ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship leader Braden Eves returned to the top step of the podium Sunday 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 and Pabst Racing driver Hunter McElrea on the second lap and pulled away to win by 4.4508 seconds.
“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,” Eves added, “With all the guys behind me, I know that I can’t have any DNFs to stay in the title fight, so it’s all about calculated moves and getting to the finish.”
Eves’ teammate Darren Keane followed him home in second place after a protracted battle with Saturday race winner McElrea.
McElrea, who earned his opportunity this year after winning the Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200K Scholarship Shootout in December, survived a scare even before the start when his engine went into limp-mode on the pre-grid.
However, 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 one.
Eves was never seriously challenged after that on the way to his fifth win of the 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.
In his wake, McElrea became embroiled in a thrilling battle for second with Denmark’s Christian Rasmussen, Pabst Racing teammate Colin Kaminsky and Keane.
The quartet exchanged positions on a regular basis until lap nine, 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 five on lap 11 as Keane squeezed through and just held off McElrea’s attempts to regain the position over the final couple of laps.
Squabbles all the way down the 18-car field ensured an exciting 12-lap race and plenty of action for an enthusiastic crowd at America’s National Park of Speed.
Mexico’s Manuel Sulaiman and Frenchman Alex Baron both picked up drive-through penalties for blocking, which enabled 14-year-old Jak Crawford to emerge in sixth place ahead of Eduardo Barrichello.
Barrichello, the Brazilian son of former Formula One driver Rubens Barrichello, earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award after battling his way forward from 13th on the grid.
Matt Round-Garrido also drove impressively for BN Racing. The Englishman encountered a problem in turn six 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 and Reece Gold completing the top 10.