Rowe Clinches USF Pro 2000 Title While d’Orlando Scores Portland Win
 September 3, 2023| 
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Pabst (4)

PORTLAND, Ore. – Myles Rowe and Michael d’Orlando both achieved their goals during this afternoon’s exciting second leg of the VP Racing Fuels Grand Prix of Portland. Pabst Racing with Force Indy’s Rowe, from Brooklyn, N.Y., clinched the USF Pro 2000 Presented by Cooper Tires championship – as well as a lucrative Discount Tire Driver Development Scholarship valued at $664,500 to ensure graduation to INDY NXT by Firestone in 2024 – with a well-judged third-place finish, while d’Orlando, from Hartsdale, N.Y., once again demonstrated his own credentials with a flag-to-flag victory for Turn 3 Motorsport.

With his accomplishment today, Rowe becomes the first African American to win a U.S. open-wheel championship.

Sandwiched between the pair was 15-year-old Nikita Johnson, of Gulfport, Fla., who completed an exhausting but auspicious day for himself and VRD Racing by finishing hot on d’Orlando’s tail in second.

For the second straight day, d’Orlando started at the front of the pack after turning the best second-fastest lap of all drivers during yesterday’s lone qualifying session to secure yet another Cooper Tires Pole Award. He duly maintained his advantage at the start, although, incredibly, it was TJ Speed Motorsport’s Lirim Zendeli, from Bochum, Germany, who emerged in second following a spectacular start from sixth on the grid. Zendeli braved it out around the outside of several rivals at the initial right-handed corner at the Festival Curves before slotting into second at the ensuing left-handed Turn Two.

Today, in stark contrast to the mayhem which had taken place just 24 hours earlier, all 17 protagonists made it through the initial sequence of corners intact. They then proceeded to entertain an appreciative crowd throughout an all-green 30-lap race.

d’Orlando soon began to put some daylight between himself and Zendeli. The gap had grown to just over two seconds inside the first 13 laps, when Johnson took advantage of worsening oversteer on his adversary’s Tatuus IP-22 and – for the second time in a little more than half-an-hour – produced another impressive overtaking opportunity in Turn One to snatch second place.

Johnson had eschewed the chance to stand on the podium following a fine drive in the preceding USF2000 Presented by Cooper Tires race, instead hopping directly into his USF Pro 2000 steed and once again putting on a show of his capabilities.

A series of consistently fast laps saw d’Orlando stretch his lead to as much as three seconds at the halfway point, although Johnson turned up the wick in the closing stages and narrowed the gap to less than one second with three laps remaining. The pressure was on, but d’Orlando managed his pace perfectly, made not the hint of a mistake and took the checkered flag a scant 0.2529 seconds clear of Johnson for his fourth win of the season.

Rowe once again drove a sensible race, following Johnson past Zendeli on the 14th lap and then inching clear to finish third. Rowe’s result was more than enough to put the championship title beyond the reach of his main rival, DEForce Racing’s Kiko Porto, from Recife, Brazil, who remaining trapped behind Zendeli in fifth. Jace Denmark (Pabst Racing), from Scottsdale, Ariz., also was in close attendance at the finish line.

Jack William Miller, from Carmel, Ind., earned his third Tilton Hard Charger Award after rising from 11th on the grid to eighth for his family-run Miller Vinatieri Motorsports team.

Turn 3 Motorsport’s Peter Dempsey picked up another PFC Award as the winning team owner, and both he and d’Orlando, whose fond memories of Portland included clinching last year’s USF2000 championship, will have one more opportunity to stand on the top step of the podium when tomorrow’s season finale is set to see the green flag at 3:15 p.m. PDT.

Provisional championship points after 17 of 18 rounds:
1. Myles Rowe, 380
2. Kiko Porto, 323
3. Michael d’Orlando, 270
4. Salvador de Alba, 266
5. Lirim Zendeli, 255
6. Francesco Pizzi, 244
7. Jace Denmark, 233
8. Jonathan Browne, 208
9. Joel Granfors, 206
10. Jack William Miller, 205

Myles Rowe (#99 Penske Entertainment-Pabst Racing with Force Indy Tatuus IP-22): “All of these competitors are so tough. We knew after last year and finishing second in the (USF2000) championship, especially being so close to taking it, that we had to start off strong. That’s exactly what we did. We put in the work, we persevered and we came through. It is all thanks to everyone that supports me, everyone that is out here watching and pushing me, on down to my family – my mom and my dad for putting in the blood, sweat and tears – Roger Penske and Penske Entertainment, Force Indy, Pabst Racing and Augie Pabst, Sparco, Bell Helmets, NXG and all of the crew. It wouldn’t be possible without them.

“They have really pushed me along and really given me such extraordinary support. I am just at a loss for words. It feels almost like it has been a two-year championship from trying to bounce back after last year. It took a mental strain on us all but I am just so happy to deliver this for the team. I am thrilled that we are able to enjoy it finally.”

Augie Pabst (Pabst Racing with Force Indy Team Principal): “I am just elated right now and relieved. We’ve had so much pressure from within to get this done and obviously the past few seasons have been really tough, nail-biters to the end and not in our favor. To finally check both boxes in both series, honestly it hasn’t sunk in yet.”

Michael d’Orlando (#1 USF Pro Championships/Focused Project Management-Turn 3 Motorsport Tatuus IP-22): “First of all a huge congratulations to Myles and the Pabst Force Indy crew. You guys did spectacular all year and it has been quite a feat to try to race against you. I haven’t been having quite the greatest season, up and down the whole time, but it is nice to finally get my fourth win. I wish it was a little easier because (Nikita) was on me the whole time, but I am super proud. I walked away with all laps led and I am happy to be back here on the top step.”

Nikita Johnson (#17 Allen Exploration, LLC/Walker’s Cay-VRD Racing Tatuus IP-22): “I started second and made a little bit of a mistake at the start and fell back to fourth. I passed Myles on the inside of Turn One and then caught Lirim Zendeli and got around him. Our car was wicked and I want to thank VRD Racing and everyone who put this car back together last night. It was just a rocket ship. I was closing on Michael the last couple of laps. We couldn’t get it done but we have a fast, fast car and I can’t wait for Race Three.”

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