By Steve Wittich
That Hunter McElrea and Pabst Racing won an Indy Pro 2000 race in 2020 isn’t a surprise. That it took until the final race of the season was a surprise.
The 20-year-old McElrea started fourth, moved to third on the start, and got by pole sitter Robb and his teammate Kaminsky on Lap 5, leading the final 21 laps to capture his team’s first Indy Pro 2000 win.
It’s the fifth career Road To Indy win for the American born, Kiwi citizen, who was raised in Australia.
McElrea is the eighth different driver to win an Indy Pro 2000 race in 2020. That ties the series record for winners.
Coming across the line just behind his Pabst Racing teammate was Colin Kaminsky. The 21-year-old finished the season on a high note, standing on the podium’s middle step in two of the last three races.
Grabbing the final spot on the podium in the last race of the season was Turn 3 Motorsport driver Danial Frost.
Devlin DeFrancesco (Andretti Steinbrenner Racing) solidified the second spot in the championship, finishing ahead of his closest rival Artem Petrov (Juncos Racing) on the track and the points table.
Petrov was not able to finish the race, finishing in the ninth spot. The low finish combined with Frost’s podium means the Russian driver falls to fourth in the final standings.
The final Road To Indy race of the 2020 season, the Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix Of St. Petersburg Presented By Allied Building Products, got the command to fire their engines at 11:26 am. The race followed a busy NTT INDYCAR® SERIES warm-up session, giving the engineers a challenge to find an effective set-up to work with different rubber.
After one pace lap, the front row of Robb and Kaminsky brought the front row down the long front straight, the 3,677-foot Runway 7/25 at the Albert Whited Airport.
Robb got a good jump on Kaminsky, getting cleanly through Turn 1 first, bringing Kaminsky through behind him.
Behind the first few rows, Nate Aranda (Juncos Racing) took too much of the curb in Turn 1, bounding into DEForce Racing drivers Parker Thompson and Moisés de la Vara. Also involved was Tristan Charpentier and Charles Finelli.
The incident knocked Thompson, de la Vara, Charpentier, and Finelli out of the race, while Aranda could continue.
While under yellow, race control announced that Kory Enders (DEForce Racing) was being penalized for jumping the start. He took the restart at the back of the field.
The running order as the green flag came back out to start Lap 4 was Robb, Kaminsky, McElrea, Frost, Petrov, Rasmus Lindh (Turn 3 Motorsport), Devlin DeFrancesco (Andretti Autosport), Manuel Sulaiman (DEForce Racing), Nate Aranda (Juncos Racing) and Kory Enders (DEForce Racing).
Kaminsky got a great restart, putting immense pressure on Robb. Robb placed his car in the middle of the track to defend. The 2020 champion got a little too deep into the corner, making the corner, but running wide. That allowed Kaminsky and McElrea to move past Robb.
Kaminsky held the lead for only a few corners before giving up the lead to his teammate McElrea. Behind the leaders, Sulaiman’s Mandala/Viva Aerobus/Telcel/La Santa sponsored No. 8 ended up in the tires in Turn 4. That brought out the second caution of the race.
The AMR INDYCAR Safety Team cleared the No. 8 quickly, and the green flag came out on Lap 7.
On the first lap after the restart, Frost and Petrov were got around Robb, dropping the veteran to fifth.
On Lap 9, Lindh made a move on Robb for fifth. Upfront, McElrea had pulled a 3-second gap over his teammate Kaminsky, who was being pressured by Frost and Petrov.
At just past the halfway point of the race, McElrea’s lead over his teammate was 1.6 seconds.
Further back, Lindh made an inside pass of Petrov in Turn 1, moving to fourth and taking off after his Turn 3 Motorsport teammate Frost for the podium’s final spot.
Also, getting by Petrov was his teammate Robb, who moved back into the top five.
On the next lap, Kaminksy’s lead over McElrea had shrunk to 1.2 seconds.
With ten laps remaining, the lead out front was 0.9 seconds, but it was Frost in third who was the quickest driver on the track. The No. 68 was less than a second behind the No. 19.
Only 1.5 seconds covered the top three the next time they crossed the start-finish line, with Kaminsky within a half-second of McElrea.
On Lap 16, Petrov was defending against DeFrancesco and was given a penalty for blocking. The penalty was to give up the sixth spot to the driver he was battling for second in the championship. A few laps later, Petrov brought the No. 42 to pit road, retiring in the ninth position.
Over the next two laps, the gap among the top three remained steady at 1.5 seconds.
Lindh, in fourth, was slowly eating into the gap to the front three. The Swede was going to have to start watching his mirrors. The driver chasing him for fourth, Robb, was the quickest driver on the track.
With five laps remaining, the top three were covered by less than a second, running nose-to-tail around the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit.
With three laps remaining, the gap between the front three had increased to 1.4 seconds, with 0.7 seconds between each position.
McElrea’s lead when he took the white flag was 0.5 seconds. Frost had fallen 1.2 seconds behind Kaminsky.
Kaminsky hassled McElrea for the final 14 corners, but McElrea held on for his first Indy Pro 2000 win.
Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix Of St. Petersburg Presented By Allied Building Products Results
|1||18||Hunter McElrea||25||25 laps|
|5||2||Sting Ray Robb||25||-4.2577|
|9||42||Artem Petrov||20||– 5 laps|
|10||8||Manuel Sulaiman||4||-21 laps|
|11||90||Tristan Charpentier||1||-24 laps|
|12||9||Parker Thompson||—||-25 laps|
|13||6||Moises de la Vara||—||-25 laps|
|14||83||Charles Finelli||—||-25 laps|