LEXINGTON, Ohio – Hunter McElrea has endured a disappointing sequence of results with the Pabst Racing team since scoring a win during the opening weekend of the season at Barber Motorsports Park, although any negative thoughts were put firmly in the rear-view mirror this morning as the New Zealander scored a clear victory in the second leg of the Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio.
Artem Petrov, from Saint Petersburg, Russia, once again finished second for Exclusive Autosport as Kyffin Simpson, from Grand Cayman Island, completed the podium in third for Juncos Racing.
Despite finishing a distant fourth yesterday afternoon, McElrea was already secure in the knowledge that he had snagged the pole position for today’s 12th round of the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires following a separate qualifying session earlier in the day.
McElrea was bound and determined to take full advantage of his second Cooper Tires Pole Award of the season, and did so with an exemplary start to fend off an early attack from outside front row qualifier Petrov.
Simpson also made a good start, slipping past championship leader Christian Rasmussen (Jay Howard Driver Development) with a strong move under heavy braking around the outside at the Keyhole, Turn Two. Simpson then latched onto Petrov’s tail, where he remained throughout the 25-lap race.
The pressure on Petrov enabled McElrea to build a small but appreciable advantage which he had no difficulty in defending, even though the final margin of victory was only 0.7498 of a second. McElrea’s effort also earned a second PFC Award for Augie Pabst as the winning car owner.
Petrov had to be content with his fourth runner-up finish of the season, to accompany his lone victory at the Indianapolis Grand Prix circuit in May, while Simpson finished close behind in third and with the additional credit of securing The Ticket Clinic Fastest Lap Award.
Some distance farther back in fourth, Simpson’s Juncos Racing teammate and fellow rookie Reece Gold, from Miami, Fla., had to work extremely hard to fend off Rasmussen, whom he had overtaken impressively with a bold move around the outside of Turn Four before completing the pass at Turn Five. Gold also took home his first Tilton Hard Charger Award of the year.
Rasmussen wisely settled for an uncharacteristically mellow fifth, although even that was enough to extend his championship lead to 39 points over Ohio native Braden Eves (Exclusive Autosport), whose disappointing weekend was capped with a ninth-place finish.
Next on the agenda for the Indy Pro 2000 competitors represents an entirely different challenge with a visit to World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Ill., on August 21 for the second of two oval track races on the 2021 schedule.
Provisional championship points after 12 of 18 rounds:
1. Christian Rasmussen, 306
2. Braden Eves, 267
3. Reece Gold, 254
4. Artem Petrov, 250
5. Hunter McElrea, 231
6. Manuel Sulaiman, 193
7. Jacob Abel, 187
8. Kyffin Simpson, 177
9. James Roe, 127
10. Wyatt Brichacek, 127
Hunter McElrea (#18 Giltrap Group/Doric NZ/Miles Advisory Partners/Bell-Pabst Racing Tatuus PM-18): “It hasn’t sunk in yet. It’s been a wild year so to put it on pole and control the race was great. It was about controlling the gap the whole time. I knew I was fast and I just drove as fast as I had to in order to stay out front, make no mistakes, stay in control and bring it home. But it’s such a relief. I knew I could do it, I knew the team could do it, but so many things that have been out of our control have hurt us this season – but it’s not about the setbacks, it’s about how you come back from them. And this is how you come back! Hats off to everyone who’s been in my corner, helping me to keep my head down and keep me going. I know we’re back now. We have to keep doing this, keep getting the race wins and keep pushing and see what happens.”
Artem Petrov (#42 Road To Success/Bell/226ers-Exclusive Autosport Tatuus PM-18): “My goal has been to improve in qualifying and I did that this weekend, losing out on pole to Hunter by just a few hundredths. I really gave it my all today. I tried again to overtake in Turn Four but it didn’t work. I focused on driving with no mistakes and put down good laps. The car wasn’t as good as it was in the first race so we’ll look at the data and find improvement for the remaining races – but I’m the only driver with a double podium this weekend, so that’s good for me, for the team and for the championship.”
Kyffin Simpson (#21 Simpson Race Products/GoPro/SpY-Juncos Racing Tatuus PM-18): “It was a tough race. Luckily we were able to get by Christian at the start, battling him for much of that first lap. I was able to get a gap to him and I could see my teammate (Reece Gold) catching me but he fell off near the end. I was able to keep putting down the laps and stay with Artem and Hunter but I wasn’t able to make a move. We’re happy to get these podiums and it’s given me a lot of confidence, so we’re looking for that first win sometime soon.”