If there’s one thing Hunter McElrea can happily take away from his sophomore Indy Pro 2000 season, it is learning to never give up.
Last weekend, the Kiwi wrapped up third in the driver’s championship.
But to get there, he had to battle through the lowest of lows. Issues outside of his and the Pabst Racing team meant they had lost their competitive edge.
Across a span of six races, McElrea only finished in the top-five once.
“At one point I thought there was no way we were going to finish in the top-three,” McElrea told Velocity News.
He was vividly downbeat. After winning the second race of the year, it looked like 2021 would be a season McElrea could challenge for the title.
The constant struggle took its toll on McElrea’s confidence and his points haul.
However, slowly his and Pabst Racing’s fortunes turned back in their favour.
From round six at Mid-Ohio till the end of the year, McElrea was the driver to beat.
He racked up five podiums on the bounce, including two wins.
Across the last eight races, McElrea outscored everyone in the championship.
He came into the final weekend mathematically within a chance of clinching the title.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. But McElrea took away some valuable lessons after what can only be described as a “roller-coaster” of a year.
“Our goal was to win the championship, and we didn’t do that,” he said.
“But I am most happy about the lessons I learnt on how never to give up.
“I’ve had hard times before, but not as much as what I had this season. But it goes to show that you’re never out of it.
“If you keep going, keep trying and giving it everything you have got, eventually you will win.
“I’m super grateful for the team. We were in the trenches together but came through at the end.”
For McElrea, these are teachings he says will stay with him for the rest of his career.
McElrea finished P7 and P6 in the final two races of the year over the weekend at Mid-Ohio.
He qualified a disappointing tenth for race one—the reason being a set of tyres that drastically affected the car’s balance.
Mid-Ohio is a tricky circuit to overtake at, and McElrea could only recover to finish seventh.
The following day was greeted with a heavy rainstorm.
“I was a little bit nervous when I saw it was going to rain,” he said. “That track in the wet is something else. It’s like driving on ice.”
Despite his nerves, McElrea calmly put himself on pole for race two. His best lap was over a second faster than P2.
“That was definitely the highlight of the weekend.”
But the race was less than ideal. The circuit was half dry and half damp.
McElrea slipped back to fourth and was in podium contention until he spun. He was then forced off the circuit again, this time by another driver.
“I had to keep it flat just to get through the gravel. But I had dropped to last.”
Still, McElrea pushed on and reeled in the train of cars ahead of him. Though he had to use the best of his wet tyres to do so.
He then scrapped through the pack to finish sixth, beating Russian driver Artem Petrov to third in the championship.
As for 2022, McElrea has nothing confirmed, but he does have some pretty exciting news hopefully coming soon.
He says his performances in the second half of the season opened the doors for potential offers next year.
Indy Lights is the next step on the Road to Indy programme and is one tier below IndyCar.
“I owe everything to the Pabst team. I wouldn’t be in the position I am now without them.
“But, yeah, IndyCar is the goal and I’m excited for the next step.”