Michael d’Orlando on track at the Lucas Oil Raceway Photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography/Road to Indy

By Tony DiZinno

The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship’s Freedom 75 race from Lucas Oil Raceway featured a familiar team atop the charts in Cape Motorsports, courtesy of a veteran savvy drive from Michael d’Orlando.

The third year driver scored his first series pole and second series win, but first on an oval, after expertly judging the traffic in front of him and defending against Prescott Campbell.

There’s a possible issue with Yuven Sundaramoorthy on the grid. The No. 22 Pabst Racing car is out of alignment and is set to roll form P8, and the Pabst and Elite Engines crew appear to be looking it over. But all is good. He entered this race leading the points by 13 going in over Porto.

Engines are fired in the 24-car USF2000 field full of Tatuus USF-17 entries right at noon, with sunny, partly cloudy skies and 53F ambient temperatures.

Nathan Byrd, who had a flip in the earlier Silver Crown race, was OK to go for the start here in his No. 19 Legacy Autosport entry. He’ll roll from 21st.

Green flag flies and d’Orlando leads from Campbell, Jace Denmark, Christian Brooks, Kiko Porto and Sundaramoorthy improve but Josh Pierson falls back to seventh from third. He rebounds to sixth by the end of Lap 4.

Campbell is close to d’Orlando going into Turn 3 on Lap 6 and begins his move to set up the lead pass on the Cape driver. The former Lucas Oil Race Series champion for DEForce is running half a tenth to a tenth quicker than is d’Orlando but falls back to 0.4 of a second behind at Lap 8.

With a 24-car field the back of the pack comes up quickly here and Peter Vodanovich is the first car within range, about 14 seconds behind the leaders. Lap times are 22-23 seconds.

There’s a big gaggle of close action among Matt Round-Garrido, Nolan Siegel, Spike Kohlbecker and Dylan Christie over ninth place.

On Lap 22, d’Orlando reaches Vodanovich and is able to pass him into Turn 3, beginning the lapping process. Campbell follows through shortly without losing much time and remains stuck on d’Orlando’s gearbox. Denmark is balked slightly.

The next battle ahead is between Byrd and Burke for 22nd. While the top two are delayed slightly, it allows Denmark to catch up a bit in clean air and get to within 1.1 seconds.

Campbell is right behind d’Orlando and makes it interesting as they run side-by-side for a bit.

By Lap 34 they’re behind Garg (P19) the last car on the lead lap

The top 18 down to Vaccaro are on the lead lap and a handful of d’Orlando’s teammates, Stamer and Nepveu, run ahead of Vaccaro on the road.

There is some spicy mid-pack action involving Round-Garrido, Row, Frazer, Navarro, Vodanovich (who’s a lap down) and then Nepveu and Stamer.

There’s another “almost” move from Campbell L48 going by d’Orlando through traffic but no. Stamer now last car on the lead lap. They’re by Stamer by Lap 50 but Nepveu lies ahead; d’Orlando past by the end of Lap 52.

A car is off pace on driver’s left on the back straight and it’s one of the Exclusive cars into the pits – Round-Garrido. He was P13 at the time.

With the top two past the other Cape cars next in line is Navarro, one of Campbell’s DEForce teammates and fellow Lucas Oil Racing Series champs. Navarro is P14 and the last car on the lead lap. There’s just 19 laps to go.

Campbell got close on Lap 63, moving to the inside and unable to complete the move. Navarro was able to pull away.

On Lap 66 the decisive moment of the race happens. The two collide! With Campbell to the inside and d’Orlando on the outside, the two interlock wheels through Turns 1 and 2. Somehow, both are able to continue as they exit the corner and able to remove themselves.

The pair of 25-second laps dropped both briefly into Denmark’s clutches, but he was unable to get within less than 1.3 seconds of the top two.

With five laps to go on Lap 70, d’Orlando was able to gap Campbell by 0.4916 of a second. Byrd was next ahead on the road as Navarro continued to find pace to emerge ahead of the leaders and remain on the lead lap.

D’Orlando makes a power move on Byrd to gap him to Campbell and pulls the lead out to 0.5818 of a second. With another pass of Garg heading into the final lap, the gap became an insurmountable 0.7103.

D’Orlando takes the checkered flag by 0.5268 of a second over Campbell, with Denmark third for Pabst and easily scoring his best career finish. His first podium and third place beat his previous mark of eighth place, set at Barber race one.

Porto, Brooks and Sundaramoorthy, the top three in the championship entering this race, complete the top six.

Both d’Orlando and Campbell recapped their races and showed mutual respect.

“We were interlocked – my rear tire to his front!” d’Orlando said. “We were going all the way through Corner 2 with locked tires. Yeah I was defending my position a bit, but he got his wheel underneath, so I tried to move up. But I didn’t know we were locked at that point! I just held on.

“Prescott was super fast. Second place is awesome. That whole race was awesome, the 75 laps on the edge of my seat. It was incredible.

“As you pass lapped traffic, the protocol is for them to stay wide. I put the car low to get the fresh aero. They didn’t give me too much of a fight – glad to have some to keep Prescott at bay!”

Campbell added, “I was mentally strong through the whole thing and kept getting runs on him.

“Last year at this race was a big turning point for me, good to step it up mentally. We did the reverse for this weekend. It’s a great progression from season to season.

“It was really close, Michael raced me hard but clean. I like that stuff. He didn’t make it easy so for as many runs as I got on him, he did everything he did keep the lead.”

Freedom 75 Unofficial Results

P No Name Team LapTime Diff
1 4 Michael d’Orlando Cape Motorsports 75 LAP 75
2 11 Prescott Campbell DEForce Racing 75 0.5268
3 23 Jace Denmark Pabst Racing 75 0.9503
4 12 Kiko Porto DEForce Racing 75 1.0468
5 44 Christian Brooks Exclusive Autosport 75 5.7788
6 22 Yuven Sundaramoorthy Pabst Racing 75 5.9328
7 33 Josh Green Turn 3 Motorsport 75 6.1636
8 24 Josh Pierson Pabst Racing 75 7.5531
9 10 Nolan Siegel DEForce Racing 75 8.0563
10 34 Dylan Christie Turn 3 Motorsport 75 10.6016
11 5 Spike Kohlbecker Ignite Autosports w/Cape Motorsports 75 10.6989
12 99 Myles Rowe Force Indy 75 17.9502
13 1 Ely Navarro DEForce Racing 75 22.6738
14 2 Thomas Nepveu Cape Motorsports 74 1 LAPS
15 3 Evan Stamer Ignite Autosports w/Cape Motorsports 74 1 LAPS
16 16 Kent Vaccaro Miller Vinatieri Motorsports 74 1 LAPS
17 8 Jackson Lee Jay Howard Driver Development 74 1 LAPS
18 91 Billy Frazer Exclusive Autosport 74 1 LAPS
19 42 Michael Myers Michael Myers Racing 74 1 LAPS
20 6 Bijoy Garg Jay Howard Driver Development 73 2 LAPS
21 19 Nathan Byrd Legacy Autosport 73 2 LAPS
22 63 Trey Burke Joe Dooling Autosports 73 2 LAPS
23 9 Peter Vodanovich Jay Howard Driver Development 72 3 LAPS
24 92 Matt Round-Garrido Exclusive Autosport 52 Mechancial