Hunter McElrea’s maiden Indy Pro 2000 season was full of twists and turns, with moments of frustration leading to glimpses of brilliance.
The US-born Kiwi came agonisingly close to a title win in the 2019 USF2000 Championship.
His performances across that season, coupled with a robust pre-season testing regime, had McElrea as one of last year’s Indy Pro 2000’s title favourites.
Unfortunately, McElrea’s debut season failed to hit the ground running after series organisers cancelled the opening round due to Covid-19 just hours after the first practice session.
The cancellation of the event at St. Petersburg then led to the temporary suspension of the entire season.
But like everyone else, McElrea took the break in racing as an opportunity to take up competitive sim-racing.
“2020 was probably the most unique year for everyone, including myself,” McElrea told Velocity News.
“The weirdest experience I’ve probably had to date was the race weekend getting cancelled after practice at St Pete in March.
“We were on hold with the rest of the world for a few months after that, and the whole racing world turned to E-Sports.
“I am a fan of the sim, but the only downside was all of my high-end stuff I ordered to compete properly in all the big races, didn’t turn up till September.”
Fortunately, he wouldn’t have to wait too long until returning to the real-life circuit as the championship kicked back into gear in July.
“I did my first test back in the real car in June. It was an amazing feeling to actually be back driving the real thing, feeling the forces on your body and car feedback through the seat of your pants.”
Once the season did get underway, McElrea’s opening weekend at Road America was nothing shy of a disaster.
Two retirements, the second one coming after being an innocent bystander of a first-lap crash, left the Kiwi dead last in the standings.
It would then take two more races before McElrea demonstrated his potential and secured a podium at Mid-Ohio. Eleven consecutive races inside the top-ten closed out his campaign, including a race win in the year’s final event.
But all the missed opportunities have left McElrea wanting more for next season.
“For me, the year was a very mixed bag,” he said.
“It started very disappointingly at one of my favourite tracks, Road America, with two DNFs. This hurt extra due to how much car speed I had.
“It was an extremely competitive year in Indy Pro 2000, due to Indy Lights been cancelled due to Covid-19. Front runners of Indy Pro had stepped down to compete, which was great.
“From Road America I slowly started working my way forwards in the championship, getting my first podium and just missing the win at Mid-Ohio. I got my first oval podium at the Freedom 90 (Carb Night Classic) which was a great moment for me.”
“Being rookie, in a team which was having their first year in the category proved to have some difficulties at times. But we persevered through the ups and downs throughout the season, and I ended the year with a really strong win at St Pete.
“This felt extra sweet after the year that was.
“I finished fifth in the points, just missing out on third. Although this wasn’t my goal, considering I was 20th and stone-cold last in the points after the first weekend, it was something to look at positively.
“I’m not sure what this year holds, but I am going to be working hard to be back chasing my journey to IndyCar.
“I have learnt many things in 2020, which will help me immensely for my future, and I really want to thank all my sponsors, Pabst Racing, and backers who made this possible for me to chase my dream.”