Orlando’s Michael in victory lane in Toronto. (Photo USF Pro 2000)
TORONTO — Michael of Orlando continued his recent charge in USF Pro 2000 Presented by Cooper Tires by taking a dramatic win this afternoon for Turn 3 Motorsport in the first of two races that will feature the Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Toronto.
After the race was red-flagged after a brief downpour to allow everyone to switch to wet weather Cooper tires, of Orlando, of Hartsdale, NY, who holds dual American and Canadian citizenship, fully profited from a late mistake by Myles Rowe. before cementing his third victory in the last five races.
Salvador de Alba, of Guadalajara, Mexico, finished second for Exclusive Autosport, with Germany-based Albanian Lirim Zendeli taking third for TJ Speed Motorsports.
Rowe, the championship leader, continued his rich vein of form as he qualified on the unforgiving streets of Toronto. Only fifth fastest in Friday morning’s lone 30-minute practice session, Rowe upped the ante considerably when it mattered a bit later in the day.
His fastest time, more than half a second ahead of Orlando and the only lap under 1:10 among the 19 cars, comfortably secured his third Cooper Tires Pole Award of the season.
Under overcast skies but on a dry track, Rowe took the lead at the start, chased initially by de Alba, who found a way past the front row qualifier Orlando on the opening lap. d’Orlando restored that balance with a great turn 3 maneuver on lap four, then quickly undid the more than a second advantage Rowe had already created.
The top five continued to ride in close company for the first half of the 25-lap race, with Rowe remaining under pressure from d’Orlando, de Alba, Swedish Exclusive Autosport teammate Joel Granfors and Jace Denmark, of Scottsdale, Arizona.
An incident further down the peloton on lap 15 necessitated a full-course caution, and light rain began to fall as the peloton moved at reduced speed behind the Pace Car. Shortly after, Race Control called the red flag and brought all the cars to pit lane for the fitting of grooved tread tyres.
The track was completely wet by the time the race was called for a four-lap dash to the checkered flag. Unfortunately, as the race leader, Rowe was the first driver to fully realize how wet the surface had become. A fraction too late on the brakes at the end of Lake Shore Boulevard, Rowe skated wide and allowed d’Orlando to sneak into the lead.
Rowe was lucky enough to pick up in seventh, mitigating the damage, but nothing stopped Orlando, who stayed ahead until the yellow lights came back on the final lap after Irish teammate Jonathan Browne, who was running ninth. , found the tire barrier at turn 8.
Former FIA Formula 2 competitor Zendeli showed his experience as he moved from seventh to third after the restart, followed by Granfors and Brazilian Kiko Porto (DEForce Racing), who took advantage of the exit from unfortunate Denmark track at turn 3 just as the hazard lights came on. .
Christian Brooks of Santa Clarita, Calif., who hadn’t raced since winning the season-opening race on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., made an impressive comeback for Turn 3 Motorsport , rising from 13th on the grid to finish eighth and win the Tilton Hard Charger Award. His team owner Peter Dempsey also capped off a great day by picking up his fourth PFC award of the season.
After being ranked 11th in the season points table just a few races ago, d’Orlando has now moved up to fourth, just five points off second, with six races remaining in the season. Rowe continues to hold a comfortable lead and will have the opportunity to redeem his mistake when he starts on pole position for tomorrow morning’s race which goes green at 11:05 a.m. (ET).