Linus Lundqvist has a healthy lead in the Indy Lights championship as the Road to Indy season nears its conclusion this weekend in Portland, and Exclusive Autosport’s Louis Foster simply needs to wake up and claim the Indy Pro 2000 title. If Lundqvist doesn’t clinch in Portland, he’ll have next weekend’s season finale in Monterey to seal the deal for his HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing team.
With the top two steps all but resolved on the championship front, it’s the USF2000 tripleheader where all of the intrigue is found as Pabst Racing’s Myles Rowe, Cape Motorsports’ Michael d’Orlando, and Pabst’s Jace Denmark find themselves in a tight battle for the title and the advancement prize that will sent one of them to Indy Pro 2000 next season.
In his Force Indy/Penske Entertainment-supported No. 22 entry, Rowe’s been the breakout driver of the year, earning five wins while holding the championship lead for most of the season. With the wins and 10 total podiums from 15 races, the Georgian has used speed and consistency to enter Portland with 345 points in hand.
Rowe’s spent most of 2022 leading or chasing d’Orlando, whose three wins and seven podiums have the New Yorker sitting somewhat close in second, 22 points shy of his main protagonist. And in third, Rowe’s teammate Denmark, a rapid Arizonian, has amassed three wins and eight podiums to crowd d’Orlando and have Rowe within striking distance with 23 points needed to draw even with Rowe.
With 30 points available for a win and three races to run — two on Friday and the curtain closer on Saturday — it will be a fraught 48 hours for the main contenders. The extended break between the last USF2000 event, held in July at Toronto, has only added to the pressure.
“I definitely was a little going a little psychotic this week,” Rowe told RACER with a laugh. “It definitely didn’t help having such a long break because there was a lot of time to think about Portland. I just wanted to get here, and as soon as I did, I was fine, ready to go. In terms of preparation, mindset wise, I know it could be big if I do well this weekend, so but I didn’t want to change anything up in my routine.
“My preparation, I kept exactly the same in terms of not spending too much time on the sim, doing the same kind of training, and I’ve really tried to keep everything as simple as possible. My mindset is just treating it like it’s St. Pete, the first race of the year, and I just need to finish every race this weekend. That’s all I’m really going to do out there. I’m not going to act like it’s a championship right now. I’m just going to act like I need to finish every race to keep racing.”
Just as they’ve done for most of the season, the top two in the standings are close on their respective approaches to the championship showdown.
“It is the last race of the week of the championship, so I don’t really have to think forward,” d’Orlando said. “So I’m just gonna go one step at a time, focus on each session and try and try to do the best I can. And then obviously, since it is three races and I have 23 points to gain, there’s a lot of opportunities to get them.
“If I sweep the entire weekend, I win by a single point if Myles comes in second for every single race, so there would be a little bit of luck involved. But the main idea is just go out and do everything that I can to qualify a pole because Portland seems to be quite tough of a track to pass on. So for me, it’s more of being in attack mode, and that’s the one that I love. I’m looking forward to it.”
Rowe expects to be in the groove once official practice gets underway.
“It always happens,” he said. “If there’s any sort of nervousness going on with me, as soon as my butt hits the seat, it’s all gone. So I’m really just ready to just sit in the car, have that focus come in, and I’ll be feeling great after that.”
Once again, USF2000’s leading duo are on the same page.
“I think the moments leading up to driving is harder than being in the car,” d’Orlando added. “Obviously, it gets to my head and like this past week, the thoughts of needing to win the championship to get the funding for next year is big; without it, it would be tough. So I need this championship. But now that I’m here, it’s all just left my mind and I’ve just completely switched over to race mode. It’s weird compartmentalizing things like that, but it’s what we have to do.”
Watch all of the USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 action this weekend on https://roadtoindy.tv.