Just one week after celebrating his 20th birthday, Braden Eves extended his string of Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship race wins to four with another accomplished performance in this morning’s USF2000 Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Eves, from New Albany, Ohio, fought off a strong challenge in the closing stages from Cape Motorsports teammate Darren Keane, who in turn remained under close scrutiny from Pabst Racing’s Hunter McElrea.
Eves joined an exclusive group to win the opening four races of the season alongside J.R. Hildebrand, who began his 2006 title-winning campaign by claiming the first seven races (and 12 out of 14 in total), and Jay Howard, who one year earlier won six races in a row to lay the foundation for his own championship crown.
Eves’ domination was such that he led all 20 laps, having started on the pole position with a new lap record of 1m24.5396s. He also posted another new fastest race lap mark at 1m24.7440s, an average speed of 103.611 mph. A trio of brief caution periods kept Eves on his toes, but on each occasion he timed his restarts to perfection to remain just out of Keane’s reach.
“With Darren behind me at the start, I was able to give him a little more of a draft because he’s further behind in the championship, but that was about it – we’re teammates off track and we help each other to get better, but it’s all on when we’re racing,” said Eves. “I focused on what I needed to do and keeping him behind me.
“But it still hasn’t set in, my start to the season, especially since Darren has been right with me all through testing. Everyone at Cape Motorsports is working super hard and they’re very good at what they do, and everything has worked in my favor so far. It was so cool to see all the fans out there today – it really puts it all in perspective on the cool-down lap, when everyone is waving at you. It’s a great feeling.”
For Keane, the result represented a breakthrough of sorts following a desperately disappointing start to the season during which he has been struck by misfortune of one sort or another in each of the opening three races. This time he spent most of the race focused on his battle with McElrea, who briefly snagged second place just before the second full-course caution period. Keane made amends at the ensuing restart, then mounted a strong challenge to Eves during the final three-lap dash to the checkered flag before coming up just over a half-second short.
DEForce Racing’s Jak Crawford impressed on his USF2000 debut, taking over fourth place from teammate Manuel Sulaiman on the second lap when the Mexican encountered some gear-shifting problems which caused him to fall down the order. Sulaiman spun off a couple of laps later, then charged from 18th to 12th before making another mistake and ending his day early.
Another strong run for Cameron Shields (Newman Wachs Racing) also was ended by contact. The Australian’s misfortune opened the door for second-generation racer Eduardo Barrichello who enjoyed his best result to date as he fought past Legacy Autosport teammates Alex Baron and Dakota Dickerson in the closing laps to finish fifth for Miller Vinatieri Motorsports.
Christian Rasmussen salvaged an eighth-place finish from a disappointing weekend for the Jay Howard Driver Development team, with Anthony Famularo (BN Racing) and Colin Kaminsky (Pabst Racing) completing the top 10.
Brazil’s Bruna Tomaselli (Pabst Racing) earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award after fighting her way from 19th on the grid to 11th at the finish, while brothers Dominic and Nicholas Cape took home one more PFC Award as the winning car owners.