The Giltrap Group/Doric NZ/Miles Advisory Partners sponsored No. 18 of race winner Hunter McElrea Photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography/Road to Indy

By Steve Wittich

Hunter McElrea, with an unorthodox win at Barber Motorsports Park, has now won two of the last three Indy Pro 2000 races.

The Pabst Racing sophomore wasn’t the first driver to cross the line but was declared the winner when a five-second post-race penalty was applied to Christian Rasmussen (Jay Howard Driver Development), who moved in reaction to McElrea while defending after a spin in Turn 5 threw away a significant lead.

“I was all over Christian for the first five laps to try and apply the pressure, but he had the most pace today,” explained the sophomore Pabst Racing pilot.  “Having gotten sixth yesterday, I was going for points today and was ready to accept second when I came out of Turn Five and he was stopped in the middle of the road. He put three blocks on me, so I feel as though he had the win just about in the bag but he gave it to me. He was super fast; I’m sure he’s disappointed. I love racing him, I know we’ll have some good battles this year, but I got lucky with that win and in this game, you have to take them. I probably had the second-place car today but I got lucky. This win puts me right where I need to be.”

Exclusive Autosport veteran Artem Petrov was able to hold off his teammate and winner of Saturday’s race Braden Eves, to stand on his second straight podium to start the 2021 Indy Pro 2000 season.

The race featured 39 passes, with Enzo Fittipaldi (RP Motorsport), James Roe (Turn 3 Motorsports), and Reece Gold (Juncos Racing), each completing five overtakes.

Petrov, Colin Kaminsky (Pabst Racing), Enaam Ahmed (RP Motorsport), James Roe (Turn 3 Motorsport), Hunter Yeany (Velocity Racing Development), and Jack William Miller (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports) all gained three spots during the race, the most in the field.

Eves, with a fourth-place finish, heads to the second event of the season in St. Petersburg, Fla., next weekend with the points lead.

Unofficial Top 5 Indy Pro 2000 points after two races
1 – Braden Eves (Exclusive Autosport) – 51 points
2 – Artem Petrov (Exclusive Autosport) – 47 points
3 – Hunter McElrea (Pabst Racing) – 45 points
4 – Christian Rasmussen (Jay Howard Driver Development) – 37 points
T5 – Reece Gold (Juncos Racing) – 30 points
T5 – Jacob Abel (Abel Motorsports) – 30 points

After having contract in Saturday’s race, the front row of Rasmussen and McElrea began Sunday’s race cleanly. Pole-sitter Rasmussen got a good jump on McElrea.

Gold, who started third, had an issue in Turn 1, with the podium driver from Saturday falling down the running order to 14th.

Petrov, who started sixth, moved up three spots on the first lap, passing his teammate Eves in Charlotte’s Web.

The running order at the end of the first lap was Rasmussen, McElrea, Petrov, Eves, Abel, Wyatt Brichacek (Jay Howard Driver Development), Colin Kaminsky (Pabst Racing), Manuel Sulaiman (Juncos Racing), James Roe (Turn 3 Motorsport), Kyffin Simpson (Juncos Racing), Enaam Ahmed (RP Motorsport), Hunter Yeany (Velocity Racing Development), Pietro Fittipaldi (RP Motorsport), Reece Gold (Juncos Racing), Jack William Miller (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports), Cameron Shields (DEForce Racing) and Flinn Lazier (Legacy Autosport).

Early on, McElrea would not let the Rasmussen getaway out front, with Exclusive Autosport teammates running in their tire tracks.

Just before the one-third point of the race, Simpson had an issue on the track, letting Ahmed, Yeany, and Fittipaldi get by before falling to the tail of the field.

Rasmussen’s lead was up to 2.3 seconds over McElrea, slowly gapping the Pabst Racing sophomore.

Petrov was 2.5 seconds behind McElrea in the final podium spot, but that spot wasn’t safe, as his teammate Eves was right on the Russian’s gearbox.

As the fuel burned off, lap times continued to fall, and drivers settled in for during the middle portion of the race.

At the halfway point of the race, Rasmussen’s lead over McElrea was 3.3 seconds. The remainder of the top ten was Petrov, Eves, Abel, Brichacek, Kaminsky, Sulaiman, Roe, and Ahmed.

The closest battle on the 2.3-mile, 17-turn natural terrain road course was at the halfway point of the 30-lap race was for fifth. Abel held the spot but was facing pressure from Brichacek and Kaminsky.

After putting pressure on Roe for at least ten laps, Ahmed moved past the Irishman for ninth on Lap 19.

On Lap 20, Rasmussen turned his quickest lap of the race along with McElrea. Rasmussen’s lap was a half-second quicker than the Pabst Racing driver, and the gap had increased to just over six seconds.

Despite a considerable lead upfront, there were still some great battles further back in the field. Exclusive Autosport teammates Petrov and Eves were only separated by 0.4 seconds with eight laps remaining.

The JHDD, CSU | One Cure/Lucas Oil Sponsored No. 1 of Christian Rasmussen leads the Indy Pro 2000 race at Barber Motorsports Park in 2021 Photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography/Road to Indy

On lap 23, the race at the front of the field got more interesting when Rasmussen spun in Turn 5. He kept the lead but had McElrea right on his tail.

Rasmussen clearly had the quicker car as he began to pull a gap to McElrea.

With five laps remaining, race control announced that Rasmussen would receive a five-second penalty for moving in reaction to McElrea.

“I was leading by quite a margin but made a mistake coming out of Turn Five, went wide, got on the curb and spun,” explained a disappointed Rasmussen, the reigning USF2000 champion. “It was completely my fault. I saw Hunter coming and went to the inside – which is where you’re supposed to go when you’re defending the position – and he went to the outside. I held my line, so I didn’t feel as though I impeded his line at all, kept the lead and pulled away again. I have to look at the video but I felt as though I kept to the rules in that situation. I’m not sure what I think of the penalty at the moment, but again, we have to look at the video and see what happened. Right now, I don’t think it was fair. I feel as though I deserve that victory, but that’s racing sometimes.”

With two laps remaining, Rasmussen’s gap to McElrea was 3.8 seconds. With one lap remaining, Rasmussen’s lead was 3.5 seconds ahead of McElrea.

Rasmussen crossed the finish line ahead of McElrea, but the gap was not over five seconds, giving the win to McElrea.

Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix Of Alabama Presented By Cooper Tires Race #2

1 18 Hunter McElrea Pabst Racing 30 LAPS
2 1 Christian Rasmussen Jay Howard Driver Development -1.4102
3 42 Artem Petrov Exclusive Autosport -5.9833
4 91 Braden Eves Exclusive Autosport -6.8317
5 51 Jacob Abel Abel Motorsports -14.3326
6 5 Wyatt Brichacek Jay Howard Driver Development -14.9258
7 27 Colin Kaminsky Pabst Racing -15.3529
8 22 Manuel Sulaiman Juncos Racing -16.4453
9 77 Enaam Ahmed RP Motorsport USA -16.9272
10 74 Enzo Fittipaldi RP Motorsport USA -18.3812
11 3 James Roe Turn 3 Motorsport -20.6469
12 11 Hunter Yeany Velocity Racing Development -26.7027
13 55 Reece Gold Juncos Racing -27.1185
14 40 Jack William Miller Miller Vinatieri Motorsports -27.6646
15 7 Cameron Shields DEForce Racing -28.2607
16 20 Flinn Lazier Legacy Autosport -40.2698
17 21 Kyffin Simpson Juncos Racing -69.8321