Rowe, Giaffone Close in on Titles and Scholarships at Circuit of The Americas
 August 23, 2023| 
  • Series News
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PALMETTO, Fla. – As the 2023 season draws towards its conclusion, championship titles and Discount Tire Career Enhancement Scholarships valued at over $900,000 will be at stake when two of the three rungs on the USF Pro Championship Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel driver development ladder convene this weekend at Circuit of The Americas, near Austin, Texas.

Myles Rowe, from Brooklyn, N.Y., holds a healthy 81-point advantage at the more senior level, USF Pro 2000 Presented by Cooper Tires. He is chasing graduation to INDY NXT by Firestone in 2024. Five races – two this weekend which will comprise the Discount Tire Circuit of the Americas Grand Prix at the 3.427-mile home of the United States Grand Prix, followed by a tripleheader season finale one week later at Portland International Raceway, in Portland, Ore. – will determine whether Rowe can achieve his goal and erase the memory of 12 months ago, when he fell agonizingly short of clinching the USF2000 Presented by Cooper Tires title at the final hurdle.

Meanwhile, if Brazilian Nicolas Giaffone can finish ahead, or within a position or two, of his two main rivals in the first of three races that will conclude the USF Juniors Presented by Cooper Tires campaign, he will have done enough to secure the championship and a scholarship valued at $241,890 to progress into USF2000 next season.

Redemption for Rowe?
Even though Rowe was unable to claim last year’s USF2000 championship, continued support from Penske Entertainment did allow him to make the step up into USF Pro 2000 for the 2023 season with the Pabst Racing with Force Indy team. He immediately demonstrated that such faith was not misplaced.

After a third-place finish in the opening race on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., Rowe sped to his maiden victory the following day, then swept both rounds of the subsequent doubleheader event at Sebring International Raceway. He has continued to lead the point standings ever since. Rowe also has accumulated more wins (a total of five), poles positions (four), fastest race laps (three) and podium finishes (seven) than any of his rivals.

Rowe is one of only two drivers to have earned multiple wins and pole positions during an intensely competitive USF Pro 2000 season. The other, coincidentally, is the young man who beat him to the top USF2000 honors in 2022: Michael d’Orlando. After encountering a series of setbacks and misfortunes during the early part of the season, Turn 3 Motorsport’s d’Orlando, from Hartsdale, N.Y., has vaulted from a distant 11th in the point standings to fourth on the strength of three wins and three poles.

Currently 93 points adrift of Rowe with only five races remaining, d’Orlando will need everything to fall his way if he is to stand any chance of winning back-to-back titles. But he remains very much in the fight for second place along with the likes of Kiko Porto (DEForce Racing), from Recife, Brazil, who preceded d’Orlando as USF2000 championship winner in 2021 and Mexican stock car racer Salvador de Alba (Exclusive Autosport).

Other contenders will include TJ Speed Motorsports teammates Francesco Pizzi, from Rome, Italy, and Lirim Zendeli, from Bochum, Germany and fellow rookie Jace Denmark (Pabst Racing), from Scottsdale, Ariz., who has also impressed after finishing a close third in last year’s USF2000 title-chase behind d’Orlando and Rowe.

A full field this weekend also will include five drivers seeking to dip a toe in the USF Pro 2000 waters: USF2000 race winners Mac Clark (DEForce Racing) from Toronto, Ont., Canada and Nikita Johnson (VRD Racing), from Gulfport, Fla.; Jorge Garciarce (DEForce Racing), from Guadalajara, Mexico; Avery Towns (Exclusive Autosport), from Allen, Texas; and Frankie Mossman (Jay Howard Driver Development), from Newport Beach, Calif.

Both Clark and Johnson are attempting to be the first drivers to win on all three current levels of the ladder system.

A pair of 30-minute test sessions on Friday, August 25, will allow drivers to gain experience prior to 30 minutes of official practice at 9:25 a.m. CDT on Saturday. A lone qualifying session at 1:50 p.m. will help set the starting positions for the two races later in the day at 5:20 p.m. and the following morning at 8:00 a.m.

Giaffone Closes on Title
Nicolas Giaffone has been the dominant performer during the second year of USF Juniors. The 18-year-old son of former INDYCAR race winner Felipe Giaffone has won six times and earned five pole positions for DEForce Racing, which has catapulted him to a commanding 72-point lead entering this weekend’s season finale.

Even with a total of 99 points still up for grabs, Giaffone, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, will require merely a fourth-place finish from the first of this weekend’s three races as part of the Cooper Tires Circuit of the Americas Grand Prix to ensure his graduation to USF2000 next year.

DEForce teammate Quinn Armstrong, from Newcastle, Australia, currently lies second in the title chase, although a strong recent weekend at Road America for Jack Jeffers (Exclusive Autosport), from San Antonio, Texas, has meant the pair are now tied on points.

Joey Brienza, from Golden, Colo., held second place for much of the season after scoring a win and two second-place finishes for Exclusive Autosport in the opening event, but has slipped to fourth and will be looking to complete his rookie season on a high note.

Others to watch include the VRD Racing trio of Jimmie Lockhart, from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Max Taylor, from Hoboken, N.J., who scored his first win at Road America, and 14-year-old Hudson Schwartz, from Arlington, Va., who missed the opening event of the season but has rapidly developed into a strong contender.

In addition, Filipina Bianca Bustamante will make a return to the series in which she started her career last year with Exclusive Autosport as she gains some extra track time prior to the F1 Academy event at Circuit of The Americas in October. Bustamante recently scored her first F1 Academy feature race win at Monza in Italy.

A recent surge of interest in USF Juniors continues with three more youngsters set to make their debut this weekend: Aidan Potter, from Lexington, Ky., and Dane Scott, from Norcross, Ga., both with Jay Howard Driver Development, and Connor Roberts, from Queensland, Australia, with DC Autosport.

The largest USF Juniors field this year, comprising 18 drivers, will be able to gain some familiarity with the challenging track on Friday during two half-hour test sessions, followed by 30 minutes of official practice at 5:30 p.m. A crucial single qualifying session will take place at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, prior to the first race at 3:30 p.m. Two more 15-lap races will take place on Sunday at 11:00 a.m. and 3:55 p.m.

Full coverage can be found on the free USF Pro Championships App, YouTube channel and the usfpro2000.com and usfjuniors.com websites.
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