By Steve Wittich
Hunter McElrea utilized a last-minute flyer to pip reigning USF2000 champion, Christian Rasmussen, to win his first career Indy Pro 2000 pole.
The Pabst Racing sophomores sixth career Road To Indy pole means that all six of the ‘ladder series’ races will have different drivers start from the pole, duplicating that feat from Barber Motorsports Park.
Rasmussen just missed out on his second pole of the season and will start Saturday and Sunday’s Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix Of St. Petersburg presented by Cooper Tires races on the outside of the front row.
Reece Gold, a Juncos Racing rookie, continues his improvement and will start behind the pole sitter after qualifying fifth for this afternoon’s race.
Gold’s teammate Manuel Sulaiman round out an all-Juncos Racing second row. It’s the Mexican driver’s best starting spot this season.
A hazy sunrise floating over the relatively still waters of Tampa Bay greeted the 17 Indy Pro 2000 drivers and teams for their second qualifying session as a busy day of action in St. Petersburg, Fla., got started. The ambient temperature was already 72F and the track temperature of the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit was 76F.
Eves, the race #1 pole winner, had a frustrating and possibly championship-changing start to the day, starting the session with a non-functioning transponder.
The Ohioan was stuck at the bottom of the running order but could get out on track with a functioning transponder in the final four minutes, completing only four laps and turning in the sixth-best time.
The early leader was fall 2020 St. Pete winner McElrea, but times were still two seconds off Saturday’s pole setting lap.
Over the next five minutes, Gold and then Rasmussen grabbed the provisional pole. A pole winner at Barber Motorsports Park, Rasmussen’s lap at 68.9563 seconds, held the top spot. The Jay Howard Driver Development driver was followed in the top ten by Jack William Miller (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports), Gold, Cameron Shields (DEForce Racing), McElrea, James Roe (Turn 3 Motorsport), Colin Kaminsky (Pabst Racing), Manuel Sulaiman (DEForce Racing), Jacob Abel (Abel Motorsports), and Artem Petrov (Exclusive Autosport).
With most of the field coming to pit road for adjustments, times started to drop in the final four minutes of the session.
After provisional pole laps by McElrea and Gold, Rasmussen went back to the provisional pole. The Dane improved on each of his next three laps, holding the top spot until the last few seconds of qualifying when McElrea pipped him by one-hundredth-of-a-second on his 15th of 15 laps.
Despite being cleared to drive by INDYCAR, Enzo Fittipaldi, who was involved in a significant incident on Friday, did not participate in the session. TSO Ladder will go check with the team about his status when this session ends.
Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix Of St. Petersburg presented by Cooper Tires qualifying #2 results
|RANK||CAR NO.||DRIVER||TEAM||QUICK LAP||DIFFERENCE||TOTAL LAPS|
|1||18||Hunter McElrea||Pabst Racing||1:08.3534||—||15|
|2||1||Christian Rasmussen||Jay Howard Driver Development||1:08.3708||0.0174||15|
|3||55||Reece Gold||Juncos Racing||1:08.5241||0.1707||12|
|4||22||Manuel Sulaiman||Juncos Racing||1:08.5951||0.2417||13|
|5||21||Kyffin Simpson||Juncos Racing||1:08.6465||0.2931||13|
|6||91||Braden Eves||Exclusive Autosport||1:08.6708||0.3174||4|
|7||27||Colin Kaminsky||Pabst Racing||1:08.7580||0.4046||15|
|8||5||Wyatt Brichacek||Jay Howard Driver Development||1:08.7986||0.4452||15|
|9||40||Jack William Miller||Miller Vinatieri Motorsports||1:08.8017||0.4483||15|
|10||77||Enaam Ahmed||RP Motorsport USA||1:08.8025||0.4491||14|
|11||51||Jacob Abel||Abel Motorsports||1:08.9198||0.5664||14|
|12||7||Cameron Shields||DEForce Racing||1:08.9280||0.5746||14|
|13||3||James Roe||Turn 3 Motorsport||1:09.0051||0.6517||14|
|14||42||Artem Petrov||Exclusive Autosport||1:09.0849||0.7315||14|
|15||20||Flinn Lazier||Legacy Autosport||1:09.2725||0.9191||14|
|16||11||Hunter Yeany||Velocity Racing Development||1:09.4882||1.1348||14|
|17||74||Enzo Fittipaldi||RP Motorsport USA||No Time||—||—|
The first race for the middle rung of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires rolls off at 11:50 am.