Hunter McElrea (Pabst Racing) wheels the Giltrap Group/Doric NZ/Miles Advisory Partners sponsored No. 18 on the Streets Of St. Petersburg, Fla. Photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography/Road to Indy

By Steve Wittich

Hunter McElrea utilized a last-minute flyer to pip reigning USF2000 champion, Christian Rasmussen, to win his first career Indy Pro 2000 pole.

The Pabst Racing sophomores sixth career Road To Indy pole means that all six of the ‘ladder series’ races will have different drivers start from the pole, duplicating that feat from Barber Motorsports Park.

Rasmussen just missed out on his second pole of the season and will start Saturday and Sunday’s Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix Of St. Petersburg presented by Cooper Tires races on the outside of the front row.

Reece Gold, a Juncos Racing rookie, continues his improvement and will start behind the pole sitter after qualifying fifth for this afternoon’s race.

Gold’s teammate Manuel Sulaiman round out an all-Juncos Racing second row. It’s the Mexican driver’s best starting spot this season.

A hazy sunrise floating over the relatively still waters of Tampa Bay greeted the 17 Indy Pro 2000 drivers and teams for their second qualifying session as a busy day of action in St. Petersburg, Fla., got started. The ambient temperature was already 72F and the track temperature of the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit was 76F.

Eves, the race #1 pole winner, had a frustrating and possibly championship-changing start to the day, starting the session with a non-functioning transponder.

The Ohioan was stuck at the bottom of the running order but could get out on track with a functioning transponder in the final four minutes, completing only four laps and turning in the sixth-best time.

The early leader was fall 2020 St. Pete winner McElrea, but times were still two seconds off Saturday’s pole setting lap.

Over the next five minutes, Gold and then Rasmussen grabbed the provisional pole. A pole winner at Barber Motorsports Park, Rasmussen’s lap at 68.9563 seconds, held the top spot. The Jay Howard Driver Development driver was followed in the top ten by Jack William Miller (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports), Gold, Cameron Shields (DEForce Racing), McElrea, James Roe (Turn 3 Motorsport), Colin Kaminsky (Pabst Racing), Manuel Sulaiman (DEForce Racing), Jacob Abel (Abel Motorsports), and Artem Petrov (Exclusive Autosport).

With most of the field coming to pit road for adjustments, times started to drop in the final four minutes of the session.

After provisional pole laps by McElrea and Gold, Rasmussen went back to the provisional pole. The Dane improved on each of his next three laps, holding the top spot until the last few seconds of qualifying when McElrea pipped him by one-hundredth-of-a-second on his 15th of 15 laps.

Despite being cleared to drive by INDYCAR, Enzo Fittipaldi, who was involved in a significant incident on Friday, did not participate in the session. TSO Ladder will go check with the team about his status when this session ends.

Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix Of St. Petersburg presented by Cooper Tires qualifying #2 results

1 18 Hunter McElrea Pabst Racing 1:08.3534 15
2 1 Christian Rasmussen Jay Howard Driver Development 1:08.3708 0.0174 15
3 55 Reece Gold Juncos Racing 1:08.5241 0.1707 12
4 22 Manuel Sulaiman Juncos Racing 1:08.5951 0.2417 13
5 21 Kyffin Simpson Juncos Racing 1:08.6465 0.2931 13
6 91 Braden Eves Exclusive Autosport 1:08.6708 0.3174 4
7 27 Colin Kaminsky Pabst Racing 1:08.7580 0.4046 15
8 5 Wyatt Brichacek Jay Howard Driver Development 1:08.7986 0.4452 15
9 40 Jack William Miller Miller Vinatieri Motorsports 1:08.8017 0.4483 15
10 77 Enaam Ahmed RP Motorsport USA 1:08.8025 0.4491 14
11 51 Jacob Abel Abel Motorsports 1:08.9198 0.5664 14
12 7 Cameron Shields DEForce Racing 1:08.9280 0.5746 14
13 3 James Roe Turn 3 Motorsport 1:09.0051 0.6517 14
14 42 Artem Petrov Exclusive Autosport 1:09.0849 0.7315 14
15 20 Flinn Lazier Legacy Autosport 1:09.2725 0.9191 14
16 11 Hunter Yeany Velocity Racing Development 1:09.4882 1.1348 14
17 74 Enzo Fittipaldi RP Motorsport USA No Time

The first race for the middle rung of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires rolls off at 11:50 am.