McElrea Notches Maiden USF2000 Triumph

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Hunter McElrea celebrates after his first Cooper Tires USF2000 triumph Saturday at Road America. (Al Steinberg Photo)
Hunter McElrea celebrates after his first Cooper Tires USF2000 triumph Saturday at Road America. (Al Steinberg Photo)

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – One year ago, Wisconsin-based Pabst Racing claimed the pole position for both Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship races at Road America, only to fall short of the victory on each occasion.

Saturday’s Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Road America Powered by Elite Engines turned out better for the local team as New Zealand’s Hunter McElrea worked his way past pole-sitting teammate Colin Kaminsky and went on to score his maiden victory.

Kaminsky chased home for the best result of his career to date, while Cameron Shields followed up his own spectacular maiden victory in the most recent race at the Lucas Oil Raceway oval by completing the podium for Newman Wachs Racing.

The leading pair quickly separated themselves from the main pack after an incident at the first corner saw contact between several cars as they jostled for position. Second and fourth-fastest qualifiers Alex Baron and Darren Keane were the biggest losers. Keane rejoined a distant last after he was sent spinning off the road, while Baron incurred two flat tires and bodywork damage which sent him to the pits and out of contention.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Denmark’s Christian Rasmussen emerged in third place having started in seventh. Behind him at the end of the first lap were a squabbling pack comprising Mexico’s Manuel Sulaiman, Shields and championship leader Braden Eves, who had started eighth for Cape Motorsports.

Kaminsky maintained his lead for the opening two laps, but McElrea remained glued to his gearbox, anxiously looking for a way past. A fast exit from Turn 14 at the end of the second lap gave him the chance to tow up alongside Kaminsky on the front straight and make the decisive pass into turn one. McElrea never looked back, inching away little by little to take the flag fully 3.5352 seconds to the good.

“This feels like an entire elephant off my back – maybe two,” said McElrea. “This is what you work for, these moments. I knew I had the guys behind me to do it, it was just a matter of time. I’ll remember this day for the rest of my life. I’m so glad to bring this result to Augie and the team, they deserve it. We’re really a family-based team so to get this result in the team’s backyard is just unbelievable. It was great to get a win but to have Colin P2 made it that much better. We’re teammates and we had pace on the field, so our plan was to work together so we could pull away before we battled. We showed each other respect and once I had the lead it was just about extending the gap. It was a straightforward race which is what you always dream about.”

Rasmussen was shuffled back to sixth after the first few laps, where he remained until just two laps shy of the finish when he was punted from behind in the braking area for turn 12 by DEForce Racing’s Jak Crawford. A subsequent 30-second penalty dropped Crawford from seventh to 14th in the final results.

Sulaiman ran third for a while before being demoted firstly by Shields and then by Eves, who continued their battle to the finish line, separated by less than half a second and having closed up almost onto the tail of second-place finisher Kaminsky in the closing stages.

Brazilian Bruna Tomaselli, the only female in the field, also drove a strong race by rising from 11th on the grid to sixth, making several incisive passes as the race progressed.