Hunter McElrea says scoring his first Indy Pro 2000 win of the year so early in the season means he can now focus on claiming his maiden title.
McElrea clinched victory in the second race at Barber Motorsport Park last weekend, which acted as the opening round of the 2021 season.
The Kiwi has now won two of the last three races, given he secured his first career victory in last year’s finale at St Petersburg.
His win at Barber was a result of a five-second time penalty for rookie Christian Rasmussen.
Despite being gifted the win, McElrea says the result is a reward for the strong pace he demonstrated all weekend.
“To start the season with a win is mega,” McElrea told Velocity News. “I am super happy.
“It was a pretty straight forward race.
“Rasmussen was kind of slow in the first few laps, and I was all over him. But then he started to push hard and broke away.
“I had covered everyone else, and the only guy quicker than me was him.
“So, I kind of accepted second. I knew he was driving aggressive and pushing hard, so I just accepted I would finish behind him.
“But then he spun at turn five.
“I was closing in on him really quickly as he got back on the track, and he decided to cover the inside line. But then he moved to the middle of the track, which he wasn’t allowed to do.
“I tried to fake a move to the left, but he kept the lead. Then I was told he had a penalty for blocking, so I stayed with him and got the win.
“I just love winning and to bounce back like that after a tough first race left me stoked.”
The ‘tough’ race McElrea is alluding to was the first of the weekend.
Starting third, McElrea damaged his front wing in the opening few laps, meaning he could only manage a sixth-place finish.
“Race one was a bit annoying, especially after I had only just missed out on pole in qualifying.
“I had a bit of terrible lap one. Rasmussen and I clashed, and my front wing snapped. It was just hard racing, and there was nothing I could have done about it.
“But I had a decent recovery drive to finish sixth all things considered.”
McElrea doesn’t have too much time to rest between races. He heads to Florida this week for round two at the Grand Prix of St Petersburg.
While he says he hopes to be challenging for more early year wins, McElrea admits his primary goal is to lift the championship trophy at the season finale.
Thus, he says the upcoming weekend will be another opportunity to add another healthy dose of points to his tally.
“I love going to St Pete,” he said. “There are a lot of tracks in America that are awesome to race on, but St Pete would be in one of my top three. The whole event and environment are just incredible.
“I do have good memories from winning their last year. So, I know we are going to be strong this weekend.
“I am just excited to fight for more wins.
“But I know I don’t need to win. I proved at Barber that we can win races, and I no longer have that pressure to get the first win of the year.
“My ultimate goal is still to win the championship. I think the championship will come down to whoever is the most consistent with how competitive the field is this year.
“So, I would be happy to grab a big bag of points this weekend if I don’t get a win.”
Indy Pro 2000 will have two races over the weekend at St Petersburg, with live coverage of both available on the Road to Indy App and YouTube channel.