Game on in this year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship. Two race weekends ago, Hunter McElrea trailed early season pacesetter Braden Eves by a seemingly daunting 41 points in the quest for a scholarship valued at over to $300,000 to move up to Indy Pro 2000, the next rung on the Road to Indy, in 2020. But, following a second-place finish yesterday and a hard-earned victory this morning for Pabst Racing, New Zealander McElrea now trails Eves (whose Cape Motorsports team endured an unusual struggle this weekend) by just nine points heading into the final four races of the season.
Yesterday’s winner, Christian Rasmussen, also 19, maintained his excellent run of form by finishing second for Jay Howard Driver Development, while Colin Kaminsky (Pabst Racing) rounded out the podium in third.
McElrea, who was born in Los Angeles, Calif., and lived much of his life on the Gold Coast of Queensland, Australia, started from the pole for the second day in a row, once again with Rasmussen for company on the front row of the grid. Clearly having learned from his mistake yesterday, when he left a small opening which was gratefully accepted by his rival, McElrea made an exemplary start to this morning’s 20-lap race and maintained his advantage on the opening lap.
The pair exchanged fastest laps a few times in the early stages, but even though the gap between them never stretched to more than 1.2 seconds, McElrea remained in control before finally taking the checkered flag for his second win of the season — and Augie Pabst’s second PFC Award as the winning car owner — by just 0.5652 of a second over fellow rookie Rasmussen.
Kaminsky chased gamely after the leading pair but was unable to offer a serious challenge. Instead, he came under increasing pressure from Zach Holden (Legacy Autosport) who came up only a half-second shy of the podium.
Another tremendous start by Englishman Matt Round-Garrido saw his BN Racing Tatuus USF-17 vault from 10th on the grid to sixth on the opening lap. Unfortunately, this time he was unable to maintain that pace and had slipped back outside the top 10 by the end.
Jak Crawford, 14, emerged in fifth place, marking a strong debut for the Cape Motorsports team by once again emerging as the Florida-based team’s best finisher…but only just as Darren Keane posted the drive of the race and comfortably earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award after charging from 17th on the grid to sixth.
Series leader Eves wrapped up a disappointing weekend with a lackluster seventh-place finish. Eves, who had won the opening four races of the season, will be looking to bounce back when the series resumes at Oregon’s Portland International Raceway, the site of his series debut one year ago, on the weekend of Aug. 31-Sept. 1.
Provisional championship points after 11 of 15 races:
1. Braden Eves, 260
2. Hunter McElrea, 251
3. Darren Keane, 207
4. Colin Kaminsky, 199
5. Christian Rasmussen, 198
6. Manuel Sulaiman, 161
7. Cameron Shields, 137
8. Bruna Tomaselli, 131
9. Jak Crawford, 130
10. Reece Gold, 125