INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Michael d’Orlando produced an oval track clinic in Saturday’s Cooper Tires Freedom 75.
The youngster from Hartsdale, N.Y., took advantage of his first-ever pole position in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship’s only oval race of the season and led throughout a hard-fought, all-green 75-lap contest at Lucas Oil Raceway for the Cape Motorsports team.
However, he had to work extremely hard for his laurels, as DEForce Racing’s Prescott Campbell, a California native, pushed him every inch of the way.
Rookie Jace Denmark, from Scottsdale, Ariz., also made a huge impression with a strong run to third place for Pabst Racing.
After a relatively disappointing start to the season, d’Orlando marked himself as a true title contender by posting two almost identical laps during qualifying on Thursday to claim his first Cooper Tires Pole Award.
Inclement weather on Friday meant he had to wait rather longer than originally anticipated to defend his hard-earned advantage in the race, but d’Orlando quickly settled into a solid pace at the front of the intensely competitive 24-car field.
Campbell, who actually recorded a slightly faster lap than d’Orlando in qualifying but couldn’t quite match the pole-sitter’s consistency, displayed the same trait in Saturday’s race. He set the fastest lap of the race on the third trip around LOR’s demanding, high-banked oval and on several occasions managed to inch his way alongside his rival – or even fractionally ahead – as they battled for the top position.
But each time, d’Orlando was able to fend off the challenge, clinging doggedly to the preferred higher groove which made it just a tad easier to maintain his momentum.
D’Orlando used the experience gained by finishing fourth at LOR last year to absorb the intense pressure, especially as they worked their way past some slower traffic in the middle of the race. He also survived a rub of wheels with Campbell as they negotiated turn two with eight laps remaining before securing the victory by just over a half-second.
He also nabbed an overdue first PFC Award of the season for brothers Dominic and Nicholas Cape as the winning car owners.
Denmark managed to squeak past Pabst Racing teammate Josh Pierson, from Wilsonville, Ore., on the opening lap. He slipped as much as four seconds behind the lead pair shortly after the halfway mark before closing again during the tense final laps to finish hot on Campbell’s tail.
Brazilian Kiko Porto also worked his way into contention after starting sixth as the four leaders were blanketed by just over one second at the checkers.
Christian Brooks ran in fourth for most of the distance before slipping behind Porto and then struggling for pace in the closing stages as he fought desperately to stay ahead of points leader Yuven Sundaramoorthy and Josh Green
Pierson slipped from third on the grid to eighth, with Nolan Siegel and rookie Dylan Christie completing the top 10.
Last year’s Lucas Oil Formula Car Race Series champion Ely Navarro, from nearby Fishers, Ind., was the final unlapped finisher in 13th, earning himself the Tilton Hard Charger Award after having started from the 19th position.