Forget Indy Lights and Indy Pro 2000 this weekend at Portland: the real spectacle will take place in USF2000. Our resident Road to Indy writer explains why.
By Jeroen Demmendaal
When the Road to Indy arrives at Portland International Raceway this weekend, many will focus on Indy Lights. It’s the final stage of the four-step ladder towards the IndyCar Series, the cars are fast and loud, and these drivers are the soon-to-be stars of IndyCar.
The problem is the championship battle in Lights is done. Linus Lundqvist has delivered some spectacular performances this season, but the Swede has also completely dominated proceedings. The same goes for Louis Foster in Indy Pro 2000, the title will go to the British rookie driver.
So allow me to make a case for this weekend’s season finale in USF2000, stage two on the Road to Indy. Those drivers are still a few years away from IndyCar glory, but with only three races to go, the fight for the title is much like the one in IndyCar, it’s practically impossible to predict who will win it.
With 23 points between the three contenders and 99 points still in the championship, we’re bound to see a thrilling triple-header in Oregon. Tune in this weekend and you’ll see a battle between raw pace, experience and consistency. However, only one of those three characteristics can win.
Who of the three?
Take raw pace first. On the evidence of this season, that quality has without a doubt been embodied by Myles Rowe, the championship leader. He has won five races, more than either of his rivals, and secured another five podium finishes.
But with raw pace also comes being on the edge, and sometimes going over that edge, as demonstrated in the season opener in St Petersburg and Race 1 at Indianapolis Road Course. That risk, if anything, will be Rowe’s biggest adversary in Portland.
If you prefer to bet on experience winning out, look no further than Michael d’Orlando. Only 22 points behind Rowe, the young man from New York is in his third full season of USF2000 and knows these cars backwards by now.
That has allowed him to win three races and stay in the front group all year, but like Rowe, he’s been involved in a few incidents that kept him from maximising his points haul. Having said that, only a fool would bet against d’Orlando and his powerhouse employer Cape Motorsports.
Finally, there’s Jace Denmark, Rowe’s teammate at Pabst Racing and 23 points off the lead. The sophomore from Arizona has been a model of consistency in 2022, although he hit a brief rough patch in Alabama after his strong start in St Petersburg.
Since then, however, he has been on a ten-race streak of top-5 finishes, including two wins and four more podiums. He’s been on the podium for the last five races and if he continues that form, Denmark may very well come out on top by Sunday.
Ready to move up
Regardless of who ends up winning the championship, Rowe, d’Orlando and Denmark are all ready to move up to the next level in 2023. Jagger Jones (fourth in the standings), Billy Frazer (fifth) and Bijoy Garg (seventh) all have similar ambitions.
With that in mind, I’d advise you to keep an eye out for Thomas Nepveu (sixth overall) and Christian Weir (eighth) this weekend. They may very well be the championship contenders we discuss next year around this stage of the season…
To follow the USF2000 sessions and races at Portland, download the Road to Indy TV app. You can also check the Road to Indy social channels, YouTube channel or the Roadtoindy.tv website.
Header photo credit: Gavin Baker
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