ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – One year ago, Oconomowoc, Wis-based Pabst Racing claimed pole position for both Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship races at its home track, only to fall short of the victory on each occasion. Today’s Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Road America Powered by Elite Engines turned out rather 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 a well-deserved maiden victory.
Kaminsky, from Homer Glen, Ill., chased home for the best result of his career to date, while Cameron Shields, from Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia, 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 (Legacy Autosport), from Narbonne, France, and the perennially unfortunate Darren Keane (Cape Motorsports), from Boca Raton, Fla., 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 (Jay Howard Driver Development) 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 (DEForce Racing), Shields and championship leader Braden Eves, from New Albany, Ohio, 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.
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, from Houston, Texas. 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 (Pabst Racing), 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. She was chased home by the fourth Pabst car, driven by Oconomowoc-born Yuven Sundaramoorthy, while Reece Gold (Cape Motorsports), from San Juan, Puerto Rico, secured the Tilton Hard Charger Award after battling his way from 15th on the grid to eighth at the finish.
Augie Pabst took home the PFC Award as the winning car owner.
Hunter McElrea (#22 Mazda/Doric NZ/Miles Advisory Partners-Pabst Racing Tatuus USF-17): “This feels like an entire elephant off my back – maybe two! 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.”
Colin Kaminsky (#23 Slick Locks-Pabst Racing Tatuus USF-17): “This is awesome for the team, especially to get a win. One-two at the team’s home track is awesome; Augie was ecstatic in the winner’s circle. We had a good start, everything that we had talked through as a team. We knew we had pace, we just wanted to get away from the rest of the field so nothing ‘interesting’ would happen. Hunter got around me and I let him go so we could use the draft, but I just didn’t have the pace to catch back up. I expected to fight for the win and the team gave me the car to do it, I just couldn’t hold up my end. But we have two poles and two podiums now, so the expectations continue. I just have one more step to go!”
Cameron Shields (#73 Dependable Sheds/HRX/Vision Sports Science-Newman Wachs Racing Tatuus USF-17): “I’m really happy for Hunter – we’ve been racing each other since we were really little, in karting, and I know what it feels like to get that first win. But that was a really tight battle. I fell back on the start but I made the passes to get back up. I had Braden behind near the finish and was trying to catch Colin, so I was never comfortable. This is really great for the team. We’ve been working so hard and I knew that after the win at Lucas Oil Raceway we’d have a lot of momentum for the rest of the season. To get a podium now and back up that win, and at a totally different kind of track, really shows we have speed. It’s been super tough this year to find the budget, but I’m pushing as hard as I can and I’m lucky to have support – and if I keep performing, that will continue.”