By Steve Wittich

Braden Eves, with a dominant qualifying lap, and the bonus point for winning the pole, moved to within five points of Hunter McElrea with a lap that was over a half-second ahead of the driver he’s chasing in the hunt for the scholarship.

It’s the 20-year-old Ohioan’s fourth pole of the season and the fifth at the iconic road course for Cape Motorsports. It’s Eves first pole since the second race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

Nine of the 15 past USF2000 winners at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca have started on pole, giving Eves a decided advantage for the first of two Cooper Tires USF2000 Grand Prix Presented by Allied Building Products races.

The bottom rung of the Road To Indy, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship drivers, followed the Indy Lights drivers on track for qualifying.

Early in the session, the S team Motorsports sponsored No. 21 of Yuven Sundaramoorthy had an off in Turn 3, but he was able to get the 2.0L engine on his Pabst Racing machine restarted and continued.

Reece Gold, McElrea, and Rasmussen all held the provisional pole in the first ten minutes of the session.

At the halfway point of the 20-minute session, McElrea’s lap of 85.575 seconds was a slim six-hundredths of a second ahead of Christian Rasmussen. Kaminsky, Crawford, and Eves were the remainder of the top five.

McElrea improved on his provisional pole by a few-hundredths on his seventh of nines lap to that point in the session. With five minutes left, the top seven drivers were within a half-second of Kiwi McElrea.

With three minutes remaining, Eves threw down the gauntlet, turning a lap the was almost three-tenths of a second quicker than McElrea. The Cape Motorsports rookie lowered the provisional pole time on his next lap.

Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Race #1

1 8 Braden Eves Cape Motorsports 1:24.994 –.—-
2 22 Hunter McElrea Pabst Racing 1:25.517 0.5229
3 6 Christian Rasmussen Jay Howard Driver Development 1:25.578 0.5841
4 23 Colin Kaminsky Pabst Racing 1:25.674 0.6802
5 91 Eduardo Barrichello DEForce Racing 1:25.722 0.7287
6 4 Jak Crawford Cape Motorsports 1:25.869 0.8757
7 3 Reece Gold Cape Motorsports 1:25.915 0.9208
8 2 Darren Keane Cape Motorsports 1:25.973 0.9796
9 5 Wyatt Brichacek Jay Howard Driver Development 1:26.171 1.1768
10 12 Manuel Sulaiman DEForce Racing 1:26.212 1.2181
11 14 Zach Holden Legacy Autosport 1:26.322 1.3281
12 21 Yuven Sundaramoorthy Pabst Racing 1:26.408 1.4146
13 73 Kyle Dupell Newman Wachs Racing 1:26.654 1.6604
14 36 Nolan Siegel Newman Wachs Racing 1:26.855 1.8615
15 24 Bruna Tomaselli Pabst Racing 1:27.055 2.0611
16 7 Christian Bogle Jay Howard Driver Development 1:27.131 2.1369
17 40 Jack William Miller Miller Vinatieri Motorsports 1:27.151 2.1572
18 77 Ayrton Ori Legacy Autosport 1:27.812 2.8185

The checkered flag for the first race for the lowest rung of Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder gets the green flag at 5:05 pm on Saturday.