MILLVILLE, N.J. – Kiko Porto, from Recife, Brazil, was on a mission in this afternoon’s first leg of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Grand Prix triple-header at New Jersey Motorsports Park. The championship leader had to settle for second place during qualifying this morning, but he turned the tables on polesitter Yuven Sundaramoorthy (Pabst Racing) from Delafield, Wis., by taking the lead at the first corner. Porto then romped clear to a dominant victory, his fourth of the season for the DEForce Racing team. It was the perfect way to celebrate his 18th birthday.
Sundaramoorthy held onto second place, narrowly holding off a train of cars headed by Christian Brooks (Exclusive Autosport), from Santa Clarita, Calif., who returned to the podium for the first time since the fifth race of the season on the Indianapolis Grand Prix road course.
Sundaramoorthy, too, was looking to maintain his own championship challenge. Already a three-time winner this season, Sundaramoorthy positioned himself perfectly by posting the fastest lap during qualifying this morning to snag his fourth Cooper Tires Pole Award.
Sundaramoorthy seemed to make an exemplary getaway at the rolling start, but even that wasn’t enough to prevent a fired-up Porto from braking a little deeper into Turn One and driving around the outside line to take the lead. He never looked back.
Porto remained under pressure during the opening stages of the 20-lap race, holding onto a slender advantage as he made sure not to overwork his Cooper tires on the notoriously abrasive 2.25-mile, 12-turn road course. The tactic worked to perfection. Porto posted what was to stand as the fastest lap of the race on Lap Seven, then gradually extended his advantage before taking the checkered flag a full 5.1731 seconds clear.
Instead it was Sundaramoorthy who had reason for concern with Brooks, Josh Green (Turn 3 Motorsport), from Mount Kisco, N.Y., and good friend and former karting rival Michael d’Orlando (Cape Motorsports), from Hartsdale, N.Y., who made up a position at the start, all snapping at his heels.
The four-car train remained tied together but no one ever really looked likely to make a pass for position on a track where overtaking is always difficult.
Pabst Racing teammates Jace Denmark, from Scottsdale, Ariz., and Josh Pierson, from Wilsonville, Ore., couldn’t match the pace of the leaders. They, too, stayed in close contact throughout the race until Pierson managed to sneak past for fifth on the final lap.
Nolan Siegel (DEForce Racing) from Palo Alto, Calif., followed closely in their wake, while New Zealander Billy Frazer (Exclusive Autosport) took advantage of a last-lap incident between rookie Christian Weir (Turn 3 Motorsport), from Naperville, Ill., and Prescott Campbell (DEForce Racing), from Newport Beach, Calif., to finish ninth. Frazer claimed his second Tilton Hard Charger Award of the season after starting 12th.
David and Ernesto Martinez earned their fifth PFC Award of the year as the winning car owners.
A second qualifying session at 9:00 a.m. EDT tomorrow will establish the starting lineups for two more races, the 15th and 16th rounds of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, tomorrow afternoon.
Provisional championship points after 14 of 18 races:
1. Kiko Porto, 329
2. Michael d’Orlando, 295
3. Yuven Sundaramoorthy, 272
4. Christian Brooks, 242
5. Josh Pierson, 239
6. Spike Kohlbecker, 186
7. Josh Green, 185
8. Thomas Nepveu, 179
9. Jace Denmark, 172
10. Prescott Campbell, 170
Kiko Porto (#12 Banco Daycoval/Petromega-DEForce Racing Tatuus USF-17): “Winning a race is the best way to spend your birthday! When I saw that (primary title rival) d’Orlando was starting P6, I knew I could make some good points. I was focused on keeping Brooks behind me at the start but when I saw Yuven brake early, I tried to attack, and I think that surprised him. I used that to open a gap, especially when Yuven started getting pushed from behind. I knew where d’Orlando was, so to get the win, lead the most laps and get the fastest lap, those are good points. But the weekend is only just starting. We have two more races tomorrow and it might be raining. I love this track. We have a good car and we have experience in the rain here, so we’ll keep on pushing.”
Yuven Sundaramoorthy (#22 S Team Motorsports-Pabst Racing Tatuus USF-17): “I got on the brakes where we were planning to before the race but Kiko had the racing line and got on the brakes deeper than I could. In hindsight, I should have braked deeper but as they say, hindsight is 20/20. Kiko drove a perfect race, I can’t take anything away from him. There was nothing I could do once I was in second, just wait for a mistake that never happened. Hats off to him, it’s a good birthday present! P2 is good, good points on Michael (d’Orlando) – we’ll try to put it on pole again tomorrow and try not to make the same mistake.”
Christian Brooks (#44 Hot Wheels/Chaco Flato/Bell Helmets-Exclusive Autosport Tatuus USF-17): “This is a technical track and that suits me, and the tire degradation plays into my favor. We caught up from pretty far back to catch Yuven but burned the front tires off a bit too much to have anything for him at the end. All in all, a podium is a nice way to get things going again. Third today, with two more races tomorrow, so hopefully we can start up front and get some wins. We’re shooting for a top three in the championship now – of course we wanted to win, but a few bad events put us back in points. We have to keep pounding out consistent finishes and go for a couple wins, hopefully they come our way.”