The Cambridge/Exclusive Autosport sponsored No. 91 of Braden Eves on track at Barber Motorsports Park Photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography/Road to Indy

By Steve Wittich

Exclusive Autosport veteran Braden Eves’ comeback tour continues in St. Petersburg, Fla. The Ohioan, who led the opening Indy Pro 2000 session on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit, 13-months ago, led the lone practice session with a lap timed at 68.8933 seconds.

Joining Eves in the top five was Christian Rasmussen (Jay Howard Driver Development), Hunter McElrea (Pabst Racing), Reece Gold (Juncos Racing), and Jack William Miller (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports).

The quintet that topped the lone Indy Pro 2000 practice in St. Petersburg, Fla. combined to win 24 of the last 32 USF2000 races over the past two seasons.

The top 14 drivers were within one second of Eves.

After a red-flag filled USF2000 practice session to start the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires action in St. Petersburg, Fla., the lone 30-minute Indy Pro 2000 practice session of the Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix Of St. Petersburg presented by Cooper Tires weekend got underway seven minutes late at 9:48 am.

The ambient temperature was 70F, and the track temperature was 83F, when the 17 Elite Engine powered PM-18s of the middle rung of the Road To Indy took to the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit.

With nine minutes gone in the session, the red flag came out for Jacob Abel. The Abel Construction/Bell Helmets sponsored No. 51 PM-18 came to a halt in Turn 10. The AMR INDYCAR Safety Team was able to flat tow the bright red Abel Motorsports machine back to the crew on pit road.

When the red flag came out, the quickest driver was Colin Kaminsky (Pabst Racing), with his best lap of the green street circuit taking 69.9179 seconds. Artem Petrov (Juncos Racing), McElrea, Gold, Eves, Rasmussen, Cameron Shields (DEForce Racing), James Roe (Turn 3 Motorsport), Manuel Sulaiman (Juncos Racing) and Enzo Fittipaldi (RP Motorsport).

The green flag came back out with 17-minutes remaining in the session.

The drivers quickly got their Cooper Tire slicks up to the optimal operating temperature, and the timing screen began to light up green and purple as drivers went quicker and quicker.

Over the next five minutes, McElrea, Rasmussen, and Eves all spent time at the top of the timing screen. Once again, the field was super tight, with the dozen quickest drivers covered by only six-tenths-of-a-second.

McElrea held the quickest time with five of the 30-minutes remaining but was knocked off the top spot by Eves, who was then supplanted by the JHDD, CSU | One Cure/Lucas Oil sponsored No. 1 of Rasmussen.

On his 21st of 21 laps, Eves could jump back to the top of the timing screen with the first sub-69 second lap of the race weekend.

Gold, Jack William Miller (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports), Sulaiman, and Flinn Lazier (Legacy Autosport) all improved on their final laps.

Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix Of St. Petersburg presented by Cooper Tires practice #1 results

1 91 Braden Eves Exclusive Autosport 1:08.8933 1:08.8933 22
2 1 Christian Rasmussen Jay Howard Driver Development 1:09.0819 0.1886 20
3 18 Hunter McElrea Pabst Racing 1:09.1534 0.2601 21
4 55 Reece Gold Juncos Racing 1:09.2394 0.3461 21
5 40 Jack William Miller Miller Vinatieri Motorsports 1:09.2756 0.3823 21
6 42 Artem Petrov Exclusive Autosport 1:09.3157 0.4224 21
7 27 Colin Kaminsky Pabst Racing 1:09.3298 0.4365 20
8 5 Wyatt Brichacek Jay Howard Driver Development 1:09.3548 0.4615 20
9 22 Manuel Sulaiman Juncos Racing 1:09.4445 0.5512 19
10 77 Enaam Ahmed RP Motorsport USA 1:09.5296 0.6363 20
11 74 Enzo Fittipaldi RP Motorsport USA 1:09.5752 0.6819 19
12 7 Cameron Shields DEForce Racing 1:09.7800 0.8867 20
13 20 Flinn Lazier Legacy Autosport 1:09.9054 1.0121 20
14 3 James Roe Turn 3 Motorsport 1:09.9199 1.0266 21
15 21 Kyffin Simpson Juncos Racing 1:10.1484 1.2551 21
16 11 Hunter Yeany Velocity Racing Development 1:10.4009 1.5076 14
17 51 Jacob Abel Abel Motorsports 1:11.6990 2.8057 4