By Road to Indy
SPEEDWAY, Ind. – Just one week after celebrating his 20th birthday, Braden Eves extended his string of Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship race wins to four with another accomplished performance in this morning’s USF2000 Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Eves, from New Albany, Ohio, fought off a strong challenge in the closing stages from Cape Motorsports teammate Darren Keane, from Boca Raton, Fla., who in turn remained under close scrutiny from Pabst Racing’s Hunter McElrea.
Eves joined an exclusive group to win the opening four races of the season alongside J.R. Hildebrand, who began his 2006 title-winning campaign by claiming the first seven races (and 12 out of 14 in total), and Jay Howard, who one year earlier won six races in a row to lay the foundation for his own championship crown.
Eves’ domination was such that he led all 20 laps, having started on the pole position with a new lap record of 1:24.5396. He also posted another new fastest race lap mark at 1:24.7440, an average speed of 103.611 mph. A trio of brief caution periods kept Eves on his toes, but on each occasion he timed his restarts to perfection to remain just out of Keane’s reach.
For Keane, the result represented a breakthrough of sorts following a desperately disappointing start to the season during which he has been struck by misfortune of one sort or another in each of the opening three races. This time he spent most of the race focused on his battle with McElrea, who briefly snagged second place just before the second full-course caution period. Keane made amends at the ensuing restart, then mounted a strong challenge to Eves during the final three-lap dash to the checkered flag before coming up just over a half-second short.
DEForce Racing’s Jak Crawford, from Houston, Texas, impressed on his USF2000 debut, taking over fourth place from teammate Manuel Sulaiman on the second lap when the Mexican encountered some gear-shifting problems which caused him to fall down the order. Sulaiman spun off a couple of laps later, then charged from 18th to 12th before making another mistake and ending his day early.
Another strong run for Cameron Shields (Newman Wachs Racing) also was ended by contact. The Australian’s misfortune opened the door for second-generation racer Eduardo Barrichello, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, who enjoyed his best result to date as he fought past Legacy Autosport teammates Alex Baron, from Narbonne, France, and Dakota Dickerson, from San Diego, Calif., in the closing laps to finish fifth for Miller Vinatieri Motorsports.
Denmark’s Christian Rasmussen salvaged an eighth-place finish from a disappointing weekend for the Jay Howard Driver Development team, with Venezuelan Anthony Famularo (BN Racing) and Colin Kaminsky (Pabst Racing), from Homer Glen, Ill., completing the top 10.
Brazil’s Bruna Tomaselli (Pabst Racing) earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award after fighting her way from 19th on the grid to 11th at the finish, while brothers Dominic and Nicholas Cape took home one more PFC Award as the winning car owners.
Provisional championship points after four of 15 races:
1. Braden Eves, 127
2. Hunter McElrea, 94
3. Manuel Sulaiman, 65
4. Darren Keane, 65
5. Zach Holden, 54
6. Colin Kaminsky, 52
7. Bruna Tomaselli, 50
8. Anthony Famularo, 48
9. Alex Baron, 47
10. Christian Rasmussen, 40
Next stop for the USF2000 contenders will be their only oval track race of the season, at nearby Lucas Oil Raceway, on the evening of Friday, May 24, in the Cooper Tires Freedom 75.
Braden Eves (#8 MDRN Livery/Community Choice Financial-Cape Motorsports Tatuus USF-17): “With Darren behind me at the start, I was able to give him a little more of a draft because he’s further behind in the championship, but that was about it – we’re teammates off track and we help each other to get better, but it’s all on when we’re racing. I focused on what I needed to do and keeping him behind me. But it still hasn’t set in, my start to the season, especially since Darren has been right with me all through testing. Everyone at Cape Motorsports is working super hard and they’re very good at what they do, and everything has worked in my favor so far. It was so cool to see all the fans out there today – it really puts it all in perspective on the cool down lap, when everyone is waving at you. It’s a great feeling.”
Darren Keane (#2 Cal Development/Keane Architectural Woodwork-Cape Motorsports Tatuus USF-17): “I finally figured out how to go for it on that last restart. I had been a little conservative earlier in the race because Hunter was so close; I didn’t want to make a mistake. The car was different from yesterday and it took a while to figure out how to make it go fast. Now I know what to do when I’m in that position the next time. But I have been pretty mellow since everything that happened at St. Pete, and that’s why I think I handled what happened yesterday so well. When something bad happens, I just focus on what’s next, working on my mindset. It allows me to filter the bad stuff a lot easier, and while I’m super happy now, I know that I can do better, and I can build from this. Points make prizes, and I took some good points this weekend.”
Hunter McElrea (#22 Mazda/Doric NZ/Miles Advisory Partners/Pabst Racing Tatuus USF-17): “We’re only four races into a long championship and we’ve had a pretty good start, aside from Braden winning all four races. I learned from yesterday; it was a race I should have won, but that’s in the past. It was a solid race today and good points, so we’re focusing on the long run. It’s very easy to look at something with a smaller mind, like I did yesterday, but I am on the podium at Indianapolis. I’ve watched races from here ever since I can remember so this is a dream come true. Thanks to Mazda Motorsports for giving me the opportunity, Pabst Racing and all my supporters at home.”