By Diane Swintal
The final Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship race of the season will start at 64F under partly cloudy skies at PIR. At stake: a scholarship packaged valued at almost $407,000 to graduate to the 2023 Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires.
Reminder of the points as they stand (correction from the earlier points listing):
* includes race three pole point
And the race three starting lineup:
SP Car Driver Name Time
1 23 Denmark, Jace 01:11.8365
2 22 Rowe, Myles 01:11.9434
3 10 Nepveu, Thomas 01:11.9900
4 17 Johnson, Nikita (R) 01:12.0391
5 5 Hays, Nicky (R) 01:12.1835
6 4 d’Orlando, Michael 01:12.2481
7 12 Clark, Mac (R) 01:12.2590
8 32 Weir, Christian 01:12.2942
9 92 Frazer, Billy 01:12.3369
10 11 Christie, Dylan 01:12.3809
11 91 Brienza, Joey (R) 01:12.4824
12 90 Douglas, Jacob (R) 01:12.5460
13 9 Garciarce, Jorge (R) 01:12.5560
14 33 Kohlbecker, Spike 01:12.5826
15 8 Dyszelski, Danny (R) 01:12.6456
16 6 Papasavvas, Evagoras (R) 01:12.6842
17 3 Jones, Jagger (R) 01:12.6919
18 93 d’Orlando, Nicholas (R) 01:12.9373
19 16 Ho, Ethan (R) 01:13.0621
20 34 Mann, Lucas (R) 01:13.1247
Plenty of tension in the air, but much more so over in the Pabst Racing tent. Understandably, no one wanted to comment for the record on yesterday’s lap one, turn one incident between teammates Denmark and Rowe. Everyone hopes for a clean race today, but one thing is for sure: whoever captures the series championship will be thoroughly battle tested.
At the drop of the green, turn one again claimed another race start as Thomas Nepveu got into the back of Denmark, with Rowe attempting to head to the outside and avoid the melee. Several cars came together on the inside of Rowe, making it impossible for him to make turn one and leaving him no choice but to make his way (slowly) through the chicane.
But coming out of the chicane, Rowe was hit by another car going through, and the subsequent puncture sent him to pit lane for a new tire. He came back out P16.
It appeared that Jacob Douglas, Mac Clark (yesterday’s winner), Nikita Johnson and Denmark were all involved. Race control immediately announced that the start is under review.
As they run on track, it’s Nepveu, Nicky Hays, d’Orlando, Christian Weir and Jorge Garciarce as the top five. D’Orlando has a nine-point championship lead.
Back to green on lap five, with Lucas Mann inexplicably released by the team right as the field took the flag. Race control called him into pit lane.
Race control wasted no time announcing a drive through penalty for avoidable contact for Nepveu, taking him out of the race lead. D’Orlando quickly made the move on teammate Hays and went into the race lead.
Denmark returned to the race, but seven laps down.
Rowe on the move – quickly up to P8, now 10 points back.
Nepveu holds fast lap, we’ll keep an eye on that valuable championship point – Rowe now P7, nine points back.
D’Orlando with a 0.5 second lead over teammate Hays – tough call for Cape Motorsports, as Hays would dearly love to earn his first series win as he looks toward 2023. But we’re pretty sure a championship title beats a win.
Denmark repaired and back out on track – but in front of the leaders, displeasing race control. It took several laps to get him into pit lane and out of the way, also displeasing race control.
Denmark drove through pit lane to let the leaders by – and promptly set fast race lap, earning that championship point.
Jones took fast lap on lap 16.
Rowe continued his mad run, up to P5 on lap 16. But he is several seconds back – and there are two Cape drivers between Rowe and d’Orlando.
Rowe’s gap to Jones is only .02 of a second.
Fast lap of the race now goes to Rowe – six points back.
BIG wiggle in turn 11 for Rowe – he is putting down quali laps on every run.
Weir trying to get past Hays for second, which is allowing Jones and Rowe to catch up.
Three laps remaining, still a six-point lead for d’Orlando.
Rowe took a look at Jones in turn three with two laps to go but can’t make it happen. Rowe and Denmark with the two quickest race laps – the Pabst cars are clearly the quickest in the field, gut-wrenching for team owner Augie Pabst.
Weir made the move on the inside of Hays at the white flag but hits the curbs in the Festival Curves and loses his shot. Rowe pulled right in on Weir’s wing but can’t make the pass.
Checkered flag, and the longshot makes it happen – USF2000 championship for Michael d’Orlando, with the Cape brothers earning their 14th championship title in their final season in the series.
After the race, all three championship contenders reflected on the weekend – one very happy driver and two quite gutted drivers.
“I can’t put this into words,” said a very emotional d’Orlando, surrounded by his parents and brother Nicholas, who ran from the USF2000 paddock to the podium. “Three years of hard work have gone into this so to come out on top is unimaginable. It’s the first step of the ladder and it’s a dream come true. Ever since I was a little kid, I dreamed of a championship like this. I’m so proud of everyone – the team gave me a great car all year and my teammates were great.
“What a hectic start. I think I’ve always put myself in a good situation on the starts, on the outside – all the carnage happens on the inside and I went right around it. I tried to stay as calm as possible and not make any crazy moves. I made a move on Nicky on the restart, who let me by. I thought it was a good move (as d’Orlando looks over at his teammate, who smiles and nods in return), maybe a bit too deep because I locked up the front right, but he let me have the spot. We were able to hold off the rest of the field, and we made it happen. I put every bit of my soul into this, I’m so glad it paid off.”
Over an hour after the checkered flag, Rowe remained in his drivers suit talking to family, friends, and competitors outside the Pabst Racing paddock. Inside, team members packed up the cars in a state of shock. As Rowe reflected on the weekend, he was characteristically philosophical about the outcome – and positive about the future.
“All in all, I’m thankful to be in the position I’m in,” said Rowe. “There are definitely a lot of other places I could be right now, a lot of things I could be doing – and I would be a lot less happy than I am right now. I’m so grateful for the opportunity that Pabst Racing and Penske Entertainment gave me, along with Sparco, Bell Helmets and my family. I wouldn’t be here without them.
“I had fun racing from the back, after I got caught up in a mess – I don’t even know how it happened. I was fine coming out of the chicane and was heading toward turn four but I got hit in the side on the straight and pushed off into the dirt – and it was a hard hit.
“I try to be positive, so I know it will make me stronger. That’s all I can do.”
“The same thing, different driver,” said Denmark, who had been hit from behind on two of the three starts this weekend. “It’s unfortunate that people don’t do their homework in terms of where to brake. This really sucks, but what can I do? I did everything right, but we know we were the fastest two cars on track – though I didn’t know that at the time. My radio wasn’t working after I got hit, neither was my lap time indicator. But just gutted, for myself and for the team.”
Unofficial Results of Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Portland Race #3
|1||4||Michael d’Orlando||25||LAP 25||6||Active|
|14||10||Thomas Nepveu||25||In Pit||3||In Pit|
|15||11||Dylan Christie||25||In Pit||10||In Pit|
|16||23||Jace Denmark||20||In Pit||1||In Pit|
|17||34||Lucas Mann||4||21 LAPS||20||Active|