ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Kiko Porto claimed today’s opening leg of the Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Road America Powered by Elite Engines for DEForce Racing after starting on the pole position. But the 17-year-old from Recife, Brazil, had to work hard for his second Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship victory of the year. After briefly losing the lead to Cape Motorsports’ Michael d’Orlando , from Hartsdale, N.Y., Porto fought back to regain the advantage before taking the checkered flag 0.8813 of a second clear of d’Orlando in second.
Rookie Spike Kohlbecker, from St. Louis, Mo., posted his best run of the season so far by completing the podium for Ignite Autosport with Cape Motorsports.
Porto, who had been unable to attend the opening two races of the 2020 season at Road America due to travel restrictions brought about by the pandemic, returned in style to score his second Cooper Tires Pole Award of the season yesterday in qualifying. But any hopes of being able to work with DEForce teammate Nolan Siegel, from Palo Alto, Calif., who started second, evaporated almost immediately when d’Orlando drafted past Siegel on the long, downhill run toward Turn Five on the opening lap.
The caution flags flew after two laps following a couple of incidents further down the 25-car field, but at the restart it was once again Porto and d’Orlando to the fore as they sped side-by-side into Turn One. Remarkably, the pair continued to run in that formation for almost the entire 4.014-mile lap before d’Orlando finally grasped the advantage under braking for Turn 12, Canada Corner.
But d’Orlando wasn’t able to hang on for long as Porto took advantage of the slipstream to draft alongside d’Orlando on the long uphill drag race toward Turn One. The Brazilian duly regained the point with an incisive move around the outside. Porto never managed to pull out much of a lead, and indeed it was d’Orlando who gained the extra bonus point for posting the fastest lap of the race, but Porto held on to secure the victory.
Kohlbecker settled into a strong third as the remainder of the pack jostled for position in his wake. Siegel, Christian Brooks (Exclusive Autosport), from Santa Clarita, Calif., and Simon Sikes, from Augusta, Ga., who made rapid early progress from 16th on the grid for Legacy Autosport, were the primary protagonists before Siegel managed to extricate himself from the group and edge clear of Brooks in the closing stages.
Another rookie, Jace Denmark (Pabst Racing), from Scottsdale, Ariz., also was part of the entertaining battle, crossing the line in sixth ahead of Sikes, who capped a solid performance by taking the Tilton Hard Charger Award. Behind them, championship leader Yuven Sundaramoorthy, from nearby Delafield, Wis., could do no better than eighth, narrowly ahead of Pabst Racing teammate Pierson at the finish.
Porto’s performance snared a third PFC Award of the season for winning car owners David and Ernesto Martinez. It was also enough to move Porto into a 12-point lead in the championship at the halfway point of the 18-race season. He will have an opportunity to extend that lead after securing a second pole position of the weekend during a separate qualifying session on Friday afternoon for tomorrow’s race which will see the green flag at 8:00 a.m. CDT.
Provisional championship points after 9 of 18 races:
1. Kiko Porto, 202
2. Yuven Sundaramoorthy, 190
3. Michael d’Orlando, 190
4. Christian Brooks, 181
5. Josh Pierson, 170
6. Prescott Campbell, 149
7. Spike Kohlbecker, 134
8. Josh Green, 123
9. Thomas Nepveu, 106
10. Jace Denmark, 104
Kiko Porto (#12 Banco Daycoval/Petromega-DEForce Racing Tatuus USF-17): “This is such a special moment in the championship. I remember last year, when I couldn’t get here to start the season, and that was so hard. To come to Road America this year and win is so very special. I opened a gap over the first three laps, but then the yellow came out. Michael got into my draft at the restart and we spent half a lap side-by-side, it was super-hard. I was able to get back by him and get a gap back, but he was able to use the draft on the straights to stay right behind me. At that point, I put my head down and turned my mode into qualifying laps. I was so happy with how the car felt – it’s never easy starting on pole here, but it just felt perfect.”
Michael d’Orlando (#4 Focused Project Management/DB Collaborative-Cape Motorsports Tatuus USF-17): “What a race! I have to give big props to Kiko, he raced super-well. He hit every mark, it was incredible racing. On that restart, we were side-by-side for half a lap, all the way from Turn Five to Turn 10. Absolutely insane, but a lot of respect out there. He was super-fast and once he got out of my tow, I just couldn’t catch him. But on that last lap I was able to pull out the fast lap. I just got a little bit of the tow. Thanks to everyone at Cape Motorsports and all my supporters – earning a podium at Road America with all these fans here is awesome. We’re second in the championship now so I look forward to more tomorrow!”
Spike Kohlbecker (#5 Ignite Autosport/Raceway Gives/Tierpoint-Ignite Autosport w/Cape Motorsports Tatuus USF-17): “That start was wild! I definitely upped my aggression for this event and started taking a few more risks. That opening lap, I just sent it up the inside going into Turn Five and I made it stick – even though we were three-wide going into Five! That was a bit of an ordeal we had going there. I had my mirrors full but held my own and held them off, so I’m really happy to get this first podium. The car that Cape put together was amazing, we really had pace today. We’ll just look for a little bit more tomorrow and keep on improving.”