Hunter McElrea’s debut Indy Pro 2000 weekend was perhaps the very definition of Murphy’s Law, a troubled first outing the aspiring Kiwi racer says will galvanize his motivation for the rest of the season.
The Indy Pro 2000 category is one step below Indy Lights and considered the second junior tier below the NTT IndyCar series.
McElrea, who starred on his maiden USF2000 season last year, made his Indy Pro debut with Pabst Racing at Road America over the weekend as a part of the IndyCar Series support card.
A promising Thursday practice run saw McElrea sit third quickest overall, though his much-anticipated debut race quickly unravelled onto its head during qualifying.
“It was the toughest day I’ve had at a race track for a long time,” a disappointed McElrea told Velocity News.
“[We had] good speed but a couple of issues out of my control in qualifying and race 2, and a mistake in race 1, cost us the results that we were genuinely capable of.
“In qualifying, a fuel miscalculation from the team meant that I ran out of fuel two laps from the end on a damp drying track. This caused a red flag, and the penalty was losing my best lap time. My lap that was taken away would have put me P2, and the lap I was projecting when I ran out of fuel was tracking for pole.”
Despite the penalty, McElrea still lined up on the third row of the grid and a sublime opening tour had him within arms reach of the race lead.
However, a daft mistake while beginning his second lap led to a damaged car and incidentally led to a spin which ruled the Kiwi out of a strong finish.
“With the qualifying penalty I lined up P6. I had a great start and moved up to P2. I was motivated to move forward on the first lap, but I made a stupid mistake at the end of the lap, my first since over a year, by bottoming over an exit curb and damaging the floor and diffuser.
“This affected the car’s balance and it snapped with oversteer due to the damage and I lost the car. A lap later I had to box for a sensor failure, so I went two laps down.
“The encouraging thing was I was still able to have good speed [by] setting the 4th fastest lap for the race 2 grid [even] with the substantial damage affecting performance.”
His earlier promising practice results were quickly fading into the distance and McElrea’s final race of the weekend failed to even make it beyond the first corner.
“In race 2 I lined up 4th from my lap time in Race 1. But before I even got to turn 1 I was hit from behind and spun around in a straight line by another championship contender. That was pretty annoying.”
However, despite McElrea’s tumultuous debut which has left him standard at the bottom of the championship standings, it has failed to impact his championship-winning mentality. The young Kiwi admitting the difficult weekend only serves to re-energise his competitive spirit.
“These are the times that are the most difficult to deal with and make you stronger and when the champions dig in and work harder to bounce back,” concluded McElrea. “And that is what I am going to do!”
McElrea’s next Indy Pro 2000 outing will come from Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 29-30.