Hunter McElrea has notched his fifth Indy Pro 2000 podium in seven races with a third-place finish in the opening race from Mid-Ohio.
Starting fifth, the Kiwi ran fourth for most of the race behind championship leader Sting Ray Robb. But a string of rapid laps ensured McElrea never lost touch with his rival, eventually muscling his way past Robb for the final spot on the rostrum with five laps in hand.
McElrea’s pace was electric and at the chequered flag his best lap, which came on the final tour, secured him an additional championship point for the fastest lap of the race.
“Well, I had four second-place finishes so I figured it was time to win, but I guess I needed to check off third place before I can get the win,” said McElrea.
“I’ve been fast in practice and fast during the race numerous times. We just need to get our head around a quali car.
“We’ve made some good gains and we’re in a good spot for tomorrow, starting third. I was a little weak on the restart and Sting Ray got by me, but I pushed him into a mistake and once I got past, I was gone – so we know the speed is there. I passed two cars today so if I can pass two cars tomorrow, we’ll be in good shape.”
Victory went to ex-Formula 4 champion Manuel Sulaiman who claimed his first Indy Pro 2000 win at the expense of DEForce Racing team-mate Parker Thompson.
Thompson looked set to secure the win having got the upper hand on pole-sitter Danial Frost into the first turn. But his hopes of victory were dashed just a few laps in when his engine let go in spectacular fashion.
The consequent retirement led to a Safety Car period in which Sulaiman acquired the race lead, a position he wouldn’t relinquish as he fended off Frost to clinch his first win by half-a-second.
McElrea finished three seconds behind the leading pair but his impressive pace is a good omen for tomorrow’s second race where he will line-up on the second row of the grid.
Robb fronted a Junco Racing 4-5 leading teammate and ex-Toyota Racing Series driver Artem Petrov home in fourth. He also continues to hold the lead of the drivers championship with six races remaining.