treacherous conditions following an earlier rain shower to win this morning’s second leg of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Grand Prix tripleheader at New Jersey Motorsports Park. The New Yorker, driving for the new African-American owned Force Indy team, took the lead with just a few corners remaining in the 20-lap race after starting 10th on the grid, and became the first African-American to win a round of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship.
Kiko Porto finished second for DEForce Racing after leading for most of the distance, with teammate Nolan Siegel completing the podium in third.
Slightly cooler conditions this morning for qualifying, plus fresh Cooper tires, led to a general improvement in lap times, with Michael d’Orlando (Cape Motorsports) taking full advantage and becoming the first USF2000 driver to circulate the 2.25-mile track at an average speed above 100mph. A best lap of 1m16.9750s enabled d’Orlando to claim just his second Cooper Tires Pole Award and the coveted inside front row starting position for the first of two races.
A “wet start” was declared by race officials, which required all 23 cars to start on grooved Cooper tires, but with the track already starting to show signs of drying, several cars ducked into the pits at the end of lap one to change onto fully slick, dry-weather tires. Up front, meanwhile, d’Orlando maintained his advantage into Turn 1, albeit with the two DEForce cars hot on his heels.
D’Orlando held on gamely for the first four laps but he was clearly struggling as the track continued to dry, so it came as no surprise when Porto, who had started third, forged past to take the lead on the fourth lap.
Siegel and Josh Green (Turn 3 Motorsport) also found a way past d’Orlando, who continued to slip down the order.
Rowe, continued to move up the order, relishing the slippery conditions. He was up to fifth place by the midpoint of the race, forcing Green to adopt some defensive tactics to keep him in his mirrors. Race officials eventually instructed Green to cede the third position with four laps remaining.
An inspired Rowe continued his charge, quickly dispensing with Siegel and rapidly closing onto Porto’s tail. Finally, in Turn 9 on the final lap, Rowe saw his opportunity and pounced, taking the lead and a memorable maiden victory.
“As I was coming to the finish, I had to radio my spotter (Jon Bouslog) and ask him, ‘aAre we in the lead?’ He told me, ‘Keep going, keep going!’” related Rowe. “I knew I was in second, but looking at my first win, I just didn’t believe it. Once I took the checkered, my first thought was — I’m here. I can’t thank my parents so much for all the love, support and patience. Rod Reid, Jon, the whole team, Stu, Derrick, Zach – I can’t thank them all enough. And of course, Roger Penske and Will Power. So many people who put me where I am, where Force Indy is today.
Rowe also took home the Tilton Hard Charger Award, his first of the season, while Force Indy team principal Rod Reid was presented with his first PFC Award as the winning car owner.
Porto graciously accepted second place, secure in the knowledge that he had been able to extend his championship lead to 51 points over d’Orlando with only three races remaining — including one later this afternoon. At stake is a scholarship valued at over $400,000 to graduate onto the next level of the Road to Indy, the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, in 2022.
Provisional championship points after 15 of 18 races:
1. Kiko Porto, 355
2. Michael d’Orlando, 304
3. Yuven Sundaramoorthy, 273
4. Christian Brooks, 253
5. Josh Pierson, 249
6. Josh Green, 204
7. Spike Kohlbecker, 200
8. Jace Denmark, 189
9. Thomas Nepveu, 186
10. Prescott Campbell, 185