MILLVILLE, N.J. — Kiko Porto 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 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, 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 and good friend and former karting rival Michael d’Orlando, 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 and Josh Pierson 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.