Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship leader Braden Eves returned to the top step of the podium this morning with Cape Motorsports after a dominating drive in the all-green Cooper Tires USF2000 Grand Prix of Road America Powered by Elite Engines. Eves took the lead from polesitter Hunter McElrea (Pabst Racing) on the second lap and pulled inexorably away to win by 4.4508 seconds.
Eves’ teammate Darren Keane followed him home in second place after a protracted battle with yesterday’s race winner McElrea. Australian McElrea, who earned his opportunity this year after winning the Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200K Scholarship Shootout in December, had survived a scare even before the start when his engine went into limp-mode on the pre-grid. Thankfully, Elite Engines’ Steve Knapp was on hand to rectify the problem and send McElrea on his way.
The New Zealander made a good start to maintain his advantage around the first 4.014-mile lap, but Eves took advantage of a strong draft at the end of the first lap to slingshot past into the lead at Turn 1. He was never seriously challenged thereafter on the way to his fifth win of the young season and yet another PFC Award for race-winning car owners Dominic and Nicholas Cape. Eves now holds a 41-point margin over McElrea with seven of the season’s 15 races in the books.
“After struggling last month on the oval and struggling again yesterday, this one feels so good,” said Eves. “We put our heads down, worked on the car and got it better and better every session. We moved from eighth to fourth and got the fastest lap yesterday, and to finish the weekend off with our fifth win was great.
“I knew I had the tire advantage, since Hunter (McElrea) used his new tires yesterday, and with the car being the best it’s been all weekend, all I had to do was get into the lead and try to build a gap. With all the aggressive guys behind me, I know that I can’t have any DNFs to stay in the championship, so it’s all about calculated moves and getting to the finish.”
In his wake, McElrea became embroiled in a thrilling battle for second with Christian Rasmussen (Jay Howard Driver Development), Pabst Racing teammate Colin Kaminsky and Keane. The quartet exchanged positions on a regular basis until Lap 9, when McElrea made an incisive move to pass his teammate Kaminsky. Immediately behind, Rasmussen spun while trying to hold on around the outside of Keane. The Dane rejoined in fifth.
Later in the lap, at the Carousel, Kaminsky ran a little wide onto the grass which enabled Keane to slip past into third. Keane and McElrea then continued to fight it out for the runner-up position. The decisive pass came at Turn 5 on Lap 11 as Keane squeezed through and just held off McElrea’s attempts to regain the position over the final couple of laps.
Mexico’s Manuel Sulaiman (DEForce Racing) and Frenchman Alex Baron (Legacy Autosport) both picked up drive-through penalties for blocking, which enabled 14-year-old Jak Crawford (DEForce Racing) to emerge in sixth place ahead of Eduardo Barrichello (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports). The Brazilian second-generation racer earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award after battling his way from 13th on the grid.
Matt Round-Garrido also drove impressively for BN Racing. The Englishman encountered a problem in Turn 6 on the opening lap when his gearbox suddenly fell into neutral, dropping him to the tail of the field. Last year’s Northern Ireland Formula Ford 1600 champion methodically worked his way up to eighth at the checkered flag, with Australian Cameron Shields (Newman Wachs Racing) and Reece Gold (Cape Motorsports), from San Juan, Puerto Rico, completing the top 10.
Provisional championship points after seven of 15 races:
1. Braden Eves, 204
2. Hunter McElrea, 163
3. Colin Kaminsky, 131
4. Darren Keane, 121
5. Cameron Shields, 118
6. Manuel Sulaiman, 105
7. Alex Baron, 92
8. Christian Rasmussen, 84
9. Reece Gold, 84
10. Bruna Tomaselli, 79
The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship will resume with two more races on the streets of Toronto, Ont., Canada, on July 13-14.