Honors were shared following this afternoon’s first leg of the double-header Cooper Tires USF2000 Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio Presented by VP Stay Frosty. Yuven Sundaramoorthy, from Delafield, Wis., took the checkered flag for Pabst Racing to claim his fourth victory of the season but it wasn’t enough to prevent Kiko Porto, who finished third, from securing the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship title for DEForce Racing.
Porto, 18, from Recife, Brazil, now holds an insurmountable 45-point edge over Michael d’Orlando, from Hartsdale, N.Y., who today finished second for Cape Motorsports. As the new champion, Porto earns a scholarship valued at over $400,000 to graduate into the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires in 2022. He also clinched a first-ever Road to Indy Team Championship for DEForce Racing.
“I can’t describe this moment; this is the best day of my life. I started working toward this moment last year — every practice, every bit of time at the racetrack,” Porto said. “Every race was over 30 hours of flights for me and my dad; I’m so grateful for his support. Thank you so much to the DEForce team, they deserve this. We missed the first two races of the year (in 2020) and now we are the champions! I am so excited to go faster in Indy Pro 2000 next year. I am always working with those engineers on our team. It will be one of the moments of my life, to take that step.
“Michael (d’Orlando) is super fast here, but when Yuven passed him, the situation changed. But I wasn’t looking at points, I was pushing as fast as I could for my race. The race really came to me, so I’m so happy to take another podium on the day I won the championship. This is such a dream come true.”
For the third race in a row, d’Orlando laid it all down in qualifying this morning to snare his fourth Cooper Tires Pole Award of the season. He duly led away from the rolling start, only to be overtaken later on the opening lap by Sundaramoorthy, who had started on the outside of the front row.
The caution flags flew almost immediately due to an incident farther down the field on the run to the first corner, but it was Sundaramoorthy at the head of the pack for the restart. The University of Wisconsin student maintained a narrow edge over d’Orlando throughout the remainder of the 20-lap race which was briefly interrupted by a second full-course caution due to an incident immediately behind the two leaders in Turn 9 on lap 12.
“It felt great to get back to that top step. I knew the championship was done, so I wanted to win races to end the season,” Sundaramoorthy said. “The new tires helped, though his (d’Orlando’s) came in faster so those first few laps were a bit sketchy! He got loose and I got a good draft past him. I had a good gap to him so I wasn’t happy to see the caution, but I knew we had pace on him. I was driving a bit conservatively, so I was fine at the end. Pabst always gives me a great car and today was no exception.”
Introducing your 2021 USF2000 Champion, @KikoPorto12!@DEForceRacing #RoadToIndy | #TeamCooperTire | #VPfuelsRTIfinale pic.twitter.com/r2wJaIE2C1
— USF2000 Series (@USF2000) October 2, 2021
Prescott Campbell (DEForce Racing), from Newport Beach, Calif., had maintained third place from the start, albeit under constant pressure from rookie Jace Denmark (Pabst Racing), from Scottsdale, Ariz. Unfortunately, Denmark’s lunge to the inside under braking resulted in heavy contact between the pair. The incident proved especially costly for Denmark, who entered the race only seven points behind Spike Kohlbecker (Ignite Autosport with Cape Motorsports) in the battle for Hyperco Rookie of the Year honors. He now trails Kohlbecker, who finished 10th, by 17 points heading into tomorrow’s final race of the season. Cape Motorsports’ Thomas Nepveu, from Oka, Que., Canada, also remains in contention, 14 points adrift of Kohlbecker, after finishing seventh.
Porto, who had been running directly behind Campbell and Denmark, deftly avoided the incident and was content to follow d’Orlando to the checkered flag, secure in the knowledge that the title was already within his grasp.
“That was a fantastic race,” d’Orlando said. “Huge congratulations to both Yuven and Kiko. Yuven made the right move to new tires so there wasn’t anything I could do. I’m glad to take home another podium. We fought hard with Kiko and Yuven all season long; congratulations to Kiko on the championship title. We have one more race to go tomorrow, and weather could be a factor, so we’ll do the best we can to bring home another win for the Cape team.”
Josh Green, from Mount Kisco. N.Y., finished fourth for Turn 3 Motorsport, followed by rookie Myles Rowe (Force Indy), from New York, N.Y., who claimed his second top-five finish of the season to go along with his impressive win last month in wet-dry conditions at New Jersey Motorsports Park.
Sundaramoorthy’s win ensured Augie Pabst of his fourth PFC Award of the year as the winning car owner.
Meanwhile, for the third time this season, the Tilton Hard Charger Award went to New Zealander Billy Frazer (Exclusive Autosport), who rose impressively from 19th on the grid to eighth at the finish.
A second qualifying session at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow will set the grid for the 18th and final race of the season, which is set to start at 11:00 a.m. EDT.
Provisional championship points after 17 of 18 races:
1. Kiko Porto, 390
2. Michael d’Orlando, 345
3. Yuven Sundaramoorthy, 327
4. Josh Pierson, 276
5. Christian Brooks, 257
6. Josh Green, 248
7. Spike Kohlbecker, 221
8. Thomas Nepveu, 207
9. Jace Denmark, 204
10. Nolan Siegel, 202