Braden Eves scored another well-crafted victory this afternoon in the opening leg of the Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Cooper Tires. The 21-year-old from New Albany, Ohio, led from flag to flag for Exclusive Autosport, fending off a stern challenge from the driver who succeeded him as winner of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, Denmark’s Christian Rasmussen (Jay Howard Driver Development). Hunter McElrea completed the podium for Pabst Racing.
Eves took control of the proceedings from the drop of the green flag for the opening practice session Friday morning. He topped the timing charts again in first qualifying later in the day to secure his second Cooper Tires Pole Award of the young season, then controlled the pace expertly throughout the 25-lap race. Eves’ eventual margin of victory was only 0.3519s but he posted his fastest lap just one circuit from the finish to secure his second win of the season and extend his championship lead to 16 points.
Eves also earned Canadian team principal Michael Duncalfe another PFC Award as the winning car owner.
McElrea led the chase of Eves from the start after annexing the outside front row starting position but he wasn’t able to shake off the challenge of Rasmussen, who eventually executed a bold pass around the outside line at Turn 1 on Lap 8.
By that stage Eves had extended his lead to over 1.6s, but Rasmussen was the fastest car on track and soon began to whittle away at Eves’ advantage.
The Dane’s task was eased by a brief full course caution after 12 laps to remove Virginian Hunter Yeany’s Velocity Racing Development car from the runoff area at Turn 10. But when the race resumed, Rasmussen was never able to put himself into a position to seriously challenge for the lead.
McElrea chased home in third place, just ahead of Eves’ teammate Artem Petrov, who continued his strong start to the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires season with his third consecutive top-four finish.
The Juncos Racing pair of Manuel Sulaiman and Reece Gold enjoyed a good tussle for fifth, with Sulaiman grasping the position just four laps from the finish. Also in the mix were Enaam Ahmed (RP Motorsport USA), Wyatt Brichacek (Jay Howard Driver Development) and Colin Kaminsky (Pabst Racing).
Grand Cayman-born Kyffin Simpson finished 10th for Juncos Racing and earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award after having started in 13th. Simpson finished just ahead of Flinn Lazier (Legacy Autosport), and Jack William Miller (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports) — who claimed The Ticket Clinic Fastest Lap Award following an earlier error which cost him a top-10 finish.
A dramatic second qualifying session earlier today saw McElrea post the fastest time to ensure pole position for tomorrow’s fourth round of the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires for which the green will fly bright and early at 8 a.m. ET.
Provisional championship points after 3 of 18 rounds:1. Braden Eves, 832. Hunter McElrea, 673. Artem Petrov, 664. Christian Rasmussen, 625. Reece Gold, 456. Enaam Ahmed, 437. Colin Kaminsky, 408. Jacob Abel, 369. Wyatt Brichacek, 3510. Cameron Shields, 32