Championship Title for Cape Motorsports at Portland
 September 3, 2022| 
  • Team News
Cape 2022 PO

The team also takes rookie of the year honors in its final USF2000 season

PORTLAND, Ore. – Michael d’Orlando has contested the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship for three years, searching for that elusive championship title along with his Cape Motorsports team.

That championship moment arrived on Saturday at Portland International Raceway, as the Cape brothers captured their 14th championship title (and its 10th of the last 12) with d’Orlando, rookie of the year honors with Jagger Jones, and the first two series podium finishes for Nicky Hays.

With the team heading to the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires series in 2023, the title win was the perfect way to cap off a historic run on the first rung of the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder.

“What an unbelievable way to end a championship!” said Dominic and Nicholas Cape. “With Jagger winning the rookie of the year award with a storming drive from 17th to 4th after an injector issue in qualifying. Nicky had his breakthrough weekend after all his hard work this year, with two podium finishes. And last but not least, our new 2022 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship champ, Michael d’Orlando. What a wild weekend, we are so proud of all our drivers, and all our crew for the efforts they have put out this year.”

Neither d’Orlando (Hartsdale, NY), Jones (Scottsdale, Ariz.), nor Hays (Huntington Beach, Calif.) had ever competed at Portland before, so the learning curve commenced immediately. Former Cape driver Neil Alberico was on hand to coach the three drives through the track’s intricacies.

The series hit the track on Thursday for two 45-minute test sessions and one 30-minute official practice session at the end of the day. Jones led the Cape contingent early, setting the second-quickest time of the first test with d’Orlando eighth and Hays 11th. D’Orlando and Jones each held the top spot early in the second test session, but with five minutes remaining in the session, d’Orlando found the turn five tires.

Unfortunately, the team did not have enough time to repair the car before official practice less than two hours later. Jones once again set a fast early time, as did Hays, just one-tenth of a second behind his teammate.

Friday’s schedule was compact, to say the least – qualifying at 9:00 a.m., race one at 11:30 a.m. and race two at 4:00 p.m. Hays made the first move, setting the third quickest time eight minutes into the session. But as the session progressed, both Jones and d’Orlando struggled for clear running in traffic – with Jones and the team battling an engine issue that left him significantly down on power. As the checkered flag flew, Hays had earned his best starting position of the season in fifth, with d’Orlando ninth and Jones in 14th.

Race One

All three Cape Motorsports drivers took advantage of the inevitable lap one/turn one chaos, with six cars going off course and into the chicane: Hays moving from fifth to third, d’Orlando from ninth to sixth and Jones from 14th to 11th. The race returned to green on lap five, and within two laps, d’Orlando had made the pass into fifth and was looking for more, with the two championship leaders running up front.

But on lap eight, a chain reaction of incidents found Jones and d’Orlando both involved, with d’Orlando sliding off course right in front of Hays and falling to 13th, and Jones having contact with another car in turn three to fall to 17th. Hays held onto sixth position as the yellow flag came back out.

Once the race returned to green and as drivers jockeyed for position in the top ten, Hays battled hard to hold his spot, falling to ninth but regaining eighth on lap 20. Meanwhile, d’Orlando refused to concede, fighting his way up to ninth behind his teammate. When championship leader Rowe went off track late in the race, d’Orlando’s championship hopes returned – though now, he would head to race two in third position in the title chase, 20 points behind Rowe and 16 points behind race winner Jace Denmark.

Race Two

Race two was delayed nearly hours, after a very large video screen on the front straight lost all its hydraulic fluid during NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice and tiled precariously close to the fencing shielding fans from the racing surface. INDYCAR practice was delayed nearly 90 minutes, which delayed the two remaining Road to Indy races. The USF2000 race took the green flag just after 6:00 p.m.

Once again, the field accordioned as it headed into turn one, with 2-1 on track and 1-2 in the championship getting the worst of it – Rowe tagged his teammate Denmark, sending them both off track. Hays took advantage of the chaos, jumping from fifth into the second position, settling in behind rookie Mac Clark. Cognizant of the significant championship implications, d’Orlando settled into fourth position, looking for more if he could manage it safely. Unfortunately, Jones was caught in the turn one mess, coming into pit lane for a new front wing and going back out in 17th position.

At the checkered flag, Hays had captured his first Road to Indy podium finish in second, with d’Orlando bringing the car (and the valuable championship points) home in fourth, and Jones 15th.

Race three

D’Orlando went into the season finale only seven points behind Rowe, and two points behind Denmark in the title chase.

Hays once again led the Cape contingent at the green flag, starting in the fifth position, with d’Orlando sixth and Jones 17th. And once again, the pole sitter was hit from behind – this time, Denmark taking the hit from DEForce Racing’s Thomas Nepveu, spinning into the chicane. Rowe on the outside had to go through the chicane as well and was hit, suffering a tire puncture – leaving both championship leaders at the back of the field Hays and d’Orlando worked hard to make it through cleanly, coming out in second and third.

As the green came back out, race control called Nepveu into pit lane for a drive through penalty for avoidable contact at the start. Hays and d’Orlando battled briefly for the lead, but Hays wisely curtailed the fight as d’Orlando nosed in front. D’Orlando held a 10-point championship lead but Rowe – who had come into pit lane to change tires – was on the move. Charging from P16 to P6, the Cape team could only watch as the points lead began to shrink.

But d’Orlando never put a foot wrong in the lead, knowing exactly what was at stake. He took the checkered flag and his fourth victory of the season – and the long-awaited championship title.

Cape Motorsports will now turn its attention to 2023, as preparations continue for the team’s debut in the Indy Lights series.   

QUOTEBOARD

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

Race 1: Start – 8th / Finish – 7th

Race 2: Start – 6th / Finish – 4th

Race 3: Start – 6th / Finish – 1st

Final Championship standing:  1st

“I can’t put this into words, I’m almost crying right now! Three years of hard work have gone into this so to come out on top is unimaginable. It’s the first step of the ladder, on the way to INDYCAR, and it’s a dream come true. Ever since I was a little kid, I dreamed of a championship like this. I’m so proud of everyone – the team gave me a great car all year and my teammates were great.

“What a hectic start. I think I’ve always put myself in a good situation on the starts, on the outside – all the carnage happens on the inside and I went right around it. I tried to stay as calm as possible and not make any crazy moves. I made a move on Nicky on the restart, who let me by. I thought it was a good move – maybe a bit too deep because I locked up the front right, but he let me have the spot. We were able to hold off the rest of the field, and we made it happen. I put every bit of my soul into this, I’m so glad it paid off. Huge thanks to Dominic and Nicholas and everyone at Cape Motorsports for making this happen.”  

JAGGER JONES – No. 3 TotalSim US / Apex Motor Club / Simcraft

Race 1: Start – 13th / Finish – 17th

Race 2: Start – 16th / Finish – 15th

Race 3: Start – 17th / Finish – 4th

Final Championship standing:  4th

“We had a great day Thursday, super fast and making minor adjustments along the way. Right where we wanted to be, aiming for pole – and we had an engine issue, out of our control, and it ruined qualifying. With only one qualifying session, it ruins the whole weekend. Friday was a mess, I got caught in some issues and then tried to force the issue too much. I turned it around on Saturday, had a great start, top 10 on the first lap and fighting for a podium in the end. A great result, and a good way to finish the weekend. Rookie of the year and a win in the series, so a pretty good first year in open wheel racing. I’m excited for what the future holds!”

NICKY HAYS – No. 5 Touchstone Helicopters/Molecule Sports

Race 1: Start – 5th / Finish – 8th

Race 2: Start – 5th / Finish – 2nd

Race 3: Start – 5th / Finish – 2nd

Final Championship standing:  7th

“Honestly, I’m happy just to be here this weekend, we did a lot of work just to find the funding. So many people came in to help – so much happened behind the scenes, from Toronto to now, to make it happen. So to come here and have a big weekend is a momentum-builder. The team helped me get up to speed and having Neil Alberico here coaching, with those little reminders of what to do, really made the difference. I want to be fighting for wins so doing that back to back, that shows our pace as we prepare for 2023.”

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