MILLVILLE, N.J. – Myles Rowe, from New York, N.Y., produced a sensational performance in treacherous conditions following an earlier rain shower to win this morning’s second leg of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Grand Prix triple-header at New Jersey Motorsports Park. Rowe, driving for the new African-American owned Force Indy team, took the lead with just a few corners remaining in the 20-lap race after starting 10th on the grid, and became the first African-American driver to win a round of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship.
Kiko Porto, from Recife, Brazil, finished second for DEForce Racing after leading for most of the distance, with teammate Nolan Siegel, from Palo Alto, Calif., completing the podium in third.
Slightly cooler conditions this morning for qualifying, plus fresh Cooper tires, led to a general improvement in lap times, with Michael d’Orlando (Cape Motorsports), from Hartsdale, N.Y., taking full advantage and becoming the first USF2000 driver to circulate the 2.25-mile track at an average speed above 100 mph. A best lap of 1:16.9750 (100.084 mph) saw d’Orlando claim just his second Cooper Tires Pole Award and the coveted inside front row starting position for the first of two races.
A “wet start” was declared by race officials, which required all 23 cars to start on grooved Cooper tires, but with the track already starting to show signs of drying, several cars ducked into the pits at the end of Lap One to change onto fully slick, dry-weather tires. Up front, meanwhile, d’Orlando maintained his advantage into Turn One, albeit with the two DEForce cars hot on his heels.
D’Orlando held on gamely for the first four laps but he was clearly struggling as the track continued to dry, so it came as no surprise when Porto, who had started third, forged past to take the lead on the fourth lap.
Siegel and Josh Green (Turn 3 Motorsport), from Mount Kisco, N.Y., also found a way past d’Orlando, who continued to slip down the order.
Rowe, meanwhile, a protégé of former NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Will Power, continued to move up the order, relishing the slippery conditions. He was up to fifth place by the mid-point of the race, forcing Green to adopt some defensive tactics to keep him in his mirrors. Race officials eventually instructed Green to cede the third position with four laps remaining.
An inspired Rowe continued his charge, quickly dispensing with Siegel and rapidly closing onto Porto’s tail. Finally, in Turn Nine on the final lap, Rowe saw his opportunity and pounced, taking the lead and a memorable maiden victory.
Rowe also took home the Tilton Hard Charger Award, his first of the season, while Force Indy team principal Rod Reid was presented with his first PFC Award as the winning car owner.
Porto graciously accepted second place, secure in the knowledge that he had been able to extend his championship lead to 51 points over d’Orlando with only three races remaining – including one later this afternoon. At stake is a scholarship valued at over $400,000 to graduate onto the next level of the Road to Indy, the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, in 2022.
Provisional championship points after 15 of 18 races:
1. Kiko Porto, 355
2. Michael d’Orlando, 304
3. Yuven Sundaramoorthy, 273
4. Christian Brooks, 253
5. Josh Pierson, 249
6. Josh Green, 204
7. Spike Kohlbecker, 200
8. Jace Denmark, 189
9. Thomas Nepveu, 186
10. Prescott Campbell, 185
Myles Rowe (#99 Force Indy Tatuus USF-17): “As I was coming to the finish, I had to radio my spotter (Jon Bouslog) and ask him ‘are we in the lead?’ He told me ‘keep going, keep going!’ I knew I was in second, but looking at my first win, I just didn’t believe it. Once I took the checkered, my first thought was – I’m here. I can’t thank my parents so much for all the love, support and patience. Rod Reid, Jon, the whole team, Stu, Derrick, Zach – I can’t thank them all enough. And of course, Roger Penske and Will Power. So many people who put me where I am, where Force Indy is today.
“I haven’t had that many sessions in the wet, but for some reason, I seem to excel in these conditions. I think it’s just extra confidence. We were aiming for a top-10 finish this weekend and our plan today was just to hit our marks, let other people make mistakes and see what could happen. I was able to pick people off, like a chess game. I was able to be in guys’ mirrors and take advantage on the exit of corners. I knew Kiko was thinking championship so he was very respectful, I appreciate that.
“There’s been pressure, but it’s just about focusing on the present. There’s been a lot of attention, but also a lot of support. For me as a driver, all I can worry about is what I can do. It’s helped me control my emotions, control my actions and really be able to plot this path, and help plot the path for Force Indy. We’re going to keep going from here!”
Force Indy Team Principal Rod Reid: “Until you actually win one of these, you don’t know what you’re going to feel. For us, the early part of that battle was reminiscent of St. Pete, when we were in fourth and going for third until we made a mistake. I was right there in Turn Eight and saw him battling for third and then for the lead, and I thought ‘can we do this, is this real?’ But this is why we do this, it’s a great feeling. The entire team did great – the crew in setting up the car, and Myles, managing tire wear. We’re so excited for everyone who worked so hard to be in this position. And of course now, we’re going to see if we can repeat this afternoon! That would be awesome.”
Kiko Porto (#12 Banco Daycoval/Petromega-DEForce Racing Tatuus USF-17): “The conditions changed so fast. I found grip in the early part of the race faster than Michael did, and I was able to attack and pass him. But after that, the guys on the team told me that Myles was coming and that he was fast so I tried to adapt. My tires were done at the end, with how dry the track was, and Myles caught me. Two corners from the finish, he made a move – and with the championship so close, I didn’t want to take too much risk. Second place isn’t bad, and it gives me a good gap in the championship.”
Nolan Siegel (#10 Menlo Ventures/Aero Paint Technologies- DEForce Racing Tatuus USF-17): “The track dried so quickly and it was just about who could save their tires. I think Kiko and I both planned on it being wetter so we both burned our tires up quickly so it was just hanging on at the end. But I look around at some of the championship contenders and other fast guys and they weren’t able to make it to the podium, so after a really difficult race, it’s nice to be rewarded with a podium.”