The championship battle between Hunter McElrea and Braden Eves in Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship action heated up as the sun set Friday evening at Portland International Raceway.

McElrea beat Eves to the pole position for the first of two races this weekend, as the Pabst Racing driver looks to catch and pass the Cape Motorsports driver for the points lead. Nine points down entering the weekend, McElrea will seek to close that gap following his fourth pole position of the season.

While Eves looked a potential polesitter after snatching the provisional top spot away from Jay Howard Driver Development’s Christian Rasmussen, McElrea responded by throwing down the gauntlet at 1:11.6752, his first of two laps eventually good enough for pole. It was a time nearly three tenths faster than either Eves or Rasmussen, who were both in the 1:11.9 bracket.

McElrea got even quicker with another lap at 1:11.5920 while Eves was able to make it to 1:11.7737, a tenth and a half shy of the top spot.

Behind the top three, the other impressive driver was 14-year-old Jak Crawford, in the RE/Max-supported No. 4 Cape Motorsports entry. Crawford briefly held the top spot before Rasmussen edged ahead. Either way, he’ll match his car number starting a season and career-best fourth place. His previous best was fifth on two occasions.

Colin Kaminsky rounds out the top five in the second of four Pabst cars. Of note, Yuven Sundaramoorthy made it back to eighth place in his repaired Pabst car following an accident in practice. Bruna Tomaselli in the fourth Pabst car starts 12th.

Slightly further down the order, Eduardo Barrichello qualified ninth in his first outing for DEForce Racing. Series debutantes Josh Green (Jay Howard Driver Development) and Ayrton Ori (Legacy Autosport) will roll off 15th and 17th, and sandwich series returnee Kyle Dupell in the second Newman/Wachs car.

USF2000 has two on-track sessions Saturday. Qualifying for Race 2 takes place at 9:05 a.m. PDT with Race 1 at 4:30 p.m. PDT.

Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship – Qualifying Race #1

P No Name Team FTime Diff Laps
1 22 Hunter McElrea Pabst Racing 1:11.564 –.—- 11
2 8 Braden Eves Cape Motorsports 1:11.704 0.1402 13
3 6 Christian Rasmussen Jay Howard Driver Development 1:11.904 0.3399 15
4 4 Jak Crawford Cape Motorsports 1:12.004 0.4400 14
5 23 Colin Kaminsky Pabst Racing 1:12.136 0.5722 11
6 12 Manuel Sulaiman DEForce Racing 1:12.151 0.5869 13
7 2 Darren Keane Cape Motorsports 1:12.152 0.5881 13
8 21 Yuven Sundaramoorthy Pabst Racing 1:12.216 0.6515 14
9 91 Eduardo Barrichello DEForce Racing 1:12.290 0.7262 15
10 14 Zach Holden Legacy Autosport 1:12.309 0.7450 14
11 3 Reece Gold Cape Motorsports 1:12.336 0.7715 14
12 24 Bruna Tomaselli Pabst Racing 1:12.441 0.8762 14
13 40 Jack William Miller Miller Vinatieri Motorsports 1:12.570 1.0060 16
14 36 Nolan Siegel Newman Wachs Racing 1:12.586 1.0214 16
15 5 Josh Green Jay Howard Driver Development 1:12.720 1.1556 15
16 73 Kyle Dupell Newman Wachs Racing 1:13.132 1.5675 16
17 77 Ayrton Ori Legacy Autosport 1:13.397 1.8326 15
18 7 Christian Bogle Jay Howard Driver Development 1:13.887 2.3231 15