A thrilling USF2000 Grand Prix of Indianapolis at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this afternoon saw Braden Eves claim his third straight victory for Cape Motorsports following a race-long duel with Mazda Road to Indy Scholarship winner Hunter McElrea (Pabst Racing). The pair swapped the lead several times over the last couple of laps before Ohian Eves just edged out Aussie McElrea by under three-tenths of a second at the flag.
Manuel Sulaiman, less than a second behind, finished third for DEForce Racing.
The excitement began early as the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship resumed following a lengthy two-month hiatus, with Indianapolis Colts star Adam Vinatieri – co-owner of two USF2000 race cars – waving the green flag to commence series Round 3. After edging out Cape Motorsports teammate Darren Keane to the pole this morning, Eves made an excellent start to head the immensely competitive 21-car field toward Turn One.
McElrea, after starting third, tucked in behind the race leader, but there was chaos in their wake as 14-year-old debutant Jak Crawford (DEForce Racing) ran out of racing room and tagged the rear of Keane’s Tatuus USF-17 at the apex of Turn One. Mexico’s Manuel Cabrera (Exclusive Autosport) was among several other potential contenders to be caught up in the incident.
The fracas enabled Eves and McElrea to pull well clear of the chasing pack. Sulaiman, after qualifying eighth, somehow emerged in third, chased by local youngster Jack William Miller, who started ninth for Miller Vinatieri Motorsports, and Australian Cameron Shields (Newman Wachs Racing), up from 13th on the grid.
McElrea shadowed Eves in the opening laps and was clearly in a mood to challenge, the pair circulating in close company before the battle intensified dramatically over the last couple of laps. On lap 13, Eves regained the lead he had lost to McElrea, only for the latter to snatch it back as the two leaders began the final lap.
And still it wasn’t over: An excellent exit from Turn Seven enabled Eves to draw alongside McElrea through the right-left flicks at Turns Eight and Nine, hanging on around the outside to take the lead one final time at Turn 10 to secure a magnificent victory.
The in-fighting allowed Sulaiman to finish right behind McElrea in third, while Colin Kaminsky (Pabst Racing) worked his way from seventh in the opening stages to finish fourth ahead of the impressive Shields, whose fine effort was rewarded with the Tilton Hard Charger Award.
Brazilian Eduardo Barrichello (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports) also took advantage of the first corner melee to rise from 15th to sixth, and looked set to finish in the same position until encountering gearbox problems on the penultimate lap, causing him to slide off the road in Turn Seven. Unfortunately, teammate Miller, who inherited the position, also hit trouble on the final lap when he tangled with the recovering Crawford in between Turns One and Two. Their incident allowed Keane to inherit sixth place at the finish after a brilliant drive from the back of the field during which he established a new USF2000 lap record of 1m14.8876s (103.436 mph).
After claiming yet another PFC Award as the winning car owners, brothers Dominic and Nicholas Cape can look forward to the possibility of another one tomorrow as Eves and Keane once again will start alongside each other on the front row of the grid following a second qualifying session this morning. McElrea, too, can be expected to offer another serious challenge as all three qualified faster than the old lap record.