Kiwi IndyCar hopeful Hunter McElrea admits a risky setup change ahead of the final race of last week’s second Indy Pro 2000 championship round was crucial in unlocking a new wave of confidence to which he could fully extract the maximum potential from the car.
McElrea entered the trio of midweek races at Mid-Ohio Raceway dead last in the championship after two separate incidents in the opening round meant he had yet to finish a race.
A condensed season calendar, no one can afford a slump in confidence or risk becoming mired at the bottom of the standings for the rest of the year.
But a composed McElrea came into Mid-Ohio, a venue where he picked up a win and a second place in last year’s USF2000 championship, raring to make amends for his round one setbacks.
“In the first two races, I collected some decent points finishing 8th and 6th,” McElrea told Velocity News.
“Although my one lap speed was good, setting the fastest race lap in race one, I was struggling with the car setup as it would take 4 or 5 laps for the tyres to ‘switch on’ and I would get pushed back in the field 2 or 3 places each time, then have to fight back.”
Eager to make a challenge for a race win, McElrea then entrusted his Pabst Racing team to make a raft of setup changes ahead of the final 25-lap race.
The changes paid dividends and McElrea acknowledged race three was the most comfortable he had ever felt in the car as he charged from seventh towards the front of the grid, narrowly missing out on a coveted maiden victory.
The Kiwi’s racecraft was also of notable praise. After thundering to third in only a handful of laps McElrea became becalmed behind the stubborn defence of Jacob Loomis, eventually making his move after 12 laps following his rival.
A late assault on race leader Sting Ray Robb was ultimately not enough as McElrea finished 0.6s off the eventual race win.
But his debut podium has at last steered the Kiwi’s IP2000 campaign back in the desired path, relishing off some freshly found confidence within himself and the team. Though he warned of being too complacent sitting eighth in the standings with still a sizable points deficit to the leaders he needs to claw back.
“For race three we did a big set up change and made really good gains with the car,” he added.
“I started 7th, and straight away I felt more comfortable, making multiple moves around the outside and charging to P2.
“I was also able to hunt the leader down by around 0.3 a lap, but just missed out on victory by half a second in the end.
“My first podium in Indy Pro 2000 and a big points boost, [but] still plenty of hard work to be done.”
McElrea was set to return to Mid-Ohio this weekend for two further races in support of the NTT IndyCar series but a recent spike in coronavirus cases has seen the event postponed.
The next scheduled round of the championship now becomes the August 22 event at Lucas Oil Raceway – the first oval on the calendar.