The stage is set for the closest Road to Indy title-chase of all, in USF2000, with California-born, Australian-raised New Zealander Hunter McElrea (Pabst Racing) having eked out a slender six-point edge over Braden Eves (Cape Motorsports), from New Albany, Ohio.
That there is even any doubt about who will win the coveted Road to Indy Scholarship, valued at over $300,000 to ensure graduation to Indy Pro 2000 in 2020, speaks volumes for the tenacity of McElrea, who with five of the season’s 15 races in the books trailed his rival by a whopping 44 points.
Eves had picked up the gauntlet laid down by 2018 champion Kirkwood by winning the first four races on the bounce for Cape Motorsports, which, impressively, has claimed the last eight USF2000 drivers’ titles in a row. But fellow rookie McElrea finished on the podium in all four of those races. He then claimed an emotional breakthrough maiden victory at Pabst Racing’s home track, Road America, in June.
More recently McElrea, 19, has claimed three consecutive wins of his own, at Mid-Ohio and Portland, to elevate himself to status of hunted, rather than hunter, heading into this weekend’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Grand Prix Presented by Allied Building Products.
But Eves, 20, bounced back from a sticky mid-season to claim a pair of runner-up finishes in Oregon to keep himself firmly in contention. It promises to be an intriguing battle between two very talented youngsters.
The Team Championship is equally finely poised with Pabst Racing, which is searching for a third straight championship – and an overdue first drivers’ title – currently just three points ahead of Cape Motorsports.
Darren Keane (Cape Motorsports), from Boca Raton, Fla., and Colin Kaminsky (Pabst Racing) from Homer Glen, Ill., are separated by just four points in their quest for third in the standings, while Danish rookie Christian Rasmussen has closed to within a dozen points after claiming two wins and five podium finishes in his last six starts for Jay Howard Driver Development.
Jak Crawford, from Houston, Texas, is one of no fewer than three 14-year-olds among the 18-car entry list alongside Cape Motorsports teammate Reece Gold, from San Juan, Puerto Rico, and local driver Nolan Siegel, from Palo Alto, Calif., who will be making his home-track debut with Newman Wachs Racing.
Second-generation racer Eduardo Barrichello, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, showed good speed after joining DEForce Racing for the first time at Portland three weeks ago, while Mexican teammate Manuel Sulaiman is seeking to rekindle the form that brought him two podiums in the first three races of the season.
Ayrton Ori (Legacy Autosport), from Orlando, Fla., will once again join Portland podium finisher Zach Holden, from Greenfield, Ind., in the two-car Legacy Autosport team, while Wyatt Brichacek, from Johnstown, Colo., also seeks to gain experience ahead of a potential full-season program in 2020 by making his USF2000 debut with Jay Howard Driver Development.
The USF2000 schedule will mimic that of Indy Pro 2000 with 30 minutes of practice at 8:45 a.m. PDT on Friday followed by 20-minute qualifying sessions at 4:40 p.m. and 8:40 a.m. on Saturday. Their pair of 20-lap races are set to go green at 5:05 p.m. on Saturday and 10:25 a.m. on Sunday.
Both USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 will feature global live
streaming of all sessions on the Road to Indy TV App, RoadToIndy.TV,
usf2000.com, indypro2000.com and indycar.com.