ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Braden Eves scored another beautifully crafted victory this afternoon in the opening leg of the Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Cooper Tires. The 21-year-old from New Albany, Ohio, led from flag to flag for Exclusive Autosport, fending off a stern challenge from the driver who succeeded him as winner of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, Denmark’s Christian Rasmussen (Jay Howard Driver Development).
Hunter McElrea, from New Zealand, completed the podium for Pabst Racing.
Eves took control of the proceedings from the drop of the green flag for the opening practice session yesterday morning. He topped the timing charts again in first qualifying later in the day to secure his second Cooper Tires Pole Award of the young season, then controlled the pace expertly throughout the 25-lap race. Eves’ eventual margin of victory was only 0.3519 of a second but he posted his fastest lap just one circuit from the finish to secure his second win of the season and extend his championship lead to 16 points.
Eves also earned Canadian team principal Michael Duncalfe another PFC Award as the winning car owner.
McElrea led the chase of Eves from the start after annexing the outside front row starting position but he wasn’t able to shake off the challenge of Rasmussen, who eventually executed a bold pass around the outside line at Turn One on Lap 8.
By that stage Eves had extended his lead to over 1.6 seconds, but Rasmussen was the fastest car on track and soon began to whittle away at Eves’ advantage.
The Dane’s task was eased by a brief full course caution after 12 laps to remove Virginian Hunter Yeany’s Velocity Racing Development car from the runoff area at Turn 10. But when the race resumed, Rasmussen was never able to put himself into a position to seriously challenge for the lead.
McElrea chased home in third place, just ahead of Eves’ teammate Artem Petrov, from Saint Petersburg, Russia, who continued his strong start to the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires season with his third consecutive top-four finish.
The Juncos Racing pair of Manuel Sulaiman, from Puebla, Mexico, and Reece Gold, from Miami, Fla., enjoyed a good tussle for fifth, with Sulaiman grasping the position just four laps from the finish. Also in the mix were Englishman Enaam Ahmed (RP Motorsport USA), Wyatt Brichacek (Jay Howard Driver Development), from Johnstown, Colo., and Colin Kaminsky (Pabst Racing), from Homer Glen, Ill.
Grand Cayman-born Kyffin Simpson finished 10th for Juncos Racing and earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award after having started in 13th. Simpson finished just ahead of Flinn Lazier (Legacy Autosport), from Vail, Colo., and Jack William Miller (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports), from Carmel, Ind., who claimed The Ticket Clinic Fastest Lap Award following an earlier error which cost him a top-10 finish.
A dramatic second qualifying session earlier today saw McElrea post the fastest time to ensure pole position for tomorrow’s fourth round of the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires for which the green will fly bright and early at 8 a.m. EDT.
Provisional championship points after 3 of 18 rounds:
- Braden Eves, 83
- Hunter McElrea, 67
- Artem Petrov, 66
- Christian Rasmussen, 62
- Reece Gold, 45
- Enaam Ahmed, 43
- Colin Kaminsky, 40
- Jacob Abel, 36
- Wyatt Brichacek, 35
- Cameron Shields, 32
Braden Eves (#91 Cambridge/CCFI/Huston Insurance/MDRN Livery-Exclusive Autosport Tatuus PM-18): “Christian is tough – I raced against him in USF2000 and it was much of the same, always in your mirrors, always ready to make a pass. But we both learned our craft from Jay Howard so I know all his moves! It’s always going to be a good fight but it was a bit too close for comfort. I made one mistake toward the end and almost threw it away, but I was able to hang on. I still haven’t lost here at St. Pete. I came here in 2019 as a rookie and that first race – and first win – gave me the confidence to go on my championship run. It may not be the season-opener this time but I’m getting shades of 2019 with our success right off the bat so I couldn’t be happier. The team gave me a great car today.”
Christian Rasmussen (#1 JHDD/CSU – One Cure/Lucas Oil-Jay Howard Driver Development Tatuus PM-18): “That was an awesome race for me. I started P4, got by Petrov at the start and just settled in. It can be hard to pass here but Hunter made a little mistake out of (Turn) 14 that let me get a run on him and get by in Turn One. I was chasing Braden down toward the end but just didn’t have enough to get a pass done but I’m really happy with our pace today. It’s my first podium at St. Pete – I’ve always had the pace here but I’ve never been able to get it done. We’re thinking championship all the time so that’s the most important part for me, so a drive from fourth to second is very positive in terms of points. I’ll start from second tomorrow and hope to go for the win.”
Hunter McElrea (#18 Giltrap Group/Doric NZ/Miles Advisory Partners/Bell-Pabst Racing Tatuus PM-18): “I’m disappointed because I made that mistake. Braden, Christian and I were all together, not catching or pulling away. I want to win, so that’s disappointing, but you can’t feel too badly when you’re on the podium. Even though Braden finished ahead of me, it’s good points. I’m on pole tomorrow and I’m looking forward to that. It was tough out there today: we saw what happened to the USF2000 guys, but it’s tough to go from such a wide front straight to such a tight first corner, especially for the rookies. For us, we’re a bit more experienced but it’s always a hairy Turn One so I’m really happy to be on pole for race two.”