Kiko Porto, the pilot of the No. 12 DEForce Racing USF Pro 2000 machine at the fan welcoming party in St. Petersburg, Fla. Photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography

By Steve Wittich

Series returnee and USF2000 pole-winner in St. Petersburg, Kiko Porto (DEForce Racing), led the lone USF Pro 2000 Presented By Cooper Tires, turning the only sub-71-second lap.

Fifteen of the 20 drivers were within one second of Porto, with series rookies holding down the second through sixth spots.

Impressively, four drivers making their first visit to the 1.8-mile, 14-turn St. Petersburg street circuit – Lirim Zendeli (TJ Speed Motorsports), Francesco Pizzi (TJ Speed Motorsports), Joel Granfors (Exclusive Autosport) and Reece Ushijima (Jay Howard Driver Development) set one of the ten quickest times.

After a slight delay (45 minutes) to sort out a track communication issue, the first USF Pro 2000 Presented By Cooper Tires practice session of the 2023 season got underway.

To help get Friday’s schedule back on track, INDYCAR and the promoter shortened the 35-minute practice to 25 minutes.

Porto led early and often, heading the timing screens with ten minutes remaining. He was joined by TJ Speed Motorsports rookie Lirim Zendeli, Jay Howard Driver Development rookie Reece Ushijima, reigning USF2000 champion Michael d’Orlando and Exclusive Autosport Joel Granfors.

The first issue during the session was a single trip into the Turn 4 run-off by Jay Howard Driver Development newcomer Ricardo Escotto, who continued after getting his No. 4 turned around.

The second issue of the session came with four minutes remaining when the No. 32 of Christian Weir (TJ Speed Motorsports) made contact with the concrete barrier at the exit of Turn 8. The Illinois-based driver had just turned the tenth quickest lap of practice.

That brought out the red and checkered flag to end the practice.

The 20 drivers vying for the $664,500 scholarship completed 268 laps of the 1.8-mile, 14-turn St. Petersburg street circuit.

USF Pro 2000 Presented By Cooper Tires practice results

112Kiko PortoDEForce Racing1:10.9099——
210Lirim ZendeliTJ Speed Motorsports1:11.19910.2892
31Michael d’OrlandoTurn 3 Motorsport1:11.21020.3003
499Myles RowePabst Racing1:11.34530.4354
555Francesco PizziTJ Speed Motorsports1:11.39530.4854
63Christian BrooksTurn 3 Motorsport1:11.39830.4884
719Jordan MissigPabst Racing1:11.40260.4927
892Joel GranforsExclusive Autosport1:11.45960.5497
96Reece UshijimaJay Howard Driver Development1:11.47080.5609
1032Christian WeirTJ Speed Motorsports1:11.57350.6636
1120Jace DenmarkPabst Racing1:11.58060.6707
122Jonathan BrowneTurn 3 Motorsport1:11.61470.7048
1391Salvador De AlbaExclusive Autosport1:11.73980.8299
1490Yuven SundaramoorthyExclusive Autosport1:11.89170.9818
1540Jack William MillerMiller Vinatieri Motorsports1:11.93631.0264
167Bijoy GargDEForce Racing1:12.11061.2007
1781Nicholas MonteiroNeoTech Motorsport1:12.56841.6585
184Ricardo EscottoJay Howard Driver Development1:12.71181.8019
1947Jackson LeeTurn 3 Motorsport1:12.91462.0047
2093Lindsay BrewerExclusive Autosport1:13.68172.7718

The top step of the USF Pro Championships Presented By Cooper Tires is back on track at 1:15 pm for their lone qualifying session.