Kiko Porto kept alive his slender hopes of snatching the 2023 USF Pro 2000 Presented by Cooper Tires title with a fine drive in the first of three races that will comprise this weekend’s VP Racing Fuels Grand Prix of Portland. Brazil’s Porto, the 2021 USF2000 Presented by Cooper Tires champion, kept his head while others around him perhaps did not as he sped to his second victory in the last three races.
Right behind him in second place, however, was the man who already has one hand on the championship trophy, Pabst Racing with Force Indy’s Myles Rowe. The 22-year-old from Brooklyn, N.Y., now holds a commanding 52-point lead with a maximum of 66 points on the table from this weekend’s final two races of the season.
Porto’s DEForce Racing teammate Bijoy Garg secured his first ever podium finish with third.
Michael d’Orlando looked like being the man to beat. He was second fastest in official practice, then went one better for Turn 3 Motorsport in qualifying by clinching his fourth Cooper Tires Pole Award.
Unfortunately, d’Orlando’s rollercoaster ride this year continued in a familiar vein. He was able to retain the lead following chaos at the first corner, despite opting to take to the escape road at the notorious Festival Curves chicane. Behind him there was carnage as virtually the entire field attempted to occupy the same piece of asphalt. Seven cars were eliminated from the running.
Following a red-flag stoppage to reset the field, d’Orlando once again took to the escape road. This time both he and Lirim Zendeli, who had risen from sixth on the grid to second for TJ Speed Motorsports, incurred penalties which dropped them to the back of the field.
The major beneficiary was Porto, who had qualified third and was one of the few to take a conventional line at the initial start. The Brazilian adroitly avoided all the carnage and emerged in the lead ahead of Rowe, who had started fifth and also kept his head at the start.
The pair quickly distanced themselves from the pack. Rowe on several occasions looked poised to make a challenge, but instead wisely maintained his position to inch one step closer to the championship which would earn him a Discount Tire Driver Development Scholarship valued at $664,500 to graduate to Indy NXT by Firestone in 2024.
“At the start, I just saw a bunch of cars going straight. It was kind of confusing but the team helped me to understand what was going on,” related Porto. “Myles put me in the situation where I need to win races, so I am trying to extract the maximum possible. He did a great job finishing second which meant a lot of points for him in the championship, but it is not over yet. I am going to fight with everything I have.”
Garg, who equaled his career-best starting position in fourth, held third place for virtually the entirety of the 30-lap race, finishing clear of Pabst Racing’s Jace Denmark.
Louka St-Jean (Turn 3 Motorsport) also secured a career-best finish in fifth, followed by Salvador de Alba (Exclusive Autosport), Francesco Pizzi (TJ Speed Motorsports), and Pabst Racing’s Jordan Missig, who picked up the Tilton Hard Charger Award after rising from 19th and last on the grid.
DEForce Racing’s Ernesto and David Martinez earned another PFC Award and will have two more opportunities to add to their tally in Rounds 17, which will start Saturday at 3:10pm PT and the season finale at 3:15pm on Sunday.
Provisional championship points after 16 of 18 rounds:
1. Myles Rowe, 358
2. Kiko Porto, 306
3. Salvador de Alba, 260
4. Michael d’Orlando, 237
5. Lirim Zendeli, 236
6. Francesco Pizzi, 232
7. Jace Denmark, 218
8. Joel Granfors, 206
9. Jonathan Browne, 196
10. Jack William Miller, 192