Hunter McElrea has endured a disappointing sequence of results with the Pabst Racing team since scoring a win during the opening weekend of the season at Barber Motorsports Park, although any negative thoughts were put firmly in the rear-view mirror this morning as the New Zealander scored a clear victory in the second leg of the Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio.
Artem Petrov once again finished second for Exclusive Autosport as Kyffin Simpson completed the podium in third for Juncos Racing.
Despite finishing a distant fourth yesterday afternoon, McElrea was already secure in the knowledge that he had snagged the pole position for today’s 12th round of the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires following a separate qualifying session earlier in the day.
McElrea was bound and determined to take full advantage of his second Cooper Tires Pole Award of the season, and did so with an exemplary start to fend off an early attack from outside front row qualifier Petrov.
Simpson also made a good start, slipping past championship leader Christian Rasmussen (Jay Howard Driver Development) with a strong move under heavy braking around the outside at the Keyhole, Turn 2. Simpson then latched onto Petrov’s tail, where he remained throughout the 25-lap race.
The pressure on Petrov enabled McElrea to build a small but appreciable advantage which he had no difficulty in defending, even though the final margin of victory was only 0.7498s. McElrea’s effort also earned a second PFC Award for Augie Pabst as the winning car owner.
“It was about controlling the gap the whole time. I knew I was fast and I just drove as fast as I had to in order to stay out front, make no mistakes, stay in control and bring it home,” said McElrea. “But it’s such a relief. I knew I could do it, I knew the team could do it, but so many things that have been out of our control have hurt us this season – but it’s not about the setbacks, it’s about how you come back from them. And this is how you come back!”
Petrov had to be content with his fourth runner-up finish of the season, to accompany his lone victory at the Indianapolis Grand Prix circuit in May, while Simpson finished close behind in third and with the additional credit of securing The Ticket Clinic Fastest Lap Award.
Some distance farther back in fourth, Simpson’s Juncos Racing teammate and fellow rookie Reece Gold had to work extremely hard to fend off Rasmussen, whom he had overtaken impressively with a bold move around the outside of Turn 4 before completing the pass at Turn 5. Gold also took home his first Tilton Hard Charger Award of the year.
Rasmussen wisely settled for an uncharacteristically mellow fifth, although even that was enough to extend his championship lead to 39 points over Ohio native Braden Eves (Exclusive Autosport), whose disappointing weekend was capped with a ninth-place finish.
Next on the agenda for the Indy Pro 2000 competitors represents an entirely different challenge with a visit to World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Ill., on August 21 for the second of two oval track races on the 2021 schedule.
Provisional championship points after 12 of 18 rounds:
1. Christian Rasmussen, 306
2. Braden Eves, 267
3. Reece Gold, 254
4. Artem Petrov, 250
5. Hunter McElrea, 231
6. Manuel Sulaiman, 193
7. Jacob Abel, 187
8. Kyffin Simpson, 177
9. James Roe, 127
10. Wyatt Brichacek, 127