By Road to Indy
SPEEDWAY, Ind. – A thrilling USF2000 Grand Prix of Indianapolis at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this afternoon saw Braden Eves claim his third straight victory for Cape Motorsports following a race-long duel with Mazda Road to Indy Scholarship winner Hunter McElrea (Pabst Racing). The pair exchanged the lead several times over the last couple of laps before Eves, from New Albany, Ohio, edged out McElrea, from Gold Coast, Australia, by just under three-tenths of a second.
Manuel Sulaiman, from Puebla, Mexico, maintained his impressive start to the season by finishing third for DEForce Racing.
The excitement began early as the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship resumed following a lengthy hiatus since the opening two rounds of the season on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., with Indianapolis Colts star Adam Vinatieri – co-owner of two USF2000 race cars – waving the green flag to commence Round Three. After edging out Cape Motorsports teammate Darren Keane to the pole this morning, Eves made an excellent start to head the immensely competitive 21-car field toward Turn One.
McElrea, after starting third, tucked in behind the race leader, but there was chaos in their wake as 14-year-old debutant Jak Crawford (DEForce Racing), from Houston, Texas, ran out of racing room and tagged the rear of Keane’s Tatuus USF-17 at the apex of Turn One. Mexico’s Manuel Cabrera (Exclusive Autosport) was among several other potential contenders to be caught up in the incident.
The fracas enabled Eves and McElrea to pull well clear of the chasing pack. Sulaiman, after qualifying eighth, somehow emerged in third, chased by local youngster Jack William Miller, who started ninth for Miller Vinatieri Motorsports, and Australian Cameron Shields (Newman Wachs Racing), up from 13th on the grid.
McElrea shadowed Eves in the opening laps and was clearly in a mood to challenge. On lap 8, McElrea glimpsed the tiniest of openings at Turn One and grasped his opportunity with both hands. Eves, meanwhile, was intent upon regaining his early advantage. The pair continued to circulate in close company before the battle intensified dramatically over the last couple of laps. Eves regained the point on lap 13, only for McElrea to snatch back the lead as the two leaders began the final lap. And yet still it wasn’t over. An excellent exit from Turn Seven enabled Eves to draw alongside McElrea through the right-left flicks at Turns Eight and Nine before hanging on around the outside to take the lead for one final time around the outside line at Turn 10 to secure a magnificent victory.
The in-fighting allowed Sulaiman to finish right behind McElrea in third, while Colin Kaminsky (Pabst Racing), from Homer Glen, Ill., worked his way from seventh in the opening stages to finish fourth ahead of the impressive Shields, whose fine effort was rewarded with the Tilton Hard Charger Award.
Brazilian Eduardo Barrichello (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports) also took advantage of the first corner melee to rise from 15th to sixth, and looked set to finish in the same position until encountering gearbox problems on the penultimate lap, causing him to slide off the road in Turn Seven. Unfortunately, teammate Miller, who inherited the position, also hit trouble on the final lap when he tangled with the recovering Crawford in between Turns One and Two. Their incident allowed Keane to inherit sixth place at the finish after a brilliant drive from the back of the field during which he established a new USF2000 lap record of 1:14.8876 (103.436 mph).
After claiming yet another PFC Award as the winning car owners, brothers Dominic and Nicholas Cape can look forward to the possibility of another one tomorrow as Eves and Keane once again will start alongside each other on the front row of the grid following a second qualifying session this morning. McElrea, too, can be expected to offer another serious challenge as all three qualified faster than the old lap record.
Provisional championship points after three of 14 races:
1. Braden Eves, 94
2. Hunter McElrea, 72
3. Manuel Sulaiman, 62
4. Zach Holden, 53
5. Colin Kaminsky, 41
6. Bruna Tomaselli, 40
7. Darren Keane, 40
8. Anthony Famularo, 36
9. Alex Baron, 32
10. Cameron Shields, 32
Braden Eves (#8 MDRN Livery/Community Choice Financial-Cape Motorsports Tatuus USF-17): “Darren (Keane) and I have been so close in winter testing and I thought this season would be that close, where we’d be focusing on points and trying to win some races. I’m really happy to be on top but it’s crazy, really, to look back at what (USF2000 champion) Kyle (Kirkwood) did last year and to realize that I’m off to an even better start! It makes it even more meaningful after a race like that. I just couldn’t stop yelling in the car at the checkered flag; it was pure joy and relief, especially here. To cross the yard of bricks, where so many legendary drivers have done before me, it’s amazing.”
Hunter McElrea (#22 Mazda/Doric NZ/Miles Advisory Partners/Pabst Racing Tatuus USF-17): “To be on the podium at a place as legendary as Indianapolis means a lot. It was a good race but the last two laps were pretty hectic. I got past Braden for the lead and held it pretty comfortably until I made a mistake and he was able to get back by. I was able to get him on the outside in Turn One but gave him too much room in the Esses on the last lap. I hated to lose the lead on the last lap, but it’s good points so I can’t be too disappointed. But to drive my hardest and do 90 percent of the work and to lose it on the last lap like that is seriously crushing. I’m happy to be on the podium though. Mazda has given me the opportunity to be on the grid and Pabst Racing gave me a really fast car so tomorrow we’ll come back strong.”
Manuel Sulaiman (#12 DEForce Racing Tatuus USF-17): “I’m happy with the result we have, to finish on the podium from a P8 starting position. It’s incredible, though, to come here for the first time. You hear everyone talk about this place so to have a podium here makes it that much more special. We’ll be going for it all tomorrow.”