ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship leader Braden Eves, from New Albany, Ohio, returned to the top step of the podium this morning with Cape Motorsports after a dominating drive in the all-green Cooper Tires USF2000 Grand Prix of Road America Powered by Elite Engines. Eves took the lead from pole-sitter Hunter McElrea (Pabst Racing) on the second lap and pulled inexorably away to win by 4.4508 seconds.
Eves’ teammate Darren Keane, from Boca Raton, Fla., followed him home in second place after a protracted battle with yesterday’s race winner McElrea, from Gold Coast, Australia. McElrea, who earned his opportunity this year after winning the Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200K Scholarship Shootout in December, had survived a scare even before the start when his engine went into limp-mode on the pre-grid. Thankfully, Elite Engines’ Steve Knapp was on hand to rectify the problem and send McElrea on his way.
The New Zealander made a good start to maintain his advantage around the first 4.014-mile lap, but Eves took advantage of a strong draft at the end of the first lap to slingshot past into the lead at Turn One. He was never seriously challenged thereafter on the way to his fifth win of the young season and yet another PFC Award for race-winning car owners Dominic and Nicholas Cape. Eves now holds a 41-point margin over McElrea with seven of the season’s 15 races in the books.
In his wake, McElrea became embroiled in a thrilling battle for second with Denmark’s Christian Rasmussen (Jay Howard Driver Development), Pabst Racing teammate Colin Kaminsky, from Homer Glen, Ill., and Keane. The quartet exchanged positions on a regular basis until Lap Nine, when McElrea made an incisive move to pass his teammate Kaminsky. Immediately behind, Rasmussen spun while trying to hold on around the outside of Keane. The Dane rejoined in fifth.
Later in the lap, at the Carousel, Kaminsky ran a little wide onto the grass which enabled Keane to slip past into third. Keane and McElrea then continued to fight it out for the runner-up position. The decisive pass came at Turn Five on Lap 11 as Keane squeezed through and just held off McElrea’s attempts to regain the position over the final couple of laps.
Squabbles all the way down the 18-car field ensured an exciting 12-lap race and plenty of action for an enthusiastic crowd at America’s National Park of Speed.
Mexico’s Manuel Sulaiman (DEForce Racing) and Frenchman Alex Baron (Legacy Autosport) both picked up drive-through penalties for blocking, which enabled 14-year-old Jak Crawford (DEForce Racing), from Houston, Texas, to emerge in sixth place ahead of Eduardo Barrichello (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports). The Brazilian second-generation racer earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award after battling his way from 13th on the grid.
Matt Round-Garrido also drove impressively for BN Racing. The Englishman encountered a problem in Turn Six on the opening lap when his gearbox suddenly fell into neutral, dropping him to the tail of the field. Last year’s Northern Ireland Formula Ford 1600 champion methodically worked his way up to eighth at the checkered flag, with Australian Cameron Shields (Newman Wachs Racing) and Reece Gold (Cape Motorsports), from San Juan, Puerto Rico, completing the top 10.
Braden Eves (#8 MDRN Livery/Community Choice Financial-Cape Motorsports Tatuus USF-17): “After struggling last month on the oval and struggling again yesterday, this one feels so good. We put our heads down, worked on the car and got it better and better every session. We moved from eighth to fourth and got the fastest lap yesterday, and to finish the weekend off with our fifth win was great. I knew I had the tire advantage, since Hunter (McElrea) used his new tires yesterday, and with the car being the best it’s been all weekend, all I had to do was get into the lead and try to build a gap. With all the aggressive guys behind me, I know that I can’t have any DNFs to stay in the championship, so it’s all about calculated moves and getting to the finish.”
Darren Keane (#2 Cal Development/Keane Architectural Woodwork-Cape Motorsports Tatuus USF-17): “It feels really good to get another podium, especially after the bad luck yesterday. Honestly, I don’t know why this stuff keeps happening, but today was good and good for the points. Top three is the goal and I think that’s realistic if I can string together a few clean races in a row. Today I had a good battle with Colin (Kaminsky) and Christian (Rasmussen). It was difficult to get by them because we were so close. I would try a move and Christian would try a move and we’d go down the back straight in a big square and there wasn’t anywhere to go. So it was a struggle to move up. But they both had issues and gave me free spots. I had to work hard to get around Hunter (McElrea) – but I really like racing Hunter, we have a good respect for each other and it’s always fun.”
Hunter McElrea (#22 Mazda/Doric NZ/Miles Advisory Partners-Pabst Racing Tatuus USF-17): “It was unfortunate, having the issue before the race, and it was out of our control. I’m just happy that the team was able to get me out for the start of the race. The fact that we were competitive and finished on the podium was a win, given how competitive this series is. I have no doubt that we were the fastest car this weekend and I think we showed that yesterday, so I’m disappointed on one hand – but on the other, to get my first pole and first win and another podium from the weekend, there are a lot of positives to take away from this weekend.”