Michael d'Orlando

Family means the world to Michael d’Orlando. When he launched his successful INDY NXT by Firestone debut in the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 10, a family contingent was onsite looking on.

“They're my biggest supporters,” he said. They're my biggest support structure off the track, making sure I'm OK mentally and being there for me and every step of the way. And even when we're finalizing the last little bit of things, like getting the logos on my fire suit or getting the medical done before the race weekend, like all those types of things that people don't necessarily think about, they're always there for me in that regard.

“We’re a family. We know that's our biggest strength is being able to lean on each other.”

One could imagine the euphoria the family felt when the fourth driver to cross the finish line Sunday morning was d’Orlando.

D’Orlando knew he would compete in the race only four days before taking the checkered flag. He received that call March 6 – on his 22nd birthday – in what was one of the best presents he’s received.

Priority Technology Holdings and Rising Star Racing helped to make his birthday that much better, with both companies helping secure the deal with Andretti Cape INDY NXT, a new joint effort between Cape Motorsports and Andretti Global.

D’Orlando raced for Cape Motorsports in his final three seasons (2020-22) in USF2000. He jumped to USF Pro 2000 in 2023 with Turn 3 Motorsport, finishing fourth in points, with four wins and six poles. D’Orlando thought he was ready for another promotion for INDY NXT by Firestone. It didn’t happen. Without a ride lined up for the 2024 season, it was looking like he would be on the sidelines for St. Petersburg.

Then his partners in the waning days found a way “home” for d’Orlando.

“It was very comforting to go back (to Cape Motorsports),” he said. “It was nice to be back with the family that I had for a long period of time. I didn't have any learning curve. We got right back into a rhythm.

“They know how I drive, and I know how they operate. So, there was a feeling after a year hiatus of not seeing them, kind of like going back home and sleeping in your own bed.”

That familiarity was a prominent reason why he was second quickest among 21 cars in practice Friday and qualified fifth Saturday.

Finding immediate speed allowed him to shift his expectations. Entering the weekend, d’Orlando thought a top-eight finish would suffice. But after strong practice and qualifying performances, his aim shifted to a top-five result.

The only three drivers in front of his No. 3 car at the end were championship frontrunners Nolan Siegel, Jacob Abel and Louis Foster, the top three returning points scorers from 2023.

“If we could pull it off for the rest of the season, it’ll be even more than that,” he said.

Unfortunately, “if” is a key word. D’Orlando’s deal was for one race. Being 22 points out of the points lead after the opening race, he’s not guaranteed to race at the next event, April 28 at Barber Motorsports Park.

His partners are actively pursuing funding to help land him on the grid for the second race of 2024. While some drivers like to quickly get back behind the wheel after a strong result, d’Orlando is OK with this extended break between races. It gives him and his partners time to line up something.

D’Orlando and his team have data and results from St. Petersburg to show the paddock that with an uncertain future, he blocked the pressure and showed what he’s capable of doing if given a chance.

“I think based off of what I just did, it can be taken as a statement,” he said. “I deserve to be in this series, and I deserve to be potentially in any car because I can drive, and I can bring home the results. It’s definitely helpful.”