Russian Artem Petrov and New Zealander Hunter McElrea each claimed a victory today as the Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix Presented by The Andersen Companies concluded at New Jersey Motorsports Park. No one came close to challenging Exclusive Autosport’s Petrov during the opening race, held in tricky wet conditions, and once the track dried in time for the final race of the weekend, McElrea claimed an equally authoritative victory for Pabst Racing.
“I’m super happy to score two podiums after a huge crash last weekend and some unlucky moments this season,” Petrov said. “I was starting to think I was cursed, between the crash and the team having to rebuild a new car, and a gearbox issue yesterday. I’m so thankful to them for their hard work; I think my curse is finally over. I was just screaming over the radio after the race this morning, which is not something I usually do, but I was so happy with the win. I’m happy as well for the team and for Braden, to score two double podiums today, and he can still fight for the championship. I need to do a good job in Mid-Ohio as well to finish third in the championship.”
McElrea also finished second in the opener, chased home by Braden Eves (Exclusive Autosport), from New Albany, Ohio, while Eves moved up to finish second in the nightcap ahead of teammate Petrov.
McElrea began the day in perfect style by securing the Cooper Tires Pole Award during a damp qualifying session this morning. Conditions gradually deteriorated as the morning progressed, such that the 2.5-mile track was fully wet by the time the competitors lined up on the grid for the first of two 25-lap races.
After an exploratory lap behind the Pace Car, Petrov drove imperiously past McElrea at the first corner and simply romped away into the distance. He completed the first racing lap with an advantage of almost 2s, which he extended to almost half a minute by the time the checkered flag flew. It was one of the most dominant performances in recent memory.
Petrov’s effort earned Exclusive Autosport team principal Michael Duncalfe another PFC Award as the winning car owner.
Yaaaassss!!!!! #ArtemPetrov wins the @IndyPro2000 Race 2!!! @Bradeneves grabs third!!! Double podium!!! #RoadToIndy // #TeamCooperTire // #EhTeam // #CambridgeFX // #ThunderGP // @cambridgefx pic.twitter.com/dAKzz9kMOR
— Exclusive Autosport (@ExclAutosport) August 29, 2021
McElrea was similarly unchallenged in second place, although Eves had to work a little harder to fend off yesterday’s winner Reece Gold (Juncos Hollinger Racing), from Miami, Fla.
Jacob Abel (Abel Motorsports), from Louisville, Ky., capped a solid run to fifth place by snaring The Ticket Clinic Fastest Lap Award on the very last lap.
Wyatt Brichacek (Jay Howard Driver Development), from Johnstown, Colo., finished a lap down in sixth but still did enough to claim the Tilton Hard Charger Award after starting 10th.
The track had dried out in time for the final race of the weekend, which saw McElrea take full advantage of another Cooper Tires Pole Award by immediately pulling clear of Eves and Petrov. McElrea extended his lead to over 12s by the finish to extend his current podium streak to five races, book-ended by a pair of wins. He also secured a third PFC Award for team owner Augie Pabst.
“I knew I had to win this weekend and I knew I was fast, but when you can win by 12.5 seconds, that’s awesome,” McElrea said. “That was the best race ever. I knew I had to get the start – I was pretty angry at myself that I let Artem by in the rain earlier today; that wasn’t going to happen again. To check out was great, even though I had to deal with a lapped car for a bit mid-race. When you’re leading, it’s so frustrating to deal with dirty air. I was having so much fun, I didn’t want it to end. The car was so hooked up, I was just having fun. To dominate like that, that’s what we live for, especially after the race earlier today when I didn’t have enough for Artem in the full wet conditions. P3 in the championship, so some good points this weekend. I’ll be smiling for a bit after this.”
— Pabst Racing (@PabstRacing) August 29, 2021
After challenging for position during the first few laps, Petrov settled into third, mindful of teammate Eves’ championship aspirations, as the pair finished well clear of Abel who subsequently received a penalty for avoidable contact which dropped him to seventh.
A couple of incidents on the opening lap put pain to the hopes of both Gold, who tangled with Petrov in Turn 1, and title aspirant Christian Rasmussen (Jay Howard Driver Development), from Copenhagen, Denmark, who damaged his car’s rear suspension in an incident with Irishman James Roe (Turn 3 Motorsport) at Turn 3.
Rasmussen gained some consolation by securing The Ticket Clinic Fastest Lap Award – along with what could be another valuable championship point – following suspension repairs, while Roe survived the early skirmish to earn the Tilton Hard Charger Award having progressed from 10th on the grid to fourth. Brichacek rounded out the top five.
A pair of podium finishes for Eves, combined with a dismal day for Rasmussen, who finished a lap down in the earlier race followed by more contact on the opening lap, will see the contenders separated by just 18 points heading into the championship deciding double-header at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on October 2/3.
Provisional championship points after 16 of 18 rounds:
1. Christian Rasmussen, 392
2. Braden Eves, 374
3. Hunter McElrea, 347
4. Reece Gold, 337
5. Artem Petrov, 329
6. Jacob Abel, 259
7. Kyffin Simpson, 231
8. Manuel Sulaiman, 214
9. James Roe, 202
10. Wyatt Brichacek, 189