Johnson Becomes Youngest Winner in USF Pro 2000 on Debut at COTA
 August 27, 2023| 
  • Series News

AUSTIN, Texas – Nikita Johnson of VRD Racing has taken the USF Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires by storm on his debut race weekend at Circuit of The Americas. The 15-year-old from Gulfport, Fla., not only becomes the youngest winner in the category but also becomes the first driver to win on all three levels of the current USF Pro Championships Presented by Cooper Tires ladder.

A graduate of USF Juniors – the first step on the driver development ladder – Johnson is a full-time competitor in USF2000 competition and currently lies third in the standings with one tripleheader race event remaining at Portland International Raceway next weekend.

Yesterday’s Discount Tire Circuit of The Americas Grand Prix race winner Kiko Porto finished second with DEForce Racing teammate Mac Clark third in his second USF Pro 2000 start.

Porto started on pole – earning his second Cooper Tires Pole Award of the season – with teammate Clark alongside. Johnson and championship points leader Myles Rowe of Pabst Racing with Force Indy rounded out the second row.

While Porto had a good start, the battle was on immediately between Clark and Johnson. After a back-and-forth tussle, Johnson emerged the victor and the opening five laps saw a great battle at the front between Porto, Johnson and Clark with the trio building a three-second gap to the rest of the field.

Johnson was able to take the lead from Porto on Lap 7 and as the margin continued to build from the top three to the rest of the grid – increasing to over 17 seconds at the checker – all eyes were on the battle from fourth through seventh between Ricardo Escotto (Jay Howard Driver Development), Salvador de Alba (Exclusive Autosport), Lirim Zendeli (TJ Speed Motorsports), Rowe, Michael d’Orlando (Turn 3 Motorsport), Jace Denmark (Pabst Racing) and Francesco Pizzi (TJ Speed Motorsports).

As Escotto retired with a mechanical issue, Zendeli managed to fend off the efforts of de Alba to secure fourth place followed by Rowe in sixth and then d’Orlando, Denmark, Pizzi and Jack William Miller of Miller Vinatieri Motorsports, who claimed the Tilton Hard Charger Award with a gain of six positions.

Dan Mitchell of VRD Racing took home the PFC Award as the winning team owner.

The battle for the Discount Tire Driver Development Scholarship – valued at $664,500 to advance to INDY NXT in 2024 – will head to Portland International Raceway next weekend for the tripleheader season finale – the VP Racing Fuels Grand Prix of Portland. A total of 99 points are on offer.

Provisional championship points after 15 of 18 rounds:
1. Myles Rowe, 333
2. Kiko Porto, 275
3. Salvador de Alba, 245
4. Lirim Zendeli, 225
5. Michael d’Orlando, 224
6. Francesco Pizzi, 218
7. Joel Granfors, 206
8. Jace Denmark, 199
9. Jonathan Browne, 188
10. Jack William Miller, 183

Nikita Johnson (#17 Allen Exploration, LLC/Walker’s Cay-VRD Racing Tatuus IP-22): “I started P3 here at COTA and we got to second on the first corner. I stayed there for a little bit to try to figure out where Kiko wasn’t the best and where he was faster than me. I adapted to the car and the track and caught Kiko and ended up passing him in Turn 1 from a few car lengths back. I used the sun to my advantage as it kind of blinded us, and just stuck it down the inside and made it stick. I got in front and tried to defend to take the air off his wing. I controlled the race from there. I mean our car was just amazing, it was such a rocket. I want to thank everybody from VRD, especially Dan Mitchell, Scotty, Jacob Loomis, and Noah Ping… they all helped me a lot. I want to thank my sponsors Walkers Cay, Allen Exploration, Tiger Precision Products, PSA Check, my dad, and then my whole family back home who watched the broadcast, and everybody who supports me.”

Kiko Porto (#12 Banco Daycoval/Petromega-DEForce Racing Tatuus IP-22): “The DEForce crew and I worked a lot during the break and we found some interesting things, and that’s why we showed up very strong for this race weekend, not just for me but for the team. Unfortunately, the temperature changed a lot between the races and we kind of had a problem that we didn’t have yesterday, so we were suffering a little bit. Then Nikita made a good dive-bomb move in Turn 1. I almost tried to go on the outside but then I remembered the championship, and I remembered that Nikita is doing just this race and had nothing to lose, but I do. So I just tried to manage my position. My pace was still good and I think Nikita may have fallen off a little bit because of tire degradation. Unfortunately, it was not enough to pass him. I’m very thankful for the DEForce guys and I want to congratulate Nikita and Mac for showing a lot of potential. Let’s go for it at Portland.”

Mac Clark (#7 Valkyrie AI/ARM/Clubine Motorsports/TNG Exotics-DEForce Racing Tatuus IP-22): “I think it was a good race today and a good cap for our weekend. I think we showed we have the pace and that we can fight with the big boys. We can punch. I was a little bit disappointed with P3, but I think that means for me that it was still a good weekend. I’m very thankful for everybody who gave me this opportunity, the boys in blue, DEForce Racing. The car was on rails all weekend. Big thank you to my 2023 supporters Clubine Motorsports, Action Risk Management, Valkyrie AI, and TNG Exotics. They’re all a big part of why I’m here. I’m just thrilled to do this, you know, I’m living the dream. I’m racing cars all over the world and I’m pumped for Portland next week.”

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