Ricardo Escotto claimed an extraordinary victory in Friday afternoon’s USF Pro 2000 Presented by Cooper Tires race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Grand Prix road course. The 18-year-old from Mexico City started 12th in his Jay Howard Driver Development Tatuus IP-22 and was running in 10th position when the red flag was displayed due to a brief rain shower with 13 laps in the books.
When the race was restarted, with the entire field now equipped with Cooper wet-weather tires despite a fast-drying track, Escotto looked after his tires and managed his pace to perfection. He moved into the lead with around six minutes remaining in the 40-minute timed race and took the checkered flag 4.7227s ahead of Japanese-American teammate Reece Ushijima.
Last year’s USF2000 Presented by Cooper Tires champion, Michael d’Orlando, from Hartsdale, N.Y., completed the podium in third for Turn 3 Motorsport.
The day began routinely enough with Brazilian Kiko Porto, who had been fastest in practice Thursday, claiming his first Cooper Tires Pole Award for DEForce Racing.
Porto, the 2021 USF2000 champion, maintained his advantage at the start, was unfazed by an early full-course caution due to some debris on the race track, and continued to lead the way until the race was red-flagged. At that stage he was followed by d’Orlando, with local driver Jack William Miller holding onto third for Miller Vinatieri Motorsports.
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The stoppage changed everything. Due to conditions at the time, Race Control instructed all of the teams to change onto wet tires for the restart, after which it became almost immediately apparent that dry weather tires would be significantly faster. But with only around 13 minutes remaining, most of the leaders opted to remain on wets.
Porto led for a couple of laps before his tires started overheating. D’Orlando and Miller then traded the lead a couple of times before they, too, began to struggle for grip on the drying surface.
Finally, on lap 20, Escotto suddenly leapt into the picture, sweeping past d’Orlando at Turn 13 and immediately beginning to pull away. Under instruction from team owner and former champion driver Jay Howard, Escotto had been careful not to push too hard, too soon and the ploy worked to perfection.
Ushijima, who slipped from eighth to 11th soon after the restart, quickly made up ground in the closing stages, finally overtaking d’Orlando for second place with a couple of laps remaining.
Ireland’s Jonathan Browne, the polesitter at Indianapolis one year ago for Turn 3 Motorsport, claimed his best finish to date in fourth, followed by Miller and Mexico’s Salvador de Alba (Exclusive Autosport).
Porto eventually crossed the line in seventh, which enabled him to gain a little ground in the points standings on Pabst Racing with Force Indy’s Myles Rowe, from Brooklyn, N.Y., who finished two laps down.
“It was the craziest race of my life,” Escotto said. “I had damage on lap four or five with a broken wing and I continued and then the rain came and we changed to wet tires and everything just worked out perfectly. I couldn’t ask for more and I am really, really happy and thankful to my family, my dad, my sponsors, (engineer) Bryn (Nuttall), Jay Howard and all the team. This is a great day I will remember for a long time for sure.”
Escotto’s fine performance also assured him the Tilton Hard Charger Award, while Jay Howard claimed his first PFC Award of the year as the winning car owner.
The USF Pro 2000 will be back in action Saturday morning to complete the Discount Tires Grand Prix of Indianapolis for the sixth round of their 18-race season.