Toronto Street Course Up Next for USF Pro Championships
 July 12, 2023| 
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PALMETTO, Fla. – After a pair of race weekends on iconic North American natural terrain circuits at Road America and Mid-Ohio, preceded by the only visit to an oval track this season at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park, an entirely different challenge this weekend awaits the teams and drivers on the USF Pro Championships Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel driver development ladder.

The streets around Exhibition Place just a few miles from downtown Toronto, Ont., Canada, are always unforgiving, with absolutely no room for error. And once again running in support of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, competitors in both USF Pro 2000 Presented by Cooper Tires and USF2000 Presented by Cooper Tires will be provided an opportunity to shine in front of another huge, knowledgeable and massively enthusiastic crowd at the Honda Indy Toronto.

Both training ground series are now reaching toward the culmination of their seasons, with Discount Tire Driver Advancement Scholarships valued, collectively, at almost $1.1 million waiting to be distributed to ensure graduation onto the next step of the ladder in 2024.

Brooks Makes his Street Course Comeback
One of the most wide-open seasons in the history of USF Pro 2000 dating back to 1999 has witnessed a new record with a streak of seven different polesitters from the opening seven races. The championship has continued in the same vein, with one more driver adding his name to the pole roster and a total of seven drivers already having tasted the fruits of victory.

Among them is Christian Brooks, from Santa Clarita, Calif., who qualified on pole position and won the opening race of the season for Turn 3 Motorsport on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. Unfortunately, after adding a sixth-place finish in the second race, Brooks ran into budgetary difficulties and has since been sitting impatiently on the sidelines. But with one of the team’s regular drivers, Jackson Lee, sidelined by a wrist injury sustained in an incident at Mid-Ohio, the door has been opened for Brooks this weekend to make an eagerly awaited return.

Pabst Racing with Force Indy’s Myles Rowe, from Brooklyn, N.Y., won the second race in St. Petersburg. He also swept the subsequent weekend at Sebring International Raceway to open up a substantial lead in the quest for a scholarship to progress to INDY NXT in 2024. Rowe was frustrated in his attempts to add to that win tally over the course of the next three race events, but he finally did so in the most recent race at Mid-Ohio and has stretched his advantage to 64 points with three race weekends, including Toronto, remaining.

Brazilian Kiko Porto finished second in each of the first two races this year for DEForce Racing and continues to lead the chase in the point standings with five podiums in total. Porto currently holds a slender two-point edge over Sweden’s Joel Granfors, with Exclusive Autosport teammate Salvador de Alba, from Guadalajara, Mexico, hot on his heels. Italian Francesco Pizzi (TJ Speed Motorsports), Michael d’Orlando (Turn 3 Motorsport), from Hartsdale, N.Y., and Jace Denmark (Pabst Racing), from Scottsdale, Ariz., also are in close contention.

Just 21 points currently separate Porto from seventh-placed Denmark, and d’Orlando, last year’s USF2000 champion, is arguably the hottest driver on the circuit right now with two wins and a podium from the last four races.

The Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Toronto will get under way with 30 minutes of practice at 9:15 a.m. EDT on Friday, July 14, in preparation for the first of two qualifying sessions at 2:10 p.m., which will set the starting order for the first of two 25-lap races at 11:50 a.m. on Saturday. A second qualifying session earlier on Saturday at 9:15 a.m. will determine the grid for Race Two at 11:05 a.m. on Sunday.

Canadians Looking to Challenge in USF2000
A strong weekend at Mid-Ohio has suddenly vaulted Pabst Racing’s Simon Sikes into a healthy lead in the quest for the Discount Tire Driver Advancement Scholarship valued at $433,200 to move on to USF Pro 2000 in 2024. And while the primary focus might be on whether Sikes, from Augusta, Ga., can maintain that edge with only one additional race weekend – in Portland. Ore. – in early September to complete the 18-race season, a major portion of the interest in this weekend’s Cooper Tires Grand Prix doubleheader will be centered on a pair of talented young Canadians.

Mac Clark, from Milton, Ont., has parlayed his own substantial scholarship of well over $200,000, earned by virtue of winning the inaugural USF Juniors Presented by Cooper Tires title-chase in 2022, into a strong rookie USF2000 campaign. Having secured his first series win for DEForce Racing during a successful exploratory outing in last year’s finale at Portland International Raceway, Clark took a little while to become a consistent contender in 2023. But he has recently come on strong with two pole positions, two wins and three additional podium finishes in the last five races.

Toronto native Nico Christodoulou, meanwhile, dipped his toe in the USF2000 waters by contesting a couple of weekends back in 2020. Since then, he has concentrated on F4 and, for the past year, GB3 in the UK with VRD Racing prior to returning for his home event. Christodoulou claimed his first GB3 victory in the reverse grid race on the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit in April.

Christodoulou will join a strong contingent at VRD Racing which includes a pair of 15-year-olds, Nikita Johnson and Sam Corry. Both have stepped up after winning races last year in USF Juniors. Johnson, from Gulfport, Fla., has been a regular contender with one win and six additional podium finishes. Corry, from Cornelius, N.C., also has a win to his name.

Johnson’s impressive string of nine consecutive top-five results has brought him into a tie for second in the points chase with last year’s F4 United States Championship powered by Honda champion Lochie Hughes (Jay Howard Driver development).

Hughes, from Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast of Queensland, Australia, had been trading the lead of the driver’s championship back and forth with Sikes until the most recent event at Mid-Ohio where a mistake sent him cartwheeling over one of Sikes’ rear wheels and out of the race. The incident also prevented Sikes from taking what had seemed an almost certain victory. But while Sikes rebounded to score an emphatic win in the final race of the weekend, Hughes’ car failed to make the start. Hence, the Australian now has a 40-point deficit to overcome with only five races remaining.

The USF2000 schedule for Toronto virtually mirrors that of USF Pro 2000 with official practice at 8:30 a.m. on Friday to become familiar with the 1.786-mile, 11-turn track prior to a pair of qualifying sessions at 1:35 p.m. on Friday and 9:50 a.m. on Saturday. The two 20-lap races are due to start at 1:40 p.m. on Saturday and 8:10 a.m. on Sunday.

Full coverage can be found on the free USF Pro Championships App, YouTube channel and respective series’ websites.
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