After “disappointing” finishes of fifth and fourth in his last two races, Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship points leader, Braden Eves got back to his winning ways on Sunday, standing on the top step of the podium for the fifth time in seven race this season.
“After struggling last month on the oval and struggling again yesterday, this one feels so good,” said the Cape Motorsports rookie after getting out of his No. 8. “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.”
The New Albany, Ohio driver, followed the pole sitter, and his chief championship contender Hunter McElrea through the first 18 corners of the race, making the pass for the lead in their 19th corner and leading the final 149 corners to come home victorious.
Eves began the weekend with a 44 point lead over McElrea and left the Kettle Moraine region with a similar margin of 41 points. A fourth-place finish combined with a McElrea win on Saturday, briefly lowered Eves lead to 33 points.
Eves is the 10th different driver to win 13 races for Cape Motorsports on the 4.014-mile, 14-turn natural terrain road course.
For the second straight USF2000 race at Road America, a pair of drivers from a single team finished one-two, with Cape Motorsports driver Darren Keane joining Eves on the podium. The St. Petersburg, Fla. based squad now has 26 USF2000 podiums at Road America, doubling Pabst Racing as the most of any team.
Keane, was able to recover from being pushed off track, and dropping to the rear of the field in Race #1, to make some nifty late lap moves to grab his second podium of the season.
The pole sitter, McElrea had a concern with his 2.0L engine on the grid, but the Pabst Racing crew and Elite Engines was able to get the car on track when the grid rolled off for the lone pace lap. The 19-year-old was able to salvage a podium, his sixth in seven USF2000 races to start the 2019 season.
“It was unfortunate, having the issue before the race, and it was out of our control,” explained McElrea. “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 the 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.”
The command to start the Elite 2.0L engines that power the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship was given by Kathy Knapp at 8 am.
The temperature was 63F, and the skies were cloudy.
The front row starters, McElrea on the inside and Eves on the outside made the long climb up the hill to the start zone side-by-side, but before they got the green flag, Eves quickly tucked in behind McElrea.
Eves looked to the outside of McElrea in the first turn, leaving a little room open for Christian Rasmussen to stick the nose of his CSU | One Cure/Lucas Oil No. 6 inside of the points leader.
Eves held the second spot, while Rasmussen immediately came under attack from Colin Kaminsky.
All 18 cars were clean through the first five corners, but Matthew Round-Garrido, who started the race in the eighth spot ran wide at the exit of Turn 6, rejoining well behind the field after a bumpy ride through the grass.
McElrea crossed the start/finish line to complete the first lap ahead of Eves. Behind them, the running order was: Rasmussen, Kaminsky, Keane, Manuel Sulaiman, Alexandre Baron, Jak Crawford, Cameron Shields, Eduardo Barrichello, Reece Gold, Bruna Tomaselli, Jack William Miller, Yuven Sundaramoorthy, Anthony Famularo, Nolan Siegel, Christian Bogle, and Round-Garrido.
The No. 22 Soul Red machine of McElrea led through the first four corners of Lap 2, but Eves was able to get by for the lead before they got to Turn 5. That almost left the door open for Rasmussen to jump into second, but McElrea was able to hold him off.
Rasmussen looked around the outside of McElrea in Turn 1, before making the pass in the braking zone of Turn 5.
On lap 3 Famularo was given a drive thru-penalty for blocking. He was battling with Tomaselli and Sundaramoorthy on the lap prior.
On Lap 4, Kaminsky, Keane, and Baron went three wide up the hill, under the Corvette Bridge and towards Turn 6, with the three drivers making cleanly through the blind right-hander.
Kaminsky was right under the gearbox of teammate McElrea as they crossed the start/finish line to start Lap 5, and was able to complete the pass to move up to the final spot on the podium before they got to Turn 1.
Behind the podium battle, Sulaiman was able to get by Baron for the sixth spot, but that battle was not over. Later on that lap, Baron got into the back of Sulaiman in Turn 5, getting the Telcel sponsored No. 12 loose at the apex of the corner and damaging Barons front wing. The two drivers went side-by-side up the hill to the Corvette Bridge with the Mexican running the Frenchman into the grass.
Sulaiman was given a penalty for blocking and was forced to serve a drive-thru, and dropping him back to 16th, where he finished the race.
Without the downforce from the front wing, Baron had a massive moment in Kink, dropping two wheels on driver’s left. The veteran smartly came to pit road for repairs to his Metalloid Corporation sponsored No. 14 and ended up finishing the race in 17th.
Eves crossed the line with a 2.3 second lead over Rasmussen to start the second half of the 12-lap race. Kaminsky was able to move past Rasmussen just before the start/finish line.
The two drivers traded that spot a couple more times, with McElrea and Keane joining them to form a train of USF-17s battling for the final two spots on the podium.
A shake-up among those four drivers occurred with four laps remaining.
Rasmussen spun after appearing to carry too much speed into Turn 5, and he immediately got going again, losing only one spot.
Kaminsky, made a mistake in The Carousel, allowing McElrea and Keane to get past him; dropping him to fourth.
Further back, Pabst Racing teammates Tomaselli and Sundaramoorthy, along with Cape Motorsports rookie Gold were waging an entertaining battle for the final spot in the top ten, which was won by Gold. The reigning Lucas Oil Formula Car Race Series champion has now finished in the top ten in five of seven starts so far this year.
Eves’ lead when he crossed the line to start the next to lap race was five seconds over McElrea, who was under immense pressure from Keane, who had just turned the quickest lap of the race. The veteran Cape Motorsports driver has now had the fastest lap of the race three times this season.
Keane looked to outside of McElrea in Turn 1 but tucked the Cal Development/Keane Architectural Woodwork No. 2 back in behind McElrea’s Soul Red No. 22.
Keane forced McElrea to take a defensive inside line on the run down to Turn 3. That compromised the Kiwi’s exit of the critical corner leading onto the Moraine Sweep and allowed Keane to utilize an outside to inside move in Turn 5 and push McElrea wide while grabbing the second step of the podium.
McElrea put tremendous pressure on Keane for the remaining 23 corners, but the American was able to hold on to guarantee a Cape Motorsports one-two finish.
“Today I had a good battle with Colin (Kaminsky) and Christian (Rasmussen),” said Keane after the race. “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 good respect for each other, and it’s always fun.”
Eves MDRN Livery/Community Choice Financial No. 8 crossed the line 4.5908 seconds ahead of his teammate Keane, who was a half-second ahead of McElrea.
Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Road America Powered by Elite Engines USF2000 Race #1 Unofficial Results.
|1||8||Braden Eves||Cape Motorsports||12 laps|
|2||2||Darren Keane||Cape Motorsports||-4.5908|
|3||22||Hunter McElrea||Pabst Racing||-5.0703|
|4||23||Colin Kaminsky||Pabst Racing||-7.3739|
|5||6||Christian Rasmussen||Jay Howard Driver Development||-10.0942|
|6||52||Jak Crawford||DEForce Racing||-14.3073|
|7||41||Eduardo Barrichello||Miller Vinatieri Motorsports||-17.3643|
|8||27||Matthew Round-Garrido||BN Racing||-17.8063|
|9||73||Cameron Shields||Newman Wachs Racing||-18.2941|
|10||3||Reece Gold||Cape Motorsports||-18.9009|
|11||24||Bruna Tomaselli||Pabst Racing||-20.9776|
|12||21||Yuven Sundaramoorthy||Pabst Racing||-21.5106|
|13||40||Jack William Miller||Miller Vinatieri Motorsports||-22.6532|
|14||36||Nolan Siegel||Newman Wachs Racing||-24.4908|
|15||7||Christian Bogle||Jay Howard Driver Development||-34.4033|
|16||12||Manuel Sulaiman||DEForce Racing||-45.8987|
|17||14||Alexandre Baron||Legacy Autosport||-130.1422|
|18||28||Anthony Famularo||BN Racing||-5 LAPS|