Reece Gold led from green flag to checkered flag to score a well-deserved maiden victory in the first of three Indy Pro 2000 races that will comprise the Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix Presented by The Andersen Companies at New Jersey Motorsports Park.
New Zealand’s Hunter McElrea chased gamely in second place for Pabst Racing as Denmark’s Christian Rasmussen extended his championship lead for the Jay Howard Driver Development team by finishing a solid third.
“Reece was on new tires and given how much this track eats up tires, that made a huge difference, though I was surprised how much I was able to run him down at the end,” commented Mcelrea. “Considering the amount of bad luck we had in the middle part of the season, I’ll take a second-place finish and the points.
“I’ve come back from nowhere in the championship back to fighting for a podium in the final standings, but honestly, I’m not as focused on that now. Wins are all I care about now, so I don’t care if I have to be a bit more aggressive. The team has done an awesome job, the way we’ve come back the past few races. I know I can go for pole tomorrow and get two wins.”
Gold led the field toward the starter’s flag at a very leisurely pace before jumping on the loud pedal and leading outside front row starter McElrea comfortably toward Turn One. A strong early pace saw Gold extend his lead to more than two seconds inside the opening two laps. He also turned what was to stand as the fastest lap of the 25-lap race, earning The Ticket Clinic Fastest Lap Award for the third time this year and ensuring a maximum haul of 33 points from the day.
The gap from first to second grew to as much as 2.4 seconds after nine laps. Thereafter, McElrea whittled away at the deficit as Gold continued to turn a string of consistent laps as the two leaders gradually extended their advantage over Rasmussen in third.
McElrea closed to within striking range of Gold with seven laps remaining but Gold was up to the challenge, managing his pace to perfection before taking the checkered flag just under a second to the good. In addition to claiming his long overdue maiden victory, Gold nabbed another PFC Award for Ricardo Juncos and Brad Hollinger as the winning team owners.
Two more races will be held tomorrow on the 2.25-mile, 12-turn road course, with the starting positions for Race 2 to be decided during a separate qualifying session at 10:45 a.m.
Provisional championship points after 14 of 18 rounds:
1/ Christian Rasmussen, 367
2/ Braden Eves, 327
3/ Reece Gold, 307
4/ Hunter McElrea, 289
5/ Artem Petrov, 276
6/ Jacob Abel, 227
7/ Manuel Sulaiman, 214
8/ Kyffin Simpson, 203
9/ James Roe, 172
10/ Wyatt Brichacek, 157