ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – The battle for this year’s Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires took another dramatic twist this morning as Braden Eves, from New Albany, Ohio, scored an emphatic victory for the Jay Howard Driver Development team in the second leg of the Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Road America Powered by Elite Engines. Eves’ first win of the year vaulted him back into the title mix with eight races remaining.
Jack William Miller, from Carmel, Ind., finished a career-best second for Miller Vinatieri Motorsports w/ Exclusive Autosport, while Eves’ teammate, Salvador De Alba, from Guadalajara, Mexico, held off a snarling pack of cars to finish third.
While Eves became the sixth different winner during a topsy-turvy season, yesterday’s victor and points leader Louis Foster (Exclusive Autosport), from Basingstoke, England, was brought down to earth when a mid-race error saw him fall to a 13th-place finish. Foster nevertheless continues to lead the championship by 19 points, 223-204, over Reece Gold, from Miami, Fla., who finished fifth for Juncos Hollinger Racing.
This morning’s race began with Josh Green, from Mount Kisco, N.Y., at the head of the field after claiming his second Cooper Tires Pole Award of the season during qualifying on Saturday morning. It was his first pole since the opening round on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., in February.
Gold led the first couple of laps but soon came under pressure from Eves, who had quickly worked his way from fourth on the grid. Next time around, Eves drafted past Green into the lead before Turn One and immediately began to pull away.
Miller, too, was on the move. After starting seventh, he drove to third place by lap four before displacing Green next time around. The gap between Miller and Eves stretched to as much as 2.3 seconds after eight laps as the leaders gradually increased their pace, but then the margin started to come down as Miller got into his groove and, on Lap 11, set what was to stand as the fastest lap of the race.
Miller closed to within a second of Eves with three laps remaining in the 15-lap contest, but Eves rose to the challenge, turning his two best laps of the race to keep Miller at bay and eventually take the checkered flag with a 1.2538-second margin of victory. Eves’ win secured a second PFC Award of the year for team owner Jay Howard.
The leading duo finished well clear of a titanic battle for third place which for much of the race saw as many as 10 cars jostling for position. De Alba, who started sixth, overtook Green for third place after six laps and continued to hold the position despite intense pressure from Juncos Hollinger Racing teammates Ahmed and Gold.
Ahmed’s performance was especially noteworthy as the London, England-based Pakistani fought his way from last on the grid after his qualifying times were annulled by a technical infraction. The former British F3 champion rose steadily through the field in what he later described as the best drive of his career, which included a memorable double-overtake when he dispatched Gold and Green on consecutive corners. Ahmed’s effort earned him the Tilton Hard Charger Award.
Next up for the Indy Pro 2000 competitors is a triple-header event at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 1-3 in support of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
Provisional championship points after 10 of 18 rounds:
1. Louis Foster, 223
2. Reece Gold, 204
3. Nolan Siegel, 191
4. Enaam Ahmed, 184
5. Braden Eves, 183
6. Josh Green, 180
7. Salvador De Alba, 149
8. Jack William Miller, 146
9. Kiko Porto, 145
10. Colin Kaminsky, 144
Braden Eves (#4 CCFI/Huston Insurance/Addison Holdings-Jay Howard Driver Development Tatuus PM-22): “It is so tough here but the team just did a fantastic job this weekend. I love coming here. This is one of the best places we race at and the fans are always amazing. Thanks to the series for putting on a great show. I am so happy to get the win. We really needed this for the points. I’m ecstatic. The car was absolutely amazing and as soon as the race started, I knew I had a really good shot at the win. I was able to get the lead and guys were just battling behind me. I developed a gap and just managed that. Hats off to the team.”
Jack William Miller (#40 Patterson Dental/Blue Marble-Miller Vinatieri Motorsports w/ Exclusive Autosport Tatuus PM-22): “We started P7 and you saw how yesterday went, losing a podium there, so that hurt. This was a good redemption drive and I was able to get up to P2. I think that for sure we had the pace to win the race and had the fastest race lap, but it just didn’t happen in the end. It was too big of a gap. I am proud of myself and the team.”
Salvador De Alba (#6 Groupo Indi/Mecano/Sidral Aga-Jay Howard Driver Development Tatuus PM-22): “It was a much better weekend than we have had. We have been progressing and improving lap by lap. Yesterday we finished fourth and today third. We made amazing changes from the first couple of days to the end of the weekend. I am happy with our pace. We know what we like and what we need to improve as well. I am happy with it.”