On the opposite side of the nation and six months after a new USF Pro Championships Presented by Cooper Tires season began on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., the outcome of a pair of Discount Tire Driver Advancement Scholarships will finally be determined this weekend at Portland International Raceway. Tripleheader events for both USF Pro 2000 and USF2000 will run alongside the penultimate round of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES at the 1.964-mile, 12-turn road course situated just a few miles north of downtown Portland, Ore.
Driver and Team titles in both series remain up for grabs, along with the identity of the respective champions for whom the scholarships with a combined value of almost $1.1 million will guarantee graduation onto the next step of the highly acclaimed open-wheel racing development ladder in 2024.
Rowe Chases a Piece of History
Pabst Racing with Force Indy’s Myles Rowe has led the USF Pro 2000 point standings ever since winning the second of two races in St. Petersburg. His advantage was trimmed a little last week at Circuit of The Americas, but a pair of solid top-six finishes means that he will travel to the VP Racing Fuels Grand Prix of Portland finale with a relatively comfortable 58-point margin over Brazilian Kiko Porto.
Rowe, 23, from Brooklyn, N.Y., will be looking to put firmly in the rear-view mirror a disappointing trip to the Pacific Northwest one year ago, when he narrowly missed out on the USF2000 championship. His lead now is substantially greater as he seeks once again to become the first Black driver to claim a major North American open-wheel title.
After coming tantalizingly close on numerous occasions in recent years, team principal Augie Pabst is still seeking an elusive maiden Driver Championship to accompany the four USF2000 Team Championships his Wisconsin-based organization has claimed since 2017. Pabst Racing is also on the cusp of clinching the USF Pro 2000 Team Championship, currently with a commanding points lead, 332-253, over Exclusive Autosport.
A victory and a second-place finish last weekend in Texas has left DEForce Racing’s Porto, from Recife, Brazil, as the only real contender that has an opportunity to wrest the title, along with a Discount Tire scholarship valued at $664,500 to progress in 2024 to INDY NXT by Firestone, from Rowe’s grasp.
Former stock car champion Salvador de Alba, from Guadalajara, Mexico, lies third in the standings for Exclusive Autosport, but he trails Rowe by 88 points with a maximum of 99 at stake.
German-born Albanian Lirim Zendeli has found some consistency to match his promising pace during the latter stages of his rookie season in North America with TJ Speed Motorsports. Zendeli, who previously competed in the FIA Formula 2 Championship, has earned four straight top-six finishes after earlier gaining his first win at Road America.
Michael d’Orlando, from Hartsdale, N.Y., lies fifth in the standings and has fond memories of Portland after last year coming from behind to clinch the 2022 USF2000 title as well as a scholarship to progress into USF Pro 2000. His rookie campaign with Turn 3 Motorsport has brought many ups and downs, although he remains the only driver other than Rowe to have earned multiple wins (three) and poles (also three).
Watch out also for VRD Racing’s Nikita Johnson, from Gulfport, Fla., who last weekend at the age of 15 capped a spectacular debut at Circuit of The Americas by becoming the youngest ever Indy Pro 2000 race winner. Johnson, also victorious this year in USF2000 at St. Petersburg, will be pulling double-duty at Portland.
Johnson’s performance meant that a record 13 different drivers representing no fewer than eight different teams have led at least one lap this season.
Fellow teenager Danny Dyszelski, from Belmont, N.C., will make his debut this weekend for Turn 3 Motorsport after competing previously in USF2000 and radical sports cars.
A busy weekend will commence with a pair of 45-minute test sessions on Thursday, August 31, followed by 30 minutes of official practice at 9:45 a.m. PDT on Friday. A single qualifying session at 12:00 noon will set the grid for the first 30-lap race later in the afternoon at 5:30 p.m. The second and third races will see the green flag at 3:10 p.m. on Saturday and 3:15 p.m. on Sunday.
Sikes Seeks to Clinch in USF2000
Simon Sikes has been demonstrably the fastest driver in this year’s USF2000 Presented by Cooper Tires title-chase. The 22-year-old from Athens, Ga., has previously contested three partial campaigns, each of them cut short by budgetary constraints. He has used his cumulative experience to excellent effect by recording five wins, seven poles and eight fastest race laps from 15 races since joining Pabst Racing for his first full season.
After being embroiled in a tight contest with Jay Howard Driver Development’s Lochie Hughes, from Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia, through the first half of the year, Sikes has since pulled clear and now holds a commanding 69-point buffer heading into this weekend’s Discount Tire Grand Prix of Portland. A maximum of 99 points are still available.
While Pabst seeks an unprecedented sweep of the USF Pro 2000 and USF2000 Driver Championships, he also leads the way in the quest for a fifth USF2000 Team Championship in the past seven years. However, that battle looks like it is going down to the wire as Pabst currently leads JHDD by a single point.
VRD Racing’s Nikita Johnson has closed to within 10 points of Hughes in the title-chase, while DEForce Racing’s Mac Clark, from Milton, Ont., Canada, and Jay Howard Driver Development’s Evagoras Papasavvas, from Loveland, Ohio, also are in contention for second in the championship following a series of strong results.
Thomas Schrage, from Bethel, Ohio, will return to the USF2000 fray with Exclusive Autosport after displaying impressive speed during his debut at Mid-Ohio earlier in the summer.
Two other drivers are set to make their USF2000 debuts this weekend with the intention of gaining some experience prior to anticipated full campaigns in 2024: former karter and F4 racer Ava Dobson, from Franklin, Wis., who made her first foray into the USF Juniors Presented by Cooper Tires field recently at Road America with Jay Howard Driver Development; and Brazilian Lucas Fecury, who is also stepping up from USF Juniors with DEForce Racing.
Plenty of track time lies in store for the USF2000 contenders, starting with a pair of 45-minute test sessions on Thursday. Another 30 minutes of practice at 9:00 a.m. on Friday will provide one more opportunity to gain some experience prior to a single qualifying session at 11:15 a.m. which will help determine the starting order for all three 25-lap races. Race One will start later in the day at 4:30 p.m., with the season’s two final races set to start at 2:15 p.m. on Saturday and 4:20 p.m. on Sunday.
Full coverage can be found on the free USF Pro Championships App, YouTube channel and respective series’ websites.
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