D’Orlando continues Road to Indy success with Cape in USF2000
Young New Yorker Michael from Orlando claimed his position as a pre-season favorites in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, returning to the Cape Motorsports squad that helped him clinch fourth place in the 2020 final standings. Currently sixth in 2021 points, he will attempt to complete that unfinished business this season, aiming for the purse that would help him continue his run on the Road to Indy ladder presented by Cooper Tires.
Scoring one victory and five podiums in 2020, the 18-year-old impressed in his first full racing car season. With a stellar karting career that has featured several championship titles, including the 2013 Rotax Grand National Mini MAX American Championship and the 2016 Florida Winter Tour Rotax Junior MAX Championship, Orlando feels ready to follow several former karting stars who have successfully crossed the road to Indy. ladder in the NTT INDYCAR series before him.
“I raced a lot with Oliver (Askew) and Pato (O’Ward) during our go-kart days,” said of Orlando. “They were always a few years ahead of me, but it’s good to see how they handled the trajectory through karting and Road to Indy.
“It’s one of the advantages of Road to Indy, to have the INDYCAR teams and drivers watching you. You are seen as a future INDYCAR driver and it gives you a sense of security knowing that people are seeing your success. This makes this route possible.
Recently announcing his return to Cape Motorsports, winner of nine of the last 10 USF2000 Driver’s Championships, Orlando hopes to learn the lessons of 2020 and his karting career to add to the Cape Brothers’ collection of trophies.
“The high pressure situations I have experienced over the years – the CIK FIA European Karting Championships, the World Finals, the highest levels of national karting – and the level of competition in these events have made me feel really learned to take the plunge. up. If you have 100 pilots in a second, it will be difficult. You are really learning to manage yourself under these circumstances.
“These opportunities really teach you how to race, but also how to keep your cool. If you start to back down – and it is bound to happen when you’re 100 – it’ll teach you that you can’t let it go to your head. You just have to keep pushing.
The story of how he earned his first series victory last season is emblematic of this ‘keep pushing’ mentality. As is often the case, Mid-Ohio weekend Friday saw qualifying sessions for race one and race two. Third in qualifying that morning for Saturday’s first race, Orlando rushed too early in qualifying for the second afternoon’s race and derailed, causing significant damage to his Tatuus USF-17. The fact that the Cape Motorsports team were able to fix the car overnight and give D’Orlando a car with the same setup and speed that he could trust is a testament to the team’s resilience and of the pilot.
“It’s much easier to win when you qualify up front, so qualifying is all the more important. I qualified for the first race in third position and going into the second qualifying session, I knew I had more to give. But I got a little too greedy going into the sixth corner, got into the grass and went straight into the wall. My first thought was to check and make sure everything was okay and then it was to assess the car. There was damage to the left side, damage to the nose but I had complete confidence in the team to get me back there the next morning.
“I knew immediately on the pace lap that the distance was good for me and with the pace I had in qualifying – I was P1 when I hit the wall – that I knew I could win. I went with the idea that I would take it easy from the start and see what developed, knowing that I might not win early on, but I could definitely lose it.
When championship leader and poleman Christian Rasmussen overcooked the entrance to the difficult, uphill Turn 11 and ran wide over the grass at the exit, Orlando, who had passed teammate Reece Gold on the turn four to take second place, found himself in the lead and held back gold to score his first victory.
“It almost feels like training when you’re in front like that. You don’t look behind you, you just focus on your knees. I’ve won a lot of kart races so I just held onto those feelings. Crossing the line I was so excited I hit my elbow, hitting my funny bone on the cockpit when I raised my hand! I look forward to having this feeling many times. “
Family is so important to Orlando, so having parents Sherri and Michael and brother Nick in Mid-Ohio for that first win made it even more special. But the highlight of the year could very well have come later in the season at New Jersey Motorsports Park (less than three hours from his hometown). A large contingent of family, friends and sponsors were on hand to see him score his fifth podium of the season.
“I’m so glad everyone was able to come and watch. So many people I know couldn’t wait to go and it was close enough that they could all come. It was a chance to show them what my life is like on the track, and I’m glad it was such a good race (from Orlando rode 7th to 3rd). It was such a nice feeling to jump out of the car and have everyone there, it was really an overwhelming emotion.
“My brother Nick and I started racing when we were very young, when I was 6, and I’m grateful that my parents were so dedicated to us and so involved. I am fortunate to have a family like this. Nick taught me to be a better driver; we are constantly pushing and learning from each other. He’s started to get into racing cars now, so I hope to see him on the grid at some point!