Nolan Siegel produced an exemplary performance this afternoon at New Jersey Motorsports Park to win the third and final race of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Grand Prix triple-header. Siegel, 16, from Palo Alto, Calif., managed his wet-weather Cooper tires perfectly on a fast-drying race track to claim the first victory of his Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires career for DEForce Racing. He became the second first-time USF2000 winner in just a few hours following Myles Rowe’s triumphant drive a little earlier in the day for Force Indy.
“I’ve been waiting so long for this,” Siegel said. “We’ve worked so hard but we’ve had so much bad luck. It’s great for the team, everything came together today. It was a great fight with Michael, he defended every lap and one time we came together and I got pushed off into the grass but finally I made it count. Once I got by, it was just about tires – trying to slide as little as possible and managing the gap behind. The car was perfect and everything worked out. The car was incredible – we’ve worked so hard, from off-season testing all the way through the season and, finally, we got it perfect this weekend.”
Josh Green, from Mount Kisco, N.Y., equaled his career-best finish in second for Turn 3 Motorsport, while Yuven Sundaramoorthy (Pabst Racing), from Delafield, Wis., drove through the field impressively to finish third after electing to pit for dry-weather tires at the completion of the opening lap.
“That was a very interesting race,” Green said. “After this morning’s race, everyone had experience in the conditions, but this track dries extremely quickly, more than any other circuit. We all got excited before the race, ready for a real rain race, but minutes later the entire circuit was dry and we were all immediately faced with a choice – come into the pits for tires on the first lap, or finish the race like that. I got a great start, raced really hard, got up to fourth right away and just picked the other guys off. Nolan had a really strong race, so kudos to him. I’m so proud of this team, we’ve worked really hard and come so far. It’s been a big push to get here and we’re not going to stop.”
Grid positions were determined according to each driver’s second-fastest lap during qualifying this morning or fastest race lap from Race 2. Thus championship challenger Michael d’Orlando claimed his second Cooper Tires Pole Award of the day. Siegel started alongside on the front row with Josh Pierson (Pabst Racing), from Wilsonville, Ore., and Siegel’s DEForce Racing teammate and championship leader Kiko Porto, from Recife, Brazil, sharing row two.
You never forget your first series win!👏
— USF2000 Series (@USF2000) August 29, 2021
With the track still damp from earlier rain, officials once again determined that all drivers should start on wet-weather tires. The start was clean, with d’Orlando and Siegel leading the way into Turn 1, and once again several drivers – seven in total – chose to make stops for a change of tires after a solitary lap.
It was immediately apparent that slick Cooper tires were the faster option, but the drivers – particularly those at the front of the field – faced a tricky dilemma: continue on the slower wet tires or lose a considerable amount of time by ducking into the pits for a change to slicks.
Two of the Pabst drivers, Jace Denmark, from Scottsdale, Ariz., who started sixth, and Sundaramoorthy, who had lined up 12th, were among the pit callers.
In the meantime d’Orlando continued to hold the lead, albeit under immense pressure from Siegel. Pierson held down third ahead of Green, who made up a couple of positions during the opening two laps.
On lap 10, after several attempts to overtake had been rebuffed by the leader, Siegel finally managed to make a move around the outside line in Turn 1. He immediately began to pull clear.
— DEForce Racing (@DEForceRacing) August 29, 2021
Green took advantage of a slight loss of momentum for d’Orlando by nipping through into second, but there was no catching Siegel, who romped away to victory and a sixth PFC Award of the year for David and Ernesto Martinez as the winning car owners.
D’Orlando held onto third place until the final lap, when he was caught and passed by Sundaramoorthy, but fourth was enough to keep his title hopes alive after points leader Porto could manage no better than eighth. Sundaramoorthy’s fine effort, assisted by quick work by his team in the pits, was enough to earn the Tilton Hard Charger Award.
Pierson held on for fifth ahead of rookie Christian Weir (Turn 3 Motorsport), from Naperville, Ill., who also drove well after changing tires after the first lap.
The final two rounds of this year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship will take place at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, on October 1-3. Porto holds a comfortable 44-point advantage over d’Orlando in the quest for a scholarship valued at over $400,000 which will enable the champion to graduate to the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, the next step on the unique Road to Indy open-wheel driver development ladder, in 2022.
Provisional championship points after 16 of 18 races:
1. Kiko Porto, 368
2. Michael d’Orlando, 324
3. Yuven Sundaramoorthy, 295
4. Josh Pierson, 266
5. Christian Brooks, 257
6. Josh Green, 229
7. Spike Kohlbecker, 210
8. Jace Denmark, 203
9. Prescott Campbell, 197
10. Thomas Nepveu, 192