Braden Eves is congratulated by Exclusive Autosport team owner Michael Duncalfe after wheeling the Cambridge/Exclusive Autosport sponsored No. 91 PM-18 to a win in the 2021 Indy Pro 2000 season-opener Photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography/Road to Indy

By Steve Wittich

The second chapter in Braden Eves’ storybook return to the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper featured a dominant green to checkered flag victory and returned to the top step of the series podium.

The 21-year-old, who started on the inside of the front row, got a jump on the field and was able to drive away from his Exclusive Autosport teammate Artem Petrov, who finished on an Indy Pro 2000 podium for the seventh time.

“That was just amazing. It’s so hard to pass here so I knew that if I got through the first lap, I should be okay,” said the 2019 USF2000 champion. “Winning the season opener is big when you’re making a championship bid and that’s what we’re after this season. Before my USF2000 title, I won the first race as well and while I’d love to go four-for-four this year, like I did then, it’s going to be tough tomorrow. But I’m so happy, incredible job by Exclusive Autosport. Our first front row lock-out and our first one-two finish so massive thanks to the team. Thanks as well to Artem. We’ve worked hard all off-season and it really helps to have a good teammate to push each other. It’s so great to be back here with the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and with all the fans here – it adds a lot of emotion to the win.”

The win is Eves second in Indy Pro 2000, eighth on the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder, and the 11th in his North American junior open-wheel career.

Manuel Sulaiman (Juncos Racing) was the third podium driver, making it an all veteran podium.

Note: Scratch that all-veteran podium. During the post race inspection, the No. 22 Juncos Racing PM-18 of Sulaiman was found to violate Rule 14.31.1, which states:

14.31.1. Car Weight – The minimum car weight shall include all fuel, lubricants, coolants, cameras, Driver weight and meet the following minimums:

  • (a) All Events – 1295 pounds. 

The disqualification moved Sulaiman’s Juncos Racing rookie teammate Reece Gold onto the final step of the podium. Cameron Shields, a DEForce Racing rookie, moved up to the fourth spot and was the highest finishing of the five single-car entries. Rounding out the top five was series newcomer Enaam Ahmed (RP Motorsport).

Eves’ win is Exclusive Autosport’s second trip to victory lane at Barber Motorsports Park. Parker Thompson won Race #1 in 2018. The podiums for Eves and Petrov are the third and fourth podiums at Barber Motorsports Park.

Sulaiman grabbed the 11th podium at Barber Motorsports Park for Juncos Racing.

The field completed 82 on-track passes. RP Motorsport newcomer Enaam Ahmed, with ten, overtakes, the busiest driver. Ahmed, a well-regarded shoe with worldwide experience, was the biggest mover during the race, gaining seven spots after starting 13th.

Pre-race note: Wyatt Brichacek, a Jay Howard Driver Development rookie, who turned in the fourth quickest lap time during qualifying for Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix Of Alabama Presented By Cooper Tires Race #1 started at the back of the 17-car grid after being disqualified from qualifying for running afoul of rule 14.31.1, which reads:

14.31.1. Car Weight – The minimum car weight shall include all fuel, lubricants, coolants, cameras, Driver weight and meet the following minimums:
(a) All Events – 1295 pounds.

The 250 hp 2.0L engines for the first Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires race of the 2021 season were fired at 11:05 am (central).

After one lap behind the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires pace car, the all-Exclusive Autosport front row of Eves and Petrov brought the eight rows (plus one) to the green flag.

The green flag waves from the Barber Motorsports Park starter’s stand to get the 2021 Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires season started Photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography/Road to Indy

The field got through the first seven corners cleanly, with Petrov looking at Eves into Turn 8. The pole-sitter was able to hold the top spot. Behind the leaders – Kyffin Simpson, Enzo Fittipaldi, and Jack William Miller – disagreed over track space at the exit of the blind, downhill right-hander. Miller and Simpson ended up off the track, and all three drivers fell to the rear of the field. All three combatants were able to continue but were forced to pit road for repairs and fell down a lap to the leaders.

The running order after one lap was Eves, Petrov, McElrea, Sulaiman, Rasmussen, Gold, Shields, Ahmed, Yeany, Roe, Kaminsky, Brichacek, Lazier, Abel, Simpson, Fittipaldi, and Miller.

McElrea, Gold, Rasmussen, and Sulaiman fought through the last four corners before starting lap three. McElrea dropped from third to fifth, dropping to sixth on the next lap. An even bigger loser in that fight was reigning USF2000 champion Rasmussen, who fell to the 16th spot.

After 10 of the 25 laps, Eves’ lead over his teammate Petrov was 1.1 seconds adrift of the fellow series sophomore. Another second back was Juncos Racing’s Sulaiman. Reece Gold (Juncos Racing) and Cameron Shields (Turn 3 Motorsport) held down the fourth and fifth spot. McElrea was pressuring shields.

With ten laps remaining, Eves lead had increased to 1.9 seconds over Petrov. The second-place driver had stretched out to a 1.8-second gap over Sulaiman. The quickest driver on the track was Rasmussen, who was running two laps down.

On Lap 16, Roe began to drop back, with reports that his engine was not sounding as it should.

Eves lead over Petrov had grown to 3.2 seconds with five laps remaining. The gap among the top five was comfortable, but McElrea, who had damage from the earlier incident, was facing pressure from Ahmed. On the next lap, the RP Motorsport newcomer made the pass, moving into sixth.

Eves’ gap to his teammate Petrov when he took the checkered flag was 4.2 seconds.

On the last lap, Miller and Velocity Racing Development rookie Hunter Yeany got together on track with the pilot of No. 40 Miller Vinatieri Motorsports machine being assessed a 30-second post-race penalty for avoidable contact.

Indy Pro 2000 Race #1 at Barber Motorsports Park results

1 91 Braden Eves Exclusive Autosport 25 laps
2 42 Artem Petrov Exclusive Autosport -4.274
3 55 Reece Gold Juncos Racing -8.9125
4 7 Cameron Shields DEForce Racing -16.3089
5 77 Enaam Ahmed RP Motorsport USA -19.2318
6 18 Hunter McElrea Pabst Racing -19.8502
7 27 Colin Kaminsky Pabst Racing -20.7786
8 51 Jacob Abel Abel Motorsports -29.7037
9 20 Flinn Lazier Legacy Autosport -48.4602
10 11 Hunter Yeany Velocity Racing Development -54.1507
11 21 Kyffin Simpson Juncos Racing -1 lap
12 74 Enzo Fittipaldi RP Motorsport USA -1 lap
13 1 Christian Rasmussen Jay Howard Driver Development -1 lap
14 5 Wyatt Brichacek Jay Howard Driver Development -1 lap
15 3 James Roe Turn 3 Motorsport -1 lap
16 40 Jack William Miller Miller Vinatieri Motorsports – 2 laps
17 22 Manuel Sulaiman Juncos Racing DSQ