Braden Eves on pit road at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the No. 91 Exclusive Autosport USF Pro 2000 machine (Photo Courtesy of TSO Ladder – Steve Wittich)
By Steve Wittich
Braden Eves, who last sat in a USF Pro Championships car at Portland International Raceway in 2022, didn’t take long to knock a year’s worth of rust off, leading the combined time sheet of the first day of USF Pro 2000 action during the two day combine on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
The Gahanna, Ohio native, a winner of five series races, turned in a quick lap of 82.5428 seconds on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course. Eves was piloting the No. 91 for Exclusive Autosport, a team he made 26 USF Pro 2000 starts for in 2020 and 2021.
The top six drivers – Eves, Jacob Douglas (Pabst Racing), Francesco Pizzi (TJ Speed Motorsports), Mac Clark (DEForce Racing), Christian Brooks (Turn 3 Motorsport) and Lochie Hughes (Jay Howard Driver Development) – represented six different teams, showing the competitiveness of the last step before INDY NXT.
The 17 drivers completed 769 laps (1875.591 miles) during the trio of 35-minute test sessions. Reigning USF2000 champion Simon Sikes (Pabst Racing) was the busiest driver, completing 56 laps.
Eves finished the two sessions he didn’t lead with the second-quickest lap time, making him the most consistent of the 17 competitors. Hughes and Clark led the other test sessions.
Very unofficial combined USF Pro 2000 timesheet from Saturday of the Fall Combine
PORTLAND, Ore. – Another exciting season of USF Pro Championships Presented by Cooper Tires competition concluded this weekend with champions in two of the three series being crowned at Portland International Raceway.
Myles Rowe, from Brooklyn, N.Y., bounced back from the bitter disappointment of narrowly losing out on the USF2000 title exactly one year ago by triumphing on the next step of the ladder, USF Pro 2000. Rowe also became the first African American driver to secure a major U.S. open-wheel championship.
After being able to contest only partial USF2000 campaigns during the past three seasons due to budgetary constraints, Simon Sikes, from Augusta, Ga., capitalized on his wealth of experience by clinching this year’s championship on Saturday before stylishly adding another race win to his burgeoning resume on Sunday.
Both Rowe and Sikes drove for teams entered by Pabst Racing, marking the long overdue first – and second – Driver Championships for stalwart third-generation racer-turned-team principal Augie Pabst. Pabst Racing also capped a remarkably successful campaign by securing its fifth USF2000 Team Championship since 2017 as well as its first USF Pro 2000 Team Championship.
Pabst became the first team to sweep all four titles since the inception of the “Road to Indy” concept in 2010.
And while USF Juniors champion Nicolas Giaffone, of DEForce Racing, wasn’t on track this weekend after his season wrapped up one week earlier at Circuit of The Americas in Texas, the Brazilian was on hand to soak up the atmosphere. Giaffone also gained some welcome additional exposure by being included in one of the USF2000 live stream broadcasts and taking part in a well-attended champion’s press conference in front of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES media on Saturday.
The accomplishments of all three champions, plus their respective title-winning teams, were acknowledged yesterday evening at the annual Championship Celebration hosted by Andersen Promotions and enjoyed by a strong turnout of drivers, sponsors, officials and guests beside the Columbia River just a few miles from downtown Portland.
A total of more than $1.55 million in Discount Tire Driver Advancement Scholarships and other awards were distributed during the evening which will continue a new raft of drivers’ graduation toward the eventual goal of a career in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
Other highlights of the evening included heartfelt tributes to Chris Pantani, who for the past 14 years as Cooper Tires’ Senior Manager, Event Marketing, Sponsorships and Motorsports, has spearheaded a groundbreaking relationship which has propelled countless talented young racing drivers toward successful careers in a variety of motorsports disciplines.
The relationship between Andersen Promotions and Cooper Tires will shortly come to an end, although the globally acclaimed ladder system will continue to grow in stature following the recent announcement that Continental Tire will become the Official Tire and Presenting Partner of the USF Pro Championships beginning in 2024.
In the meantime, teams and drivers will have an opportunity to commence preparations for the 2024 season with the traditional USF Pro Fall Combine open test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on October 21/22.
USF Pro Championships Presented by Cooper Tires Award Winners:
USF Pro 2000 Presented by Cooper Tires
Champion: Discount Tire Driver Advancement Scholarship package valued at $664,500 to advance to INDY NXT in 2024 – Myles Rowe, Pabst Racing with Force Indy
Second Place ($40,000) – Kiko Porto, DEForce Racing
Third Place ($20,000) – Salvador de Alba, Exclusive Autosport
Team Champion ($10,000) – Pabst Racing with Force Indy
Cooper Tires Rookie of the Year ($7,500) – Myles Rowe, Pabst Racing with Force Indy
Hi-Tide Spirit Award ($1,000) – Salvador de Alba, Exclusive Autosport
Tilton Hard Charger Award ($1,000 certificate) – Jordan Missig, Pabst Racing
YACademy Move of the Year ($1,000) – Jordan Missig, Pabst Racing
Makita Tools Mechanic of the Year ($1,000) – Tom Vasi, Pabst Racing
Carl Haas Golden Wishbone Award ($1,000 certificate) – Pabst Racing
Original Artwork by Jim Swintal – Myles Rowe, Pabst Racing with Force Indy
USF2000 Presented by Cooper Tires
Champion: Discount Tire Driver Advancement Scholarship package valued at $433,200 to advance to USF Pro 2000 in 2024 – Simon Sikes, Pabst Racing
Second Place ($30,000) – Nikita Johnson, VRD Racing
Third Place ($15,000) – Lochie Hughes, Jay Howard Driver Development
Team Champion ($7,500) – Pabst Racing
Hyperco Rookie of the Year ($2,500) – Lochie Hughes, Jay Howard Driver Development
Hi-Tide Spirit Award ($1,000) – Simon Sikes, Pabst Racing
Tilton Hard Charger Award ($1,000) – Chase Gardner, Exclusive Autosport
YACademy Move of the Year ($1,000) – Max Garcia, Pabst Racing
Makita Tools Mechanic of the Year ($1,000) – Jim Giustino, Pabst Racing
Carl Haas Golden Wishbone Award ($1,100) – Jay Howard Driver Development
Original Artwork by Jim Swintal – Simon Sikes, Pabst Racing
USF Junior Presented by Cooper Tires
Champion: Discount Tire Driver Advancement Scholarship package valued at $241,890 to advance to USF2000 in 2024 – Nicholas Giaffone, DEForce Racing
Second Place ($25,000) – Quinn Armstrong, DEForce Racing
Third Place ($12,500) – Jack Jeffers, Exclusive Autosport
Team Champion ($7,500) – DEForce Racing
Cooper Tires Rookie of the Year ($2,500) – Nicolas Giaffone, DEForce Racing
Hi-Tide Spirit Award ($1,000) – Quinn Armstrong, DEForce Racing
Tilton Hard Charger Award ($1,000) – Giovanni Cabrera, Exclusive Autosport
YACademy Move of the Year ($1,000) – Erick Schotten, Exclusive Autosport
Makita Tools Mechanic of the Year ($1,000) – Omar Lopez, DEForce Racing
Carl Haas Golden Wishbone Award ($1,100) – VRD Racing
Original Artwork by Jim Swintal – Nicolas Giaffone, DEForce Racing
Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions: “Another fantastic year of young, talented drivers on all three levels of the USF Pro Championships putting out exciting racing as they learn and train to move all the way up to INDYCAR. Tonight, we honored the results that these fine young drivers achieved this season.”
Chris Pantani, Senior Manager, Event Marketing, Sponsorships and Motorsports, Cooper Tires: “The banquet is a culmination of all the activities we have throughout the year. We look forward to St. Pete, we look forward to the ovals but the banquet itself truly brings all the teams together to unify and celebrate our champions and those moving forward.”
Myles Rowe, USF Pro 2000 Presented by Cooper Tires Champion: “The evening was great. The support of everyone who came was phenomenal. It was a great event and I am just super grateful to be here to see this mission come to fruition and be completed. I couldn’t be more thankful for everyone who came and everyone who supported me.”
Simon Sikes, USF2000 Presented by Cooper Tires Champion: “It has been an amazing Championship Celebration here in Portland from Andersen Promotions and everyone at the USF Pro Championships. I am so thankful to be here and see everyone’s faces. It really means the world to me and my fellow champions to be able to stand up here tonight and just enjoy all the hard work that has gone in over the entire 2023 season. It’s been incredible and I am just looking forward to next year.”
Nicolas Giaffone, USF Juniors Presented by Cooper Tires Champion: “This has been a tremendous evening. I enjoyed seeing everyone for one last time before the season officially ends. I loved having Dan [Andersen] and Chris [Pantani] beside me taking photos. This is an experience I will cherish forever. It is one of my best memories – my first season in the U.S., to be able to this, it is a dream come true for me and I hope I can be here again in this position in the coming years.”
Posted by pstephan on Saturday, September 2nd 2023
By Patrick Stephan
Before we get to USF Pro 2000 presented by Cooper Tires Race #2 we need to clean up a couple notes from yesterday’s Race 1.
Recall that 7 cars didn’t make it through the first corner, and after the event, race control penalized Ricardo Escotto, Nicholas Monteiro, and Salvador de Alba 30 seconds each for Avoidable Contact.
Escotto has also been excluded from Race #2 – “Exceeded Driver Penalty Points.”
The start of Race #2 was much better with the field getting through the chicane with Michael d’Orlando keeping the lead from the pole, and Lirim Zendeli, jumping from 6th up to second, followed by Rowe and Johnson.
On Lap 2, Nikita Johnson gets by Myles Rowe for the 3rd spot. Notably that’s where Johnson just finished in the USF 2000 race which ended about 15 minutes before the USF Pro 2000 started.
Salavador de Alba drops from about 11th to 17th on Lap 3, though we haven’t heard why just yet.
Lap 4 has d’Orlando leading Zendeli by 0.84. Further back, Danny Dyszelski passes Frankie Mossman for 13th.
The biggest mover as of Lap 5 is Zendeli from 6th to 2nd. Jace Denmark is up 2 spots to 6th from 8th and Jordan Missig has moved up to 12th from his 16th starting spot.
The championship battle has Myles Rowe in 4th, with Kiko Porto in 5th. Recall that the gap entering the race between Rowe and Porto is 52 points.
Michael d’Orlando leads Zendeli by 1.08 on Lap 8, with Johnson just a half second back and pushing the second place driver. Lap 9, the gap from Zendeli to Johnson is 0.2. Johnson looked inside at Turn 1, but did not make the pass on Lap 10, with the gap expanding slightly the next time by.
Back in the field, whatever issue de Alba suffered earlier was not terminal as he has passed Lindsay Brewer and then Mossman on consecutive laps and is now 14th.
Nikita Johnson gets by Lirim Zendeli on Lap 14, with Myles Rowe also coming along and moving to 3rd place.
The Lap 15 order is now d’Orlando by 2.9 seconds over Johnson, Rowe, Zendeli, Porto, Denmark, Garg, Browne, Miller, and Pizzi is 10th.
Frankie Mossman brings his Jay Howard Driver Development machine to pit lane on on Lap 17, with de Alba not up to 13th.
Jack William Miller passes Jonathan Browne for 8th on Lap 19.
Lap 20 – with 10 to go – has d’Orlando leading by 2.15 over Johnson with Rowe still in P3. Zendeli and Porto are 4th and 5th. Denmark, Garg, Miller, Browne, and Pizzi complete the Top 10.
The closest battle on the track looks to be for 4th as Zendeli has Porto 0.5 behind and Denmark is 0.9 further back.
de Alba and Dyszelski get by Missig on Lap 25 for the 11th and 12th spots.
Up front Porto is still close to Zendeli, but the Top 5 remains d’Orlando by 1.2, over Johnson, Rowe, Zendeli and Porto.
Avery Towns, running 16th spins at Turn 12, but is able to get pointed the right direction and continue.
Lap 28, d’Orlando leads by 0.8915
Lap 29, d’Orlando leads by 0.6120, which is about 4 car lengths at Turn 1 as they are working through the final lap.
Johnson, to repeat, is racing in both USF2000 and USF Pro 2000 this weekend and will finish the race 0.2529 behind d’Orlando.
This is d’Orlando’s 4th victory of 2023 to go along with wins at Road America, Mid-Ohio and Toronto.
Down in the chicane run-off area, Myles Rowe does some donuts to celebrate winning the 2023 USF Pro 2000 Championship. From Brooklyn, New York, Rowe was “discovered” by Indycar driver Will Power while go karting in Mooresville, North Carolina. After the race, Power was one of the many in the iNDYCAR community to come over and congratulate Rowe including several members of the Penske organization – both race team and Penske Entertainment.
This title provides the scholarship funding for Rowe to move to INDY NXT by Firestone in 2024.
d’Orlando said on the podium that this has been a very up and down year for him as he thanked his sponsors and particularly his family for being with him through thick and thin.
USF Pro 2000 by Firestone Portland Race #2 Unofficial Results:
The green flag waved at 5:33pm Pacific Time, and we didn’t come close to making it through there cleanly with cars scattered across the track, and short cutting the chicane.
d”Orlando made it through, and held the lead, with Lirim Zendeli, Kiko Porto, Jack William Miller and Myles Rowe – the championship leader would stay 5th, and running.
Nikita Johnson, who had just run the USF2000 race, and Danny Dyszelski made contact toward the front with Johnson spinning and stopping in the middle of Turn 2, his left rear suspension barely hanging on.
Back in the pack, everyone stacked up and Ricardo Escotto winds up with his nose high in the air, bouncing over a car, then landing in the run-off and going through a sign. Others involved, many with major suspension damage are: Jonathan Browne, Lindsay Brewer, Frankie Mossman, and Nicolas Monteiro.
After four laps of yellow, race control brought the field to pit lane to get the order correct. They announced they would position cars based on the final timing line before the chicane.
Rowe was able to make it through the mess on the start, and now with just 12 cars running seems to be a great position to lock up the championship in this race. His lead entering the event was 58 points over Porto.
The red would be very brief, and we’d go back to green at the completion of Lap 5, and would again have some action at Turn 1. Porto moved to the inside and d’Orlando locked a wheel, then lifted off the brakes and rolled the run-off inside of the curbing. Lirim Zendeli would also short cut the corner.
Race control reviewed the start and instructed the #1 of d’Orlando and the #10 of Zendeli to drop to the end of the line for cutting the course.
d’Orlando would take a lap longer, but both would observe the penalty.
On Lap 9, Jack William Miller got squeezed in to the wall at Turn 9. Salvador de Alba moved to the right at the end of the backstretch, but wasn’t quite clear of Miller who was on the outside and in the preferred line to arc in to the corner. The contact would sent Miller to the pits. Race control indicates they will further review the incident post race.
Up front, Kiko Porto got the lead after d’Orlando picked up his penalty.
Lap 12 and Porto leads by 0.5 over Myles Rowe, Bijoy Garg, Jace Denmark and Louka St-Jean.
If Porto is able to stay ahead of Rowe, that takes the championship fight to at least tomorrow’s race #2 of 3 this weekend.
The biggest mover to this point is Jordan Missig who had started 19th after crashing in qualifying and halfway through the race was up to 8th.
Lap 15, the order is Porto, Rowe, Garg, Denmark, St. Jean, de Alba, Pizzi, Missig, d’Orlando, Towns, Miller (off), Zendeli, Browne, Johnson, Dyszelski, Escotto, Brewer, Mossman, Monteiro.
Zendeli has returned to run additional laps, and is now 11th, but 7 laps down.
Rowe was closing on Porto over the final laps, with the gap 0.8 with 2 to go and just 0.6461 when they duo took the white flag.
Rowe did not mount a passing attempt at Turn 1, and would follow Porto to the finish line, 0.6889 back. Bijoy Garg finished 3rd, Jace Denmark 4th and Louka St-Jean 5th.
With the win, Porto has cut Rowe’s lead to 51 entering race #2 tomorrow. Recall it’s 30 for a win, and 2 for 19th. So it still takes a couple really bad races for Rowe, which is certainly possible as the first start showed us with 7 cars not completing the opening lap.
This is Porto’s 3rd win of his USF Pro 2000 presented by Cooper Tires career, and second of 2023. He previously won in 2022 at Mid-Ohio (2) and last month at Circuit of the America’s (2). This was his 33rd start in USF Pro 2000.
Bijoy Garg notched a career best finish coming home third. That’s his first podium in 18 starts with his previous best coming earlier this season at Mid-Ohio (1).
This is Rowe’s 8th podium in 16 USF Pro 2000 starts (all this season). It’s his second P2 to go along with 5 wins.
More details to follow late tonight and tomorrow morning.
Michael d’Orlando scored his fourth pole of the 2023 USF Pro 2000 presented by Cooper Tires season, just eclipsing Nikita Johnson by 0.0716 seconds at Portland International Raceway.
Driving for Turn 3 Motorsport, d’Orlando, from Hartsdale, NY, also won poles at Sebring 2, Road America 1, and Mid-Ohio 1. d’Orlando was able to convert the Road America and Mid-Ohio pole positions into race wins, also picking up a victory in Toronto 1 after qualifying 2nd.
Third quickest was Kiko Porto, followed by Bijoy Garg in fourth.
Myles Rowe, leading the championship by 58 points over Porto, recovered from a practice crash this morning to post the 5th quickest time of the qualifying session.
Jordan Missig brought out the red flag just 3 minutes in to the 20 minute session. His car slid off track at Turn 11, then slid across the damp grass before backing in to the tire barrier, ending his qualifying run.
The first of three USF Pro 2000 races will run this evening at 5:30 PM Pacific Time
The second series on track today was the USF Pro 2000 presented by Cooper Tires. Running their practice under clearing skies at Portland International Raceway. Like the USF 2000 series for which I sent notes earlier, the USF Pro 2000 series also ran a pair of test sessions on Thursday.
Ricardo Escotto was quickest in the first test session yesterday, run under wet conditions (thus his best lap being just a 1:25.1320), with the second having a much improved surface with Kiko Porto leading that session at 1:09.0762.
Only 10 of the 19 cars entered turned laps in the first session with the red flying for Nicolas Monteiro who made contact in Turn 4 about half way through. In the second test session later in the afternoon, 16 of the 19 would turn laps.
This morning’s first practice was bested by Nikita Johnson, who is running his third USF Pro 2000 race of 2023. Currently 3rd in USF 2000 points, Johnson is running both series this weekend. He ran the most recent USF Pro 2000 races at Circuit of the America’s on July 26th and 27th, starting 3rd both times and winning Race #2.
Myles Rowe enters this final weekend with a 58 point lead over Kiko Porto. With 30 points for a win, 25 for second on down to 2 for 19th (last based on number of entries), Rowe’s lead is commanding but not mathematically insurmountable over the three races.
It’s a similar story to USF2000 and even the NTT INDYCAR Series, where the leader, Rowe, would need a very bad weekend while his pursuer Porto has to be nearly perfect.
Rowe would crash on his fourth lap of this session, making contact in Turn 5 and bringing out the red flag. That would end his practice session, but Pabst Racing with Force Indy was able to make repairs and get him back out for qualifying.
USF Pro 2000 Presented by Cooper Tires Portland Practice #1 Results:
Turn 3 Motorsport
Salvador de Alba
Turn 3 Motorsport
TJ Speed Motorsports
Jay Howard Driver Development
Turn 3 Motorsport
Jack William Miller
Miller Vinatieri Motorsports
TJ Speed Motorsports
Turn 3 Motorsport
TJ Speed Motorsports
Pabst Racing with Force Indy
Jay Howard Driver Development
USF Pro 2000 Presented by Cooper Tires Championship Standings Entering Portland Weekend
Kiko Porto, of Recife, Brazil, romped to his first win of the 2023 USF Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires season in the opening round of the Discount Tire Circuit of The Americas Grand Prix doubleheader this afternoon. This is the sixth podium for the DEForce Racing driver who will celebrate his 20th birthday in two days’ time.
USF2000 rising stars Mac Clark (DEForce Racing) and Nikita Johnson (VRD Racing) rounded out the top three with impressive debuts in USF Pro 2000 competition.
Clark, from Toronto, Ontario, Canada, turned heads by claiming the Cooper Tires Pole Award earlier in the day with teammate Kiko Porto lining up second. Johnson (VRD Racing), from Gulfport, Fla., also shone, qualifying third followed by championship leader Myles Rowe of Pabst Racing with Force Indy.
Clark made a fine start but Porto was able to take the point exiting Turn 1. A few moments later and the yellow flags flew for the first and only time following an incident involving Pabst Racing teammates Jordan Missig and Jace Denmark and Exclusive Autosport’s Salvador de Alba.
De Alba was able to continue albeit falling from sixth to 13th, but the day was done for Missig and Denmark.
The race resumed on Lap 4 with Johnson finding a way past Rowe to slot into third as the front of the field settled in. Meanwhile, de Alba, who entered the weekend third in the standings, was on the move eventually salvaging some points with an eighth-place result.
Fourth-place ranked Michael d’Orlando’s misfortunes resurfaced following a strong run of late as the Turn 3 Motorsport driver retired with a mechanical issue after 8 of 15 laps.
By the time the checkered flags flew, the DEForce duo of Porto and Clark held a gap of almost three seconds to Johnson.
Rowe crossed the line in fourth to extend his championship lead to 69 points with only four races remaining this season.
Jonathan Browne (Turn 3 Motorsport) earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award with a gain of six positions while David and Ernesto Martinez of DEForce Racing took home the PFC Award as winning team owners.
The final round of the Discount Tire Circuit of The Americas Grand Prix will take place at 8:00 am CDT tomorrow.
Provisional championship points after 14 of 18 rounds:
1. Myles Rowe, 318
2. Kiko Porto, 249
3. Salvador de Alba, 228
4. Michael d’Orlando, 210
5. Lirim Zendeli, 206
6. Joel Granfors, 206
7. Francesco Pizzi, 206
8. Jace Denmark, 186
9. Jonathan Browne, 180
10. Jack William Miller, 172
Kiko Porto (#12 Banco Daycoval/Petromega-DEForce Racing Tatuus IP-22): “What a weekend. The blue car was on fire. We showed well from the first session with Mac making his debut in the series. I am so happy. Mac deserved the pole but we were close. With the draft here and the temperature, I just tried to find an opportunity. Mac really helped me to keep me on the pace. It was not easy. It was so hot. Tomorrow we have one more and I am pretty sure we have a good chance to do a one-two again.”
Mac Clark (#7 Valkyrie AI/ARM/Clubine Motorsports/TNG Exotics-DEForce Racing Tatuus IP-22): “It was a great Race 1 here at COTA and my debut in USF Pro 2000. A mega job by DEForce Racing with Kiko and me one-two and I couldn’t be more happy, especially with him making a late charge in the championship. We are looking to do it again tomorrow. I think we will be in good starting positions. This race track is a lot of fun and we’ll go again and see if we can get one better.”
Nikita Johnson (#17 Allen Exploration, LLC/Walker’s Cay-VRD Racing Tatuus IP-22): “It was a great result by the team and me. Friday was my first time in the car. The car was just amazing this whole weekend and I really want to thank everyone from VRD. We started off in third and went back to fourth. On the restart, I passed Myles around the outside in Turn 1. I made a little bit of a mistake but caught Mac halfway through the race, locked up and fell back again. I brought it home safely in third and it’s just an amazing start to the weekend and I can’t wait for tomorrow’s race.”
While the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and the INDY NXT teams and drivers are dodging thunderstorms and sideways rain at World Wide Technology Raceway At Gateway, the USF Pro 2000 Presented By Cooper Tires and USF Juniors Presented by Cooper Tires teams are on track at a steamy Circuit of The Americas.
Series debutante and USF2000 Championship Presented By Cooper Tires regular Mac Clark led his veteran DEForce Racing teammate and championship contender Kiko Porto in the lone practice session before a 1:50 pm (CT) qualifying session.
The two DEForce Racing pilots were over half a second clear of Nikita Johnson (VRD Racing), another series debutant.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course race winner Ricardo Escotto (Jay Howard Driver Development) was the fourth quickest, with championship leader Myles Rowe (Pabst Racing) the fifth fastest.
Rowe leads Porto by a commanding 81 points with five races remaining. Salvador de Alba (Exclusive Autosport), who is 84 points behind Rowe, and Michael d’Orlando (Turn 3 Motorsport), who is 93 points out of the championship lead, had the seventh and sixth fastest laps of practice.
Discount Tire Circuit Of The Americas Grand Prix Practice #1 Results
PALMETTO, Fla. – As the 2023 season draws towards its conclusion, championship titles and Discount Tire Career Enhancement Scholarships valued at over $900,000 will be at stake when two of the three rungs on the USF Pro Championship Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel driver development ladder convene this weekend at Circuit of The Americas, near Austin, Texas.
Myles Rowe, from Brooklyn, N.Y., holds a healthy 81-point advantage at the more senior level, USF Pro 2000 Presented by Cooper Tires. He is chasing graduation to INDY NXT by Firestone in 2024. Five races – two this weekend which will comprise the Discount Tire Circuit of the Americas Grand Prix at the 3.427-mile home of the United States Grand Prix, followed by a tripleheader season finale one week later at Portland International Raceway, in Portland, Ore. – will determine whether Rowe can achieve his goal and erase the memory of 12 months ago, when he fell agonizingly short of clinching the USF2000 Presented by Cooper Tires title at the final hurdle.
Meanwhile, if Brazilian Nicolas Giaffone can finish ahead, or within a position or two, of his two main rivals in the first of three races that will conclude the USF Juniors Presented by Cooper Tires campaign, he will have done enough to secure the championship and a scholarship valued at $241,890 to progress into USF2000 next season.
Even though Rowe was unable to claim last year’s USF2000 championship, continued support from Penske Entertainment did allow him to make the step up into USF Pro 2000 for the 2023 season with the Pabst Racing with Force Indy team. He immediately demonstrated that such faith was not misplaced.
After a third-place finish in the opening race on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., Rowe sped to his maiden victory the following day, then swept both rounds of the subsequent doubleheader event at Sebring International Raceway. He has continued to lead the point standings ever since. Rowe also has accumulated more wins (a total of five), poles positions (four), fastest race laps (three) and podium finishes (seven) than any of his rivals.
Rowe is one of only two drivers to have earned multiple wins and pole positions during an intensely competitive USF Pro 2000 season. The other, coincidentally, is the young man who beat him to the top USF2000 honors in 2022: Michael d’Orlando. After encountering a series of setbacks and misfortunes during the early part of the season, Turn 3 Motorsport’s d’Orlando, from Hartsdale, N.Y., has vaulted from a distant 11th in the point standings to fourth on the strength of three wins and three poles.
Currently 93 points adrift of Rowe with only five races remaining, d’Orlando will need everything to fall his way if he is to stand any chance of winning back-to-back titles. But he remains very much in the fight for second place along with the likes of Kiko Porto (DEForce Racing), from Recife, Brazil, who preceded d’Orlando as USF2000 championship winner in 2021 and Mexican stock car racer Salvador de Alba (Exclusive Autosport).
Other contenders will include TJ Speed Motorsports teammates Francesco Pizzi, from Rome, Italy, and Lirim Zendeli, from Bochum, Germany and fellow rookie Jace Denmark (Pabst Racing), from Scottsdale, Ariz., who has also impressed after finishing a close third in last year’s USF2000 title-chase behind d’Orlando and Rowe.
A full field this weekend also will include five drivers seeking to dip a toe in the USF Pro 2000 waters: USF2000 race winners Mac Clark (DEForce Racing) from Toronto, Ont., Canada and Nikita Johnson (VRD Racing), from Gulfport, Fla.; Jorge Garciarce (DEForce Racing), from Guadalajara, Mexico; Avery Towns (Exclusive Autosport), from Allen, Texas; and Frankie Mossman (Jay Howard Driver Development), from Newport Beach, Calif.
Both Clark and Johnson are attempting to become the first drivers to win on all three levels of the current ladder system.
A pair of 30-minute test sessions on Friday, August 25, will allow drivers to gain experience prior to 30 minutes of official practice at 9:25 a.m. CDT on Saturday. A lone qualifying session at 1:50 p.m. will help set the starting positions for the two races later in the day at 5:20 p.m. and the following morning at 8:00 a.m.
Giaffone Closes on Title
Nicolas Giaffone has been the dominant performer during the second year of USF Juniors. The 18-year-old son of former INDYCAR race winner Felipe Giaffone has won six times and earned five pole positions for DEForce Racing, which has catapulted him to a commanding 72-point lead entering this weekend’s season finale.
Even with a total of 99 points still up for grabs, Giaffone, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, will require merely a fourth-place finish from the first of this weekend’s three races as part of the Cooper Tires Circuit of the Americas Grand Prix to ensure his graduation to USF2000 next year.
DEForce teammate Quinn Armstrong, from Newcastle, Australia, currently lies second in the title chase, although a strong recent weekend at Road America for Jack Jeffers (Exclusive Autosport), from San Antonio, Texas, has meant the pair are now tied on points.
Joey Brienza, from Golden, Colo., held second place for much of the season after scoring a win and two second-place finishes for Exclusive Autosport in the opening event, but has slipped to fourth and will be looking to complete his rookie season on a high note.
Others to watch include the VRD Racing trio of Jimmie Lockhart, from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Max Taylor, from Hoboken, N.J., who scored his first win at Road America, and 14-year-old Hudson Schwartz, from Arlington, Va., who missed the opening event of the season but has rapidly developed into a strong contender.
In addition, Filipina Bianca Bustamante will make a return to the series in which she started her career last year with Exclusive Autosport as she gains some extra track time prior to the F1 Academy event at Circuit of The Americas in October. Bustamante recently scored her first F1 Academy feature race win at Monza in Italy.
A recent surge of interest in USF Juniors continues with three more youngsters set to make their debut this weekend: Aidan Potter, from Lexington, Ky., and Dane Scott, from Norcross, Ga., both with Jay Howard Driver Development, and Connor Roberts, from Queensland, Australia, with DC Autosport.
The largest USF Juniors field this year, comprising 18 drivers, will be able to gain some familiarity with the challenging track on Friday during two half-hour test sessions, followed by 30 minutes of official practice at 5:30 p.m. A crucial single qualifying session will take place at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, prior to the first race at 3:30 p.m. Two more 15-lap races will take place on Sunday at 11:00 a.m. and 3:55 p.m.