Kiko Porto Breaks Through In USF2000

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Kiko Porter en route to victory Saturday on the streets of St. Petersburg. (Al Steinberg photo)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Brazilian rookie Kiko Porto claimed a well-deserved maiden Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship victory Saturday afternoon in the USF2000 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by Andersen RacePark.

Porto’s emotional triumph capped a roller coaster year which began with him missing the opening race of the season after he was unable to enter the country, then was forced to skip the most recent event in New Jersey after being diagnosed with COVID-19.

His DEForce teammate, Cameron Shields, led impressively from the pole before experiencing a mechanical failure.

Porto’s good friend and countryman Eduardo Barrichello finished close behind in second place for Pabst Racing, with Reece Gold taking third for Cape Motorsports.

“I can’t describe this feeling! I’ve worked so hard this year, and so many things have happened – I couldn’t get to the United States, and then I got COVID. But the team has worked so hard and the car was so good today,” said Porto. “And I’m so happy for Dudu (Barrichello), my ‘brother.’ I am so happy to be first-second with him. I’ve loved this track from my first lap here so I’m glad we were able to come back and do this race, it’s one of my favorites. I pushed hard the whole time and it was a very difficult race, especially that first corner, so to bring home the win means so much.

“I will remember this moment for the rest of my life.”

After securing his first-ever Cooper Tires Pole Award Friday in qualifying, Shields took off into the lead Saturday afternoon, intent on making it a banner day for Toowoomba, Australia, directly after the town’s more famous resident – Will Power – snatched a dramatic NTT IndyCar Series pole position on the streets of St. Petersburg.

Porto and third-place qualifier Barrichello followed closely from the start, chased by Gold. But behind them at turn one there was drama, as Yuven Sundaramoorthy misjudged his braking and vaulted over the rear of Christian Brooks before slamming into the side of an innocent Christian Rasmussen.

All three were done for the day, which left Rasmussen thanking his lucky stars he had already clinched the championship last time out at New Jersey Motorsports Park.

Shields took off again into the lead following a lengthy cleanup. But just before half-distance, as it seemed he was beginning to edge clear, his car abruptly slowed on the front straightaway. His race, too, was over.

Teammate Porto took up the running, still chased by Barrichello and Gold, who claimed the Ticket Clinic Fastest Lap Award on ;ap 14 but was unable to get close enough to mount a serious challenge.

Cape Motorsports teammates Josh Green and Michael d’Orlando crossed the line close together in fourth and fifth, followed by Jack William Miller.

Englishman Matt Round-Garrido took seventh for Pabst Racing ahead of rookie Simon Sikes.

Sikes had been the biggest beneficiary of the first-lap shenanigans, vaulting from 17th on the grid to as high as sixth. Even though he slipped a little to eighth by the finish, Sikes still did enough to earn the Tilton Hard Charger Award.

Kyle Dupell and Christian Bogle completed the top 10.

Porto’s victory secured the first PFC Award for the winning team, DEForce Racing.

Although Brooks was eliminated on the opening lap, he still leads the Hyperco Rookie of the Year standings by 17 points over Green and will start on pole position for Sunday’s final race of the season after posting the fastest lap in qualifying Saturday morning.