Hunter McElrea has consolidated a trio of points finishes to keep him in the fight for a top-five championship result in this year’s Indy Pro 2000 season.
The Kiwi headed to New Jersey Motorsport Park over the weekend, a venue which has been absent from the Road to Indy calendar since 2010.
The field needed a miracle to ensure runaway points leader Sting Ray Robb didn’t seal the crown before the final round later this month. But McElrea’s efforts were hampered by a red flag in qualifying which left him eighth for the weekend’s first race.
The Pabst Racing driver then made a steady start to run sixth, cruising home in that position at the end of the 25-lapper.
It was a similar scenario in the second race of the weekend. Having qualified sixth, McElrea capitalised on a Turn 1 collision between Devlin DeFrancesco and Manuel Sulaiman, elevating him to fourth.
Once in the top-four, McElrea began applying pressure on former Toyota Racing Series racer Artem Petrov for the final podium position. Searching in vain for a path through, the Kiwi ultimately settled for second best and followed his rival home just outside the rostrum.
The final race of the weekend was held in wet conditions following a late shower. Fastest laps from the earlier two races determined grid positions for the last race and McElrea was running as high as third in the opening stages.
Unfortunately, he was unable to maintain this spot, and the young Kiwi eventually slipped back to fifth at the chequered flag.
“I put some solid championship points in the bag, but some factors outside our control put us on the back foot, and I was not able to show our true potential,” McElrea said.
“[t was] another weekend full of learning. But now it is time to reset and look forward to our final two races at the GP of St Pete.”
The only driver able to keep the title out of Robb’s hands, DeFrancesco crashed on lap three, and he retired due to damage.
Consequently, Robb’s third-place result secured him the championship crown with two races remaining. As part of his championship prize, Robb is guaranteed a drive in next year’s Indy Lights championship and will receive an official IndyCar test at the end of next year.
Sitting fifth in the championship, McElrea is just 29 points adrift of Petrov in third with Danial Frost splitting the two. Sixty points are on offer for the final round of the season which will be held in conjunction with the IndyCar season finale in St. Petersburg on October 23-25.