McElrea Closes In USF2000 Title Hunt

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McElrea Closes In
Hunter McElrea (22) won Sunday's USF2000 event at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. (Al Steinberg photo)

LEXINGTON, Ohio – Two race weekends ago, Hunter McElrea trailed early season pacesetter Braden Eves by 41 points in the quest for the Cooper Tires USF2000 championship.

Now, it’s game on, as the duo vies for a scholarship to move up to the Indy Pro 2000 Championship presented by Cooper Tires, the next rung on the Road to Indy ladder.

After a second-place finish on Saturday and a hard-earned victory Sunday morning for Pabst Racing, New Zealander McElrea now trails Eves, whose Cape Motorsports team endured struggles all weekend, by just nine points heading into the final four races.

Saturday’s winner, Christian Rasmussen, maintained his excellent run of form by finishing second for Jay Howard Driver Development Colin Kaminsky rounded out the podium.

“It was a bit of redemption today. We really dominated this weekend, quickest in practice and double pole, but I had a bad first lap yesterday and Christian drove amazing,” noted McElrea. “Today was our day, though. It wasn’t easy – it’s never easy – but that was as close to a perfect race as I’ve come. I knew Christian would be quick early on because he had new tires, so I had to have a clean start and just keep hitting my marks. Once we had a good gap, it was just about maintaining that.

“I pushed a bit toward the end to get fast lap, because every point is important, but then we backed it off to bring it home,” he added. “It was an amazing weekend and we have momentum now. My focus is just to keep doing this, worrying about my own performance and getting as many points as I can. If I keep working hard, I’ll keep getting up here.”

McElrea 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 prior mistake, when he left a small opening for his rival, McElrea made an exemplary start to Sunday’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 by .5652 seconds.

Kaminsky chased gamely after the leading pair but was unable to offer a serious challenge. Instead, he came under increasing pressure from Zach Holden, 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  slipped back outside the top 10 by the end.

Jak Crawford 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 Darren Keane posted the drive of the race after charging from 17th on the grid to sixth.

Series leader Eves ended his disappointing weekend with a lackluster seventh-place finish.