Myles Rowe shares a celebratory embrace with Pabst Racing driver coach (and current INDY NXT driver Hunter McElrea) while team owner Augie Pabst (left) and dad Wayne (right) look on (Photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography)

By Steve Wittich

One of these days, Pabst Racing w/Force Indy rookie Myles Rowe, the winner of three straight USF Pro 2000 Presented By Cooper Tires races, will make things easier on himself by qualifying on the pole.

However, with wins from fifth, second and third on the grid, it’s clear the New Yorker has the race craft to win no matter where he starts.

“Wow,” exclaimed a beaming Rowe. “It was the race of my life. Oh man, now that it’s all over and won. I’ve been trying to close out a weekend; winning all the race since I was 14. It’s been a long road to dominate a weekend. We finally did it. I’m just ecstatic. My family is ecstatic. The team is ecstatic. I couldn’t be happier.

“It was just so thrilling because it was calm, cool and collected for ten of the laps. Then a full course caution came out when I had a five-second gap, and here I am on the last lap defending three corners to make sure I could hold my spot. Luckily I kept my head down, and we did it. I couldn’t be more happy.

“I have to say a big thank you to Pabst Racing, Force Indy, Penske Entertainment, Sparco, Bell, Simcraft and NXG – this couldn’t be possible without all of them – thank you.”

Rowe’s dominant victory gives him a 42-point championship lead over Kiko Porto (DEForce Racing) and Francesco Pizzi (TJ Speed Motorsports) after four of 18 events in the chase for the $664,500 Discount Tire Driver Advancement Scholarship.

The New Yorker’s first double-win weekend of his short USF Pro Championships Presented By Cooper Tires career gives him nine wins, 15 podiums and 18 top-five career finishes in USF2000 and USF Pro 2000.

Rowe’s wins this weekend were the sixth and seventh visits to the USF Pro 2000 victory lane for Pabst Racing in only their fourth season of series competition.

After showing speed in his first two races, TJ Speed Motorsports driver Lirim Zendeli, who races under the Albanian flag, took home his first podium, holding off a charging Porto in the final corner to take home second place, adding his first podium in the USA to the impressive list of worldwide podiums. (ADAC – German – Formula 4 Championship, Italian F4 Championship, Formula Regional European Championship, Toyota Racing Series, and the prestigious FIA Formula 3 Championship).

“The race was tough, explained the 23-year-old. “I had a great start and could get to P3 immediately and then d’Orlando spun out. It was very tricky, the first lap. We expected to have more grip and suddenly everyone was sliding around and I just caught it out of Turn One as I was struggling as well.

“I could hold P2 but Kiko was flying. I was happy the race was over because I just didn’t have quite the pace and maybe not even the right downforce setup. We were losing a lot on the straights. I didn’t have the slipstream because Myles was just so fast. But I could see Myles struggling on the first lap and even after the safety car and I could catch up but then making a move was too risky. I wasn’t quite there so I was happy with P2.”

After a miserable Friday at Sebring International Raceway that included a mechanical issue on the pace lap and a last-place finish in the weekend’s first race, Porto rebounded nicely, gaining five spots and finishing on the podium for the third time this season and the fifth time in his last six USF Pro 2000 starts.

“The race was crazy,” said a smiling Porto after getting out of the Banco Daycoval/Petromega sponsored No. 12. “Starting P8, I had a really good start. I went on the outside of Turn One and saw I was in P5, so three cars in one corner was awesome.

“After that, the guys in front of me had a good pace. I tried to manage and not really heat the tires at the beginning of the race. After that, there were two safety cars and it was so difficult to maintain the temperature in the tires so every restart was so difficult.

“Overall, a good race. Unfortunately, I had a lot of problems yesterday and in qualifying today so we managed to get the most points possible after all the problems.”

The Brazilian’s visit to the podium was his 20th all-time in USF Pro Championships action.

When the call to fire engines came at 3:26 pm, the sun was beating down; the humidity was high with a ‘real feel’ temperature of 94F.

The scholarship colors of reigning USF2000 champion d’Orlando and rookie Francesco Pizzi (TJ Speed Motorsports) brought the field to the green flag after one pace circuit of the 3.74-mile, 17-turn Sebring International Raceway road course.

d’Orlando got a great start, but the driver starting behind him, Rowe, got an even better start, diving down the inside of d’Orlando and Pizzi, grabbing the lead on the first green lap for the second race in a row.

Myles Rowe (#99), Michael d’Orlando (#1) and Francesco Pizzi (#55) go three-wide into Turn 1 at Sebring International Raceway (Photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography)

Pizzi dropped to third after the first corner, losing another spot in Turn 7 to his TJ Speed Motorsports teammate Zendeli.

The running order at the end of the first lap was Rowe, d’Orlando, Zendelli, Pizzi, Porto, de Alba, Reece Ushijima (Jay Howard Driver Development), Jace Denmark (Pabst Racing), Joel Granfors (Exclusive Autosport)m, Jack William Miller (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports), Jordan Missig (Pabst Racing), Jackson Lee (Turn 3 Motorsport), Bijoy Garg (DEForce Racing), Jonathan Browne (Turn 3 Motorsport), Yuven Sundaramoorthy (Exclusive Autosport), Nicholas Monteiro (NeoTech Motorsport), Ricardo Escotto (Jay Howard Driver Development), Christian Weir (TJ Speed Motorsports), and Lindsay Brewer (Exclusive Autosport).

d’Orlando, who was running second to start the second lap, fell to the back of the field after having an issue in Turn 1 and having contact with Granfors in Turn 4. Race control announced that the incident involving the two cars was under review.

At the end of the second lap, Porto moved to the final spot on the podium, going around the outside of Pizzi in Sunset Bend.

With most drivers starting on used tires, off-track excursions and the dust storms they kicked up were common.

On Lap 3, Mexican d’Alba got by Porto to claim the final spot on the podium.

Porto repaid the favor on the next lap, moving back into podium position on the Ullman straight after getting a better run out of the tricky Turn 16.

At the one-third mark of the 15-lap race, Rowe’s lead over Zendelli was up to 2.2 seconds, with Porto only a second back in third. de Alba and Pizzi were fourth and fifth, with Denmark, Ushijima, and Granfors all close by.

On Lap 6, Pizzi dropped all four wheels off in Turn 1, falling down to seventh and promoting Denmark and Ushijima to fifth and sixth.

With dirty tires, Pizzi continued going the wrong way, dropping to 12th before gathering it back and moving forward.

Over the next few laps, Rowe was the quickest car on the track, and it wasn’t even close, with his best lap almost one second quicker than the second-place driver Zendelli.

The yellow flag came out at the race’s halfway point when the C4/Surge Trader/Biocide Systems-Auto Shocker, who had just made a last corner pass of Montiero, spun in Turn 5. Unfortunately, the car was high-sided on the curb and needed to be helped out by the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team.

That erased Rowe’s 4.7-second lead over Zendeli, with Porto, de Alba, Denmark, Ushijima, Granfors, Miller, Lee and Pizzi rounding out the top ten.

Rowe got a great jump with de Alba moving to the inside of Porto in Turn 1 for the final spot on the podium, but the 2021 USF2000 champion held onto that coveted position.

Further back in the field, Missig went four wheels off in Turn 1, eventually, high siding the No. 19 on the curbs in Turn 3, bringing out the second yellow of the race.

The running order under yellow on Lap 12 was Rowe, Zendelli, Porto, de Alba, Ushijima, Denmark, Granfors, Miller, Pizzi, Lee, Browne, Garg, Escotto, Weir, d’Orlando, Sundaramoorthy, Monteiro, Brewer and Missig (out of the race).

That was five different teams in the top five.

The safety team cleared Missig’s car with enough time for one lap of green flag racing to determine the winner of the fourth USF Pro 2000 race of 2023.

As Rowe got on the gas at the apex of the final corner, Zendelli moved to the inside of the long bumpy 180-degree’ Sunset Bend,’ getting a great run down to the quick left-hand Turn 1.

We’ll let the two combatants tell you the rest of the story.

From Rowe:

“Oh my gosh. I almost spun it in Turn 1 on that last lap because I didn’t get the best restart and Lirim had a run on me. I had defend all the way in the marbles on the inside going into the fast Turn 1. He popped to my outside, so I popped a little bit, but I had to brake because I was so tight and he had a little bit of a run on me, so I had to keep it tight so he wouldn’t have the inside for Turn 3.

“It was very hard to keep my foot in it because I had so much wheel in it I almost spun out on the last lap. It was a very hairy last lap because of that. I have to thank God for that becasue I really almost screwed it all up in a split second. I’m just super happy, super blessed and ready to go to the next one.”

From Zendeli

“Myles was very lucky. He went flat out, and he kept it. I thought he was going to lift because he was very close to the wall, but he kept flat out, but I still go alongside him.”

“For me, it was more like making the move to defend P2 because Kiko was behind me. There was no way to get around the outside in Turn 3, but if I slowed down, Kiko would overtake me. It was a bit of both. If I had a chance to get the lead, but then also defending P2, but it was fun, a lot of fun.”

The last lap excitement wasn’t done as de Alba, who was running fourth, had his fire extinguisher went off in Turn 13, covering his visor with foam and causing chaos as he hit the brakes. The following driver in-line, Ushijima, got through, but Denmark was collected, dropping from sixth to 17th.

Porto, who pressured Zendeli for the race’s second half, got a great run off Turn 16. Zendelli chose the inside as they came to Sunset Bend, with Porto forced to make the pass the long way around. The two drivers almost ended up in a pile as Zendeli got understeer but deftly caught it just before making contact with his rival.

The biggest winner among confusion caused by de Alba’s misfortune was Lee, who moved into fifth, his best career USF Pro Championships finish. The Hoosier’s impressive 12th to fifth place run earned him the Tilton Hard Charger Award.

Jackson Lee in the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center sponsored No. 47 moved from his 12th starting spot to finish fifth (Photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography)

Cooper Tires USF Pro 2000 Grand Prix of Sebring Results

199Myles RowePabst Racing w/Force Indy15 LAPS
210Lirim ZendeliTJ Speed Motorsports-1.007
312Kiko PortoDEForce Racing-1.045
46Reece UshijimaJay Howard Driver Development-2.997
547Jackson LeeTurn 3 Motorsport-4.414
640Jack William MillerMiller Vinatieri Motorsports-4.663
755Francesco PizziTJ Speed Motorsports-5.126
82Jonathan BrowneTurn 3 Motorsport-5.363
992Joel GranforsExclusive Autosport-5.706
104Ricardo EscottoJay Howard Driver Development-5.957
111Michael d’OrlandoTurn 3 Motorsport-6.051
127Bijoy GargDEForce Racing-6.236
1332Christian WeirTJ Speed Motorsports-6.431
1490Yuven SundaramoorthyExclusive Autosport-6.968
1581Nicholas MonteiroNeoTech Motorsport-7.586
1691Salvador de AlbaExclusive Autosport-9.874
1720Jace DenmarkPabst Racing– 1 LAPS
1893Lindsay BrewerExclusive Autosport– 1 LAPS
1919Jordan MissigPabst Racing– 5 LAPS

The top rung of the USF Pro Championships Presented By Cooper Tires ladder will have six weeks off and return to the track on May 11 on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course at the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway.