LEEDS, Ala. – Christian Rasmussen was a dominant force in Sunday’s second leg of the Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix of Alabama Presented by Cooper Tires, but it was Hunter McElrea who claimed the victory spoils following a dramatic 30-lap contest.
Rasmussen was first to the checkered flag despite a quick spin in the closing stages, but the Dane was adjudged to have unfairly impeded his rival, McElrea, as he attempted to maintain his lead following the error. The resulting five-second penalty dropped Rasmussen to second in the final results, handing McElrea his second Indy Pro 2000 victory for Pabst Racing after also claiming the final race of the 2020 finale in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Artem Petrov finished third for Exclusive Autosport, chased across the line by teammate Braden Eves, who still leads the Indy Pro 2000 standings following his victory in Saturday’s opening round.
Rasmussen, the winner of last year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, started from the pole after securing the Cooper Tires Pole Award in qualifying on Friday, and soon took control of the race for Jay Howard Driver Development. As with Eves Saturday, Rasmussen was content to build his speed steadily in the early stages, which allowed McElrea to stay in touch, but a series of 11 incrementally faster laps enabled the Dane to extend his lead to over two seconds.
Rasmussen continued to extend his advantage to over six seconds before making an uncharacteristic mistake on lap 23 in turn five. He was able to regain control of the car but made several blocking maneuvers in order to make sure there was no way for McElrea to slip past. He was successful in that quest but the moves did not escape the purview of race control, which soon issued a five-second penalty in accordance with the regulations which expressly prohibit drivers from making any reactionary moves to maintain position.
Rasmussen put his head down and seemed to be on course possibly to overcome the time penalty as he completed lap 28 with an advantage of 3.8 seconds over McElrea after resetting fastest lap of the race – and his own lap record, which he had set on Saturday – at 1:16.6098 (108.080 mph). But his next lap was fully three-quarters of a lap slower, and McElrea was able to complete the final lap within 3.6 seconds of Rasmussen to assure himself of the win by 1.4102 seconds.
McElrea’s efforts moved him to third in the championship points table, just six shy of Eves, and secured a first PFC Award of the Indy Pro 2000 season for Augie Pabst as the winning car owner.
“I was all over Christian for the first five laps to try and apply the pressure, but he had the most pace today. Having gotten sixth yesterday, I was going for points today and was ready to accept second when I came out of turn five and he was stopped in the middle of the road,” said McElrea. “He put three blocks on me, so I feel as though he had the win just about in the bag but he gave it to me. He was super fast; I’m sure he’s disappointed. I love racing him, I know we’ll have some good battles this year, but I got lucky with that win and in this game, you have to take them. I probably had the second-place car today but I got lucky. This win puts me right where I need to be.”