ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Brazilian rookie Kiko Porto claimed a well-deserved maiden Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship victory this afternoon in the USF2000 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Andersen RacePark. Porto’s emotional triumph capped a roller coaster year which began with him missing the opening race of the season after he was unable to enter the country, then was forced to skip the most recent event in New Jersey after being diagnosed with COVID-19. But spare a thought for DEForce teammate Cameron Shields, who led impressively from the pole before experiencing a mechanical failure.
Porto’s good friend and countryman Eduardo Barrichello finished close behind in second place for Pabst Racing, with Reece Gold, from Miami, Fla., taking third for Cape Motorsports.
After securing his first-ever Cooper Tires Pole Award yesterday in qualifying, Shields took off into the lead this afternoon, intent on making it a banner day for Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia, directly after the town’s more famous resident, Will Power, had snatched a dramatic NTT INDYCAR SERIES pole position on the streets of St. Petersburg.
Porto and third-place qualifier Barrichello followed closely from the start, chased by Gold. But behind them at Turn One there was drama as Yuven Sundaramoorthy (Pabst Racing), from Oconomowoc, Wis., misjudged his braking and vaulted over the rear of Christian Brooks (Exclusive Autosport), from Santa Clarita, Calif., before slamming into the side of an innocent Christian Rasmussen (Jay Howard Driver Development). All three were done for the day, which left Rasmussen, from Copenhagen, Denmark, thanking his lucky stars he had already clinched this year’s championship last time out at New Jersey Motorsports Park.
Shields took off again into the lead following a lengthy cleanup. But just before half-distance, as it seemed he was beginning to edge clear, his car abruptly slowed on the front straightaway. His race, too, was over.
Teammate Porto instead took up the running, still chased by Barrichello and Gold, who claimed The Ticket Clinic Fastest Lap Award on Lap 14 but was unable to get close enough to mount a serious challenge.
Cape Motorsports teammates Josh Green, from Mount Kisco, N.Y., the top rookie finisher, and good friend Michael d’Orlando, from nearby Hartsdale, N.Y., crossed the line close together in fourth and fifth, followed by Jack William Miller (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports), from Carmel, Ind.
Englishman Matt Round-Garrido took seventh for Pabst Racing ahead of rookie Simon Sikes (Legacy Autosport), from Augusta, Ga. Sikes had been the biggest beneficiary of the first-lap shenanigans, vaulting from 17th on the grid to as high as sixth. Even though he slipped a little to eighth by the finish, Sikes still had done enough to earn the Tilton Hard Charger Award.
Kyle Dupell (Cape Motorsports), from Portland, Ore., and Christian Bogle (Jay Howard Driver Development), from Covington, La., completed the top 10.
Porto’s victory secured the first PFC Award for the winning team, DEForce Racing.
Although the unfortunate Brooks was eliminated on the opening lap, he still leads the Hyperco Rookie of the Year standings by 17 points over Green and will start on pole position for tomorrow’s final race of the season after posting the fastest lap in qualifying earlier this morning. Also still up for grabs is second place in the championship. Barrichello and Gold began the day tied on points, with Barrichello now holding a slender two-point edge prior to the season finale. The green flag for tomorrow’s race will fly at 9:30 a.m. EDT.
Provisional championship points after 16 of 17 races:
1. Christian Rasmussen, 377
2. Eduardo Barrichello, 331
3. Reece Gold, 329
4. Michael d’Orlando, 276
5. Christian Brooks, 252
6. Josh Green, 235
7. Matt Round-Garrido, 213
8. Cameron Shields, 212
9. Jack William Miller, 201
10. Kiko Porto, 172
Kiko Porto (#12 Banco Daycoval/Petromega-DEForce Racing Tatuus USF-17): “I can’t describe this feeling! I’ve worked so hard this year, and so many things have happened – I couldn’t get to the United States, and then I got COVID. But the team has worked so hard and the car was so good today. And I’m so happy for Dudu, my ‘brother.’ I am so happy to be first-second with him. I’ve loved this track from my first lap here so I’m glad we were able to come back and do this race, it’s one of my favorites. I pushed hard the whole time and it was a very difficult race, especially that first corner, so to bring home the win means so much. I will remember this moment for the rest of my life.”
Eduardo Barrichello (#22 Ale-Pabst Racing Tatuus USF-17): “It was a very difficult start – it’s very tricky because of the paint on the surface. But it’s a street course, so that’s part of the game. We were trying to get close to Kiko but it’s really, really hard in the dirty air. There’s no room for error here, especially since I was tied with Reece in the championship. It’s so good to see Kiko win, but even though we’re friends I would have tried a move, but I couldn’t get close to him. But I’m going to try again tomorrow.”
Reece Gold (#3 The Ticket Clinic-Cape Motorsports Tatuus USF-17): “I braked late and made a move going into Turn One and there was no one (behind me), so I thought something must have happened. Then the yellow came out and I knew something had happened! Thankfully we had a good start which kept us in fourth and out of the problems. I tried to get close to Eduardo but I just couldn’t get there. We’ll try again tomorrow – we’re just a couple of points back.”
About the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires: Celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2020, the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires is one of the most successful driver development programs in the world. Comprised of Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, the ladder system provides a unique, scholarship-funded path to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and Indianapolis 500. The NTT INDYCAR SERIES grid is comprised of numerous drivers who have come through the Road to Indy. In 2020, 23 of the 33 starters in the Indianapolis 500 were graduates including eight Indy Lights champions. The mission of the Road to Indy is to develop and advance, and that includes not only drivers but teams and personnel as well. More information can be found at http://www.roadtoindy.info, http://www.indylights.com, http://www.indypro2000.com, http://www.usf2000.com, http://www.roadtoindy.tv and http://www.indycar.com.
About Cooper Tire & Rubber Company: Cooper Tire & Rubber Company is the parent company of a global family of companies that specializes in the design, manufacture, marketing and sale of innovative, great-performing tires that you can count on to last for thousands of miles, getting you where you need to go, and back again. Cooper is proud to be the spec tire for all three levels of the Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, a development program within the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. Cooper tires can also be seen on the track in rally, rallycross and short course off-road racing. Headquartered in Findlay, Ohio, Cooper, with its subsidiaries, has manufacturing, sales, distribution, technical and design operations in more than one dozen countries around the world. Connect with Cooper on Twitter and Instagram by following @TeamCooperTire or visit our website at http://www.coopertire.com.