Hunter McElrea was a big mover in the Freedom 90 from Lucas Oil Raceway, the curtain-raiser for this weekend’s Indy 500, with the Kiwi coming from sixth to second to clinch back-to-back podiums and reignite his Indy Pro 2000 championship challenge.
Victory was claimed by Kody Swanson who moved into the lead at mid-race distance as pole-sitter and erstwhile race leader Manuel Sulaiman encountered lap traffic.
McElrea meanwhile came on song in the closing laps as the Pabst Racing pilot scythed his way from fifth to second at the chequered flag, 5.6s behind Swanson who cruised to unrivalled win once usurping Sulaiman for the lead.
The result is McElrea’s second consecutive visit to the rostrum and elevates the Kiwi to sixth in the championship which is currently headed by Canadian racer Devlin DeFrancesco.
From the green flag, Sulaiman established a healthy margin as Swanson ducked in behind for second. Starting sixth, McElrea found himself up one spot after the opening tour.
Swanson then relinquished second to Sting Ray Robb one lap later after a mistake in Turn 2. A five-time USAC Silver Crown Champion and Speedway veteran, Swanson remained within touching distance of Robb for the next ten laps before eventually regaining the position. But in doing so had yielded a 2-second advantage to Sulaiman.
The margin upfront was then slashed on Lap 30 as Sulaiman battled with lap traffic before Swanson capitalised on his rival’s dramas to steal the lead ten laps later.
Robb would come under fire by Danial Frost over the final podium position which in turn gave McElrea, who had been comfortably running in fifth since Lap 1, the opportunity to pounce and the 20-year-old made his move for fourth on Lap 59 as Robb fell behind both drivers.
The Kiwi then locked his sights on Frost, matching the pace of the race leaders before easily elevating himself onto the rostrum on Lap 70 before passing Sulaiman for second just five tours later.
Despite setting the timing screens alight, McElrea just couldn’t reel in leader Swanson who had pulled out enough of a margin to nullify the effect of the slipstream.
Sulaiman was able to cling onto third at the end of the 90-lapper for his first top-three finish of 2020.
After six races, McElrea has quickly established himself as a title contender but is yet to snare that elusive maiden victory.
His next chance will come from Gateway Motorsport Park in Illinois next weekend on August 29.
|Sting Ray Robb
|Moises de la Vara