By: Ashley McCubbin
The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship has officially came down to a single weekend of competition, with three races scheduled at Portland International Raceway. Michael D’Orlando is one of those in the conversation, currently seven-points behind Myles Rowe following the first two events.
Ahead of the weekend, the Cape Motorsports driver caught up with NEWS FROM THE PITS to discuss Portland, his season, and more.
ASHLEY MCCUBBIN: What are your thoughts going into Portland?
MICHAEL D’ORLANDO: Well, since it’s the last weekend and I’m 23 points behind the lead with a triple header, so there’s everything to gain and to be honest, not much to lose. Being in second place, that’s where I finished last year in the championship and now an even better shot of winning. This is where I’d like to think that I thrive in high pressure situations like this and everyone knows that you just got to make it work or not – and I feel this is where I do my best work.
I’m super looking forward to this weekend. I’ve been doing a lot of super preparation. Even in the heart of moving to college in Charlotte here, this past weekend I went to go to back to Indiana to work with my team for the last bit of preparation for this weekend, and I’m super confident going into it. I know we have a good car going into it. I trust the guys will put in everything as much as I will as well. It’s a triple header weekend, there’s lots of points to gain, and that can only help me.
ASHLEY: I was going to say, it’s unique in getting three races on the same track in a weekend. Does that change how you approach the weekend at all?
MICHAEL: I think obviously if the first race ends up not being the best race, I still have two more to make up for it. I mean, obviously you want to be a bit more dynamic in how you approach each race. So if I do end up having a good race the first race, I want to try and do a similar thing the second or third one. But if it doesn’t end or something doesn’t end up working, obviously you can’t do the same thing again. You have to open up to different avenues like making a pass here or like sitting behind someone to wait for them to make a mistake.
There’s a lot of things going on this weekend. I think I need to keep my brain open to other opportunities that arise and if I miss one, hopefully it’s not the last. I think going into this weekend, I did say where there’s a lot of stuff that you need to make happen, but there is still that room for letting everything else fall into place.
ASHLEY: What makes Portland unique compared to other road courses?
MICHAEL: Well, I haven’t raced Portland yet. So this is the first time since 2019 that Road to Indy has gone back to Portland. Toronto and Portland were the only ones on the calendar that I hadn’t raced and obviously Toronto being a street course, I was really quick at but never really had the luck. So hopefully going into Portland, I hope things will fall our way a little bit more. The track seems a lot of fun. There’s a lot of high speed corners in the first half of the track and there’s also second gear all the way to sixth on the backstraight, and you have a really fast left right before a hard braking zone before the last corner. It just seems like a lot and seems so fun for such a small track. I’m so excited to be going there as it seems like a track that I’ll absolutely love.
So as it stands to other tracks, I don’t think there’s other tracks that we race that are very similar to it. I think some testing tracks that people go to that are similar to Portland, but I don’t see how it’d be similar to a lot of others. It’s kind of like an odd ball track thrown there. You go on the front straight and then you have a right left right like a LeMan circuit, and it looks like quite a bit of fun. I’m super looking forward to that. It seems like a perfect place to end the year.
ASHLEY: So speaking of the season you’ve had, if you could grade the season, what is the grade?
MICHAEL: In terms of how I’ve been performing, I would say an A-. I’m a little harsh on myself sometimes when it comes to mistakes that I’ve been making. I know in the long run that I haven’t been perfect this year. I’d like to think that I’m a little too much of a go getter. So if I end up trying to make a move that halfway through that it isn’t a good move, then I know I put myself in a bad situation. But I think overall it’s been a very good year, definitely better than last year. I’ve already matched my number of poles and wins last year, and still have three races left at Portland.
In terms of being focused and completely on the money the entire year, I feel I’ve been there and done a lot more learning from last year to this year on how much of a mature driver I’ve become and obviously I still have a lot to learn because I’d like to think that if anyone thinks they’re perfect, they’re just too arrogant. So obviously I know I have a lot to learn. But this year, if I could grade it, it’d be an A-. I know there’s a lot of little things that I could definitely have gotten more out of myself with decision making and probably just getting more out of the car in some scenarios. I feel I’ve been quite good at that this year. I think that’s where I’d stand.
ASHLEY: So you’re talking about mistakes and some of the low marks in there. Is there one weekend that you look back on that you want to say you regret and how it played out?
MICHAEL: I made a minor mistake in race one at Mid-Ohio that kind of put me back. I was going for the lead going into turn nine and I believe Myles (Rowe) didn’t see me on the inside there, and I should’ve seen that coming – I do think that. So being in that place ended up hurting me. I tried to get out of that spot, but it ended up it wasn’t fast enough. By the time that happened, I had made the decision and ended up clipping a wing and almost put me a lap down. Obviously that’s a decision that I feel I could’ve made a little better. But for the rest of the year, I think there’s been some pretty good moments. I haven’t really had any terrible moments as bad as that. It’s been a good year overall. It’s going to be a little easy to pick out the bad ones compared to when everything else went smoothly.
ASHLEY: It’s always nice when you have those smooth years and things just seem to come together.
MICHAEL: Yeah – I mean, it’s racing. I wish I had my shirt on. I have a shirt that says shift happens. I should be wearing it. I have it around here somewhere but shift happens. That’s just how it is. You’re never going to have a perfect year. But I think how we reacted things, how we were trying to be proactive, and how we reacted to things that were going wrong for us, in terms of luck mechanically or – because nothing ever lays right. I think we handled it very well this year – and me and Cape (Motorsports), the team. So I think it’s been a lot smoother than years past.
ASHLEY: That’s fair. Looking at the schedule and variety of tracks the series visits, what is your favorite track to have ran at this year?
MICHAEL: I mean, I have to say Mid-Ohio is always my favorite, just because it’s so fun to drive. You have two quite long straightaways and then the rest of the track, you’re just hauling ass the whole time going left to right to left to right and you’re going at it. So in terms of rating the tracks, I would say Mid-Ohio, Road America, Indianapolis – no, I could say St. Pete is a little bit more fun to me. Indianapolis is awesome – it always is, but whenever you get to the racing and you’re sitting out there, it gets a little boring sometimes.
But I feel like those three tracks are the super fun ones for me. Every time I go out there, I have a huge smile on my face and especially at Rod America this year, I got my first win there this year in race two. I was actually super glad to have that. But definitely Mid-Ohio is my favorite course we race on, if not my favorite course in general.
ASHLEY: So being on the Road to Indy and looking down the distant future, what would it mean to you to run IndyCar one day?
MICHAEL: Being in IndyCar has been a lifelong dream of me. I know a lot of drivers would say that, but I started at six years old in go-karting. I have been growing up watching racing and I’m first generation, too. I’m a first generation car racer so it means a lot to be in a first generation car racer and have my life be entirely racing. When I was four years old, sitting in front of the TV, watching the Indianapolis 500 and other races at home, and to be on that path right now is a blessing. It’s a dream.
If I could finally reach that goal, my life would be complete. I wouldn’t have anything else that I’d want to achieve, even if I could just be a paid driver in IndyCar just to actually live my life in that spot. That would be my dream, and I know it seems like everybody, the rest of the world that wants to be an IndyCar driver, or anything else, but this is something that I’ve wanted since forever, that’s the best way to put it.
ASHLEY: No, I get it. That’s how dreams start….
MICHAEL: All the kids are like I want to be a baseball player, astronaut, fire fighter – I want a racecar driver. Everyone looks at you and asks what. But every time I wake up in the morning, I still have that same dream when I was four years old every time I am behind the wheel.
ASHLEY: That’s the best way to be spending life right there in having fun. So going through the go-karts, because you mentioned that was your beginnings, what’s the biggest thing learned from that time that you feel is beneficial now?
MICHAEL: I think a lot of my confidence and maturity came from karting. Before I hopped in racecars, I did 10 years of go-karting. I did eight years in the U.S., and then two years overseas with a factory team in a factory kart. I think a lot of that is I never really had the best equipment. I knew that, so I had to do more with less all the time, and I would be fighting for wins with guys that would have all the funding and be worldly known drivers. I kind of grew my own name because of that.
When I finally moved to a team in 2013 that I could excel with, and that team is really where I sparked and grew as a driver – other than the occasional sweeping the floors and actually learning how to grow myself, I actually grew into myself as a driver. The first race I ever did with that team – my first National, and I think from then, I just grew immensely as a driver and a person to be more mature and be better than the rest in every way. I think karting has definitely helped me to do that, even at a young age. We’d go everywhere, the competition was always high, but I’d always knew how to keep myself calm, present myself in a matter that I could do my best and people would see it that way.
I think karting is essential for anyone that wants to be successful in their racing career. I think if they just jump straight into cars, they lose that maturity of starting off in a competitive environment. Plus, it’s a great workout. Everything happens so much faster and you’ll hit other drivers. After a single weekend, you’re bruised up and you go back and sleep 12 hours and am still tired. I wouldn’t be the driver I am today without my karting experience and background. I think that’s made me the driver I am today. I wouldn’t be here without it.