Cape Motorsports in the Thick of the Title Battles
 September 2, 2021| 
  • Team News
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D’Orlando will fight for the series championship title while Kohlbecker holds the rookie lead after a challenging weekend at New Jersey Motorsports Park

MILLVILLE, NJ – Two titles are at stake for the 2021 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship field, and three Cape Motorsports drivers are in contention for the season-ending honors despite a challenging weekend at New Jersey Motorsports Park.

Constantly changing track and weather conditions made for three nerve-wracking Cooper Tires USF2000 Grand Prix races on the 12-turn, 2.25-mile Thunderbolt racetrack at NJMP. Plenty was on the line for the four Cape drivers – Michael d’Orlando (Hartsdale, NY), Spike Kohlbecker (Kirkwood, Mo.), Thomas Nepveu (Oka, Quebec, Canada), and Evan Stamer (Glen Carbon, Ill.).

Coming into the weekend, d’Orlando had one goal in mind: close down the points gap to championship leader Kiko Porto. Meanwhile, the rookie of the year race looked to come down to three drivers, including Kohlbecker and Nepveu. Every point would be crucial in the triple header.

The team was quick right out of the transporter, with all four drivers in the top-12 in the first test session on Friday, and Kohlbecker leading much of the second session in the afternoon. At the end of the day, Kohlbecker had set the third-quickest time, with d’Orlando fifth. The field caught up a bit by the time the official practice took the checkered flag on Saturday morning, and in race one qualifying, tricky conditions

Race One

At the drop of the green, d’Orlando began a move toward the front, into fifth on the opening lap. But NJMP’s notoriously tight corners took their toll as the race progressed, with each driver fighting battles on track but finding passing opportunities at a premium. The one exception – Kohlbecker, who lost several positions early, fought his way past five cars during the race to regain his starting position.

Race Two

USF2000 took to the track first thing Sunday morning to set qualifying times for both race two and race three. Under cool and cloudy conditions – and with rain threatening – d’Orlando set the quickest time to start on pole and capture the valuable championship point. The expected rains came just before the green flag, making for a wet start on rain tires. At the drop of the green, d’Orlando got on the gas, keeping Porto behind him as he held the top spot at the end of Lap One.

As the racing line began to dry, Porto made his move, taking the lead on Lap Five as d’Orlando’s tires began to degrade. Falling to fourth, d’Orlando and his teammates began searching for puddles on every lap to keep their rain tires going. By Lap Eight, Kohlbecker had moved into ninth position, Nepveu into 13th and Stamer into 16th – but an off-and-on for d’Orlando put him behind Kohlbecker in 11th. However, a post-race penalty for avoidable contact put d’Orlando back in 18th, costing him valuable championship points.

Race Three

In the weekend finale, d’Orlando once again started on pole, with the field starting on rain tires once again as the track began to quickly dry. Numerous cars ducked into pit lane at the end of the first lap, switching to slick tires, but the Cape quartet stayed out on track and moved up in the rankings. On Lap Four, d’Orlando led the field, with Kohlbecker sixth, Nepveu 12th and Stamer 15th, all continuing to search for wet pavement on track.

Lap six saw the fight between d’Orlando and Nolan Siegel intensify, with Siegel filling d’Orlando’s mirrors and ducking in and out trying to make a move. As the leaders battled, the cars behind began to close the gap, including Kohlbecker in seventh and Stamer in 10th. On Lap nine, both Stamer and Nepveu ducked into pit lane to change to slick tires. On lap 10, Siegel make the move stick, taking the lead as d’Orlando went wide in Turn One and slipped to third.

Tire wear also took its toll on Kohlbecker, who fell to eighth position with two laps remaining. Nepveu and Stamer were not able to make back the ground they lost on the stops, finishing 15th and 20th, respectively.

“The weekend started out in the two tests quite well,” said Dominic and Nicholas Cape. “As a group I think we underperformed in the first qualifying session and unfortunately, passing is very difficult with everyone so close so qualifying sets the stage for your finish. Day two, Michael got the pole for the remaining two races which was a good performance, but the races however were a different story. With the wet and drying conditions, the series called both races as wet tires so this put a premium on tire management as sliding the tires would really degrade them fast as the track in both races quickly dried. The tail end of the field came in for dry tires quite early and the wet/dry delta to pit for slicks was around lap three. Big thanks to all the team, drivers, parents and sponsors for all their hard work and support, onwards to Mid-Ohio for the season finale."

The team heads for the doubleheader season finale at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course October 1-3 with d’Orlando and Porto the sole drivers in contention for the championship title, d’Orlando 48 points behind. Kohlbecker holds a seven-point lead over Pabst Racing’s Jace Denmark and a 17-point lead over teammate Nepveu in the rookie standings. Tune into USF2000.com for all the action!

QUOTEBOARD

MICHAEL D’ORLANDO – No. 4 Focused Project Management/UFC Gym

Race 1: Start – 6th / Finish – 5th

Race 2: Start – 1st / Finish – 18th

Race 3: Start – 1st / Finish – 4th

Championship standing:  2nd

“It’s just me and Kiko now, with two races left, and anything can happen. It was crazy last weekend. Race one was tough: we didn’t have a great qualifying and there we were, at a track that doesn’t pass well. I made a good move on the first lap to get into fifth but couldn’t do anything from there. In qualifying two, we had it all together and put it on pole for both races on Sunday. Race two was one to be forgotten, a combination of setup and my driving, but I learned from those mistakes. Out in front in race three, we couldn’t come in for dry tires, so I was just holding on. Nolan gave me a whole bunch of pressure, so congratulations to him on the win. The rain tires were tough in the dry conditions we had at the end and I got passed right at the end, but that’s the kind of roller coaster weekend it was. Mid-Ohio is one of my favorite tracks, so we’ll see if we can go out and win a 14th championship for Cape.”  

SPIKE KOHLBECKER – No. 5 Ignite Autosport/Raceway Gives/Tierpoint

Race 1: Start – 13th / Finish – 10th

Race 2: Start – 11th / Finish – 7th

Race 3: Start – 8th / Finish – 11th

Championship standing:  7th

“It was very challenging conditions for both races on Sunday, not full wet and just dry enough to be tough on the rain tires. It was hard – we made a stop for new tires but so did everybody else, and no one knew where anyone was in the standings for a while. I just tried to hold on in both of those races. There were definitely positives: in race two, I made some good passes and in race three, I had some great battles, some clean, hard racing, until the rear tires began to go. We have a good lead now in the rookie championship and we need to close that out – that’s definitely our goal. We’ll work on qualifying higher at the season finale and see what happens. There’s more to be found, given the experience I’ve gained so far this season.”

THOMAS NEPVEU – No. 2 Cromwell/Karting Excellence/Home Hardware

Race 1: Start – 16th / Finish – 16th

Race 2: Start – 16th / Finish – 13th

Race 3: Start – 15th / Finish – 15th

Championship standing:  10th

“Things had gone well on the Friday practice, but my poor qualifying performance made things difficult for me in the races on this track where it is hard to pass. The last race was declared a wet one, so we all had to start on grooved rain tires on what was in fact a drying track. I was called in by Coy Arbour [my sporting manager] to mount slicks on lap seven and then ran for the rest of the race some two to three seconds per lap quicker than the leaders, who had stayed on wet tires. I was stuck in P19 and worked my way back to 15th at the finish. We needed a caution to get back up closer to the leaders, but none came. But it's over! So, we now go back home and focus on preparing for the last two races at Mid-Ohio, where I scored a fifth-place finish in our July race there.”

EVAN STAMER – No. 3 Ignite Autosport/Margay Racing

Race 1: Start – 18th / Finish – 18th

Race 2: Start – 20th / Finish – 16th

Race 3: Start – 20th / Finish – 20th

Championship standing:  21st

“The weekend started off well, we had good pace but the conditions got really tricky. It was the first time I ran this car in the rain. In that third race, it dried so quickly. It was difficult, making the decision whether to go to slicks or stay on wets and keep the track position, and ultimately, I made the wrong call, I should have come in earlier in the race. But it was a good learning experience, with all the different conditions, that will help me in the future.”

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