It’s fitting that Myles Rowe’s first win came at a slippery track, where pure driving skills and courage behind the wheel were even more important than usual. Because for those of us who’ve watched the young New Yorker and the brand new Force Indy team get to grips with USF2000 this year, it’s been pretty clear pretty quick that Myles Rowe is a great talent.
By Jeroen Demmendaal
At the same time, that talent has come out in fits and starts throughout the season. Rowe would often display his considerable skills one day, only to get tangled up in an incident again the next day. Those incidents were definitely not always his fault, but they did make you wonder whether he had a special talent for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
None of that this past weekend at New Jersey Motorsports Park, where the 21-year-old won Race 2 of the USF2000 triple header in dominant fashion. The race, declared wet but taking place on a slowly drying track, forced drivers to think on their feet. They were forced to find the right balance between not taking unnecessary risks and making use of the obvious opportunities at hand.
At the same time, drivers had to constantly assess whether they were on the right rubber, whether they could manage their existing set of mandated wet-weather tires, or whether they would take the gamble and switch to slicks. It was a classic wet-weather racing challenge, one that often points out those drivers that you should really keep an eye on.
Winning the chess game
Rowe excelled in these circumstances. Starting tenth, he looked as comfortable all the way through, while others were clearly struggling with the conditions. One by one he passed his competitors as their tires started to go away, until he came up behind championship leader Kiko Porto on the final lap.
Some will argue that Porto was going to err on the side of caution in terms of finding that risk balance, given his championship aspirations. Still, Rowe had to make a quick decision on whether to make the move and where. Coming up to Turn 9, with Porto leaving the smallest of gaps, Rowe decided to pounce and went for it. Twenty seconds later, he took the chequered flag as race leader.
“As I was coming to the finish, I had to radio my spotter and ask him ‘are we in the lead?’,” said Rowe afterwards. “He told me ‘keep going, keep going!’ I knew I was in second, but looking at my first win, I just didn’t believe it. Once I took the checkered, my first thought was – I’m here.
“I can’t thank my parents so much for all the love, support and patience. Rod Reid, Jon, the whole team, Stu, Derrick, Zach – I can’t thank them all enough. And of course, Roger Penske and Will Power. So many people who put me where I am, where Force Indy is today.”
Describing his run as “a chess game, picking people off”, Rowe indicated he and the team had more than exceeded their own expectations. “I haven’t had that many sessions in the wet, but for some reason, I seem to excel in these conditions. I think it’s just extra confidence. We were aiming for a top-10 finish this weekend and our plan today was just to hit our marks, let other people make mistakes and see what could happen.”
An eventful season
With one more round to go at Mid-Ohio, in the first weekend of October, Rowe’s first win caps an eventful debut season for the youngster and the Force Indy team. Discovered by Team Penske IndyCar driver Will Power on a local go-kart track, Rowe left a big impression when he first tested a USF2000 car in the summer of 2020 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
He was therefore a logical choice when Power and his team owner Roger Penske threw their weight behind Force Indy and supported the team’s establishment last fall, as part of INDYCAR’s Race for Equality and Change initiative. And while this season has been a steep learning curve for Force Indy and their driver, last weekend’s success shows that the only way is up for the fledgling outfit as they continue to improve in their race weekend execution.
“Until you actually win one of these, you don’t know what you’re going to feel,” said Rod Reid, Force Indy team principal. “For us, the early part of that battle was reminiscent of St. Pete, when we were in fourth and going for third until we made a mistake. I was right there in Turn Eight and saw him battling for third and then for the lead, and I thought ‘Can we do this, is this real?’ But this is why we do this, it’s a great feeling. The entire team did great.”
Both Force Indy and Rowe have received a lot of attention this season, probably more so than any other rookies in the USF2000 field. But that attention does not seem to bother them. If anything, they seem to thrive under it. Given the growth trajectory of both team and driver, don’t be surprised if Rowe and Force Indy are fighting for the USF2000 title in 2022.
“There’s been pressure, but it’s just about focusing on the present,” said Rowe. “There’s been a lot of attention, but also a lot of support. For me as a driver, all I can worry about is what I can do. It’s helped me control my emotions, control my actions and really be able to plot this path, and help plot the path for Force Indy. We’re going to keep going from here!”
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