McElrea on Indy Lights pole for Sundays race at Mid-Ohio

LEXINGTON, Ohio — Hunter McElrea’s dominant Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course continued Saturday as he scored the pole for Sunday’s Indy Lights at Mid-Ohio event.

With a best lap of 1 minute, 12.1926 seconds in the No. 27 Andretti Autosport car, the rookie scored his second pole of the season. It rounds out what has been a strong weekend for McElrea, who was fastest in both practice sessions of the weekend.

McElrea put an exclamation point on his strong qualifying session by besting his own time, which was already good enough for first place as time expired in the 20-minute qualifying session around the 13-turn, 2.258-mile road course.

CLICK IT: Official Qualifying Results

“It was good,” he said. “We were P1 almost the entire session. I started getting a little sloppy at the end. Even on my last lap, I completely blew through Turn 2, but I didn’t think that was going to be a (1:12) lap.

“I can’t tell you how fun it is when you drive a car this good around Mid-Ohio. I love this place. We’re back where we belong.”

Joining McElrea on the front row will be Indy Lights points leader Linus Lundqvist, who put down a best lap of 1:12.4218 late in the session to secure his seventh front-row start in eight races this season in the No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing machine.

“I’m very happy and super proud of the team,” said Lundqvist, who holds an 82-point lead over Sting Ray Robb in the championship. “We knew that this place is probably one of our weakest places, so good job. Thanks to my guys for giving me a car that could fight for the front row.”

Lundqvist’s teammate Benjamin Pedersen will start third at 1:12.4459 in the No. 24 Global Racing Group with HMD Motorsports car. St. Petersburg winner Matthew Brabham qualified fourth at 1:12.4911 in the No. 83 Andretti Autosport car, and the series’ most recent winner Christian Rasmussen starts fifth with a best lap of 1:12.5129 in the No. 28 Road to Indy/Stellrecht car for Andretti Autosport.

Rasmussen is coming off of a win in Road America and has started 5th or better in 6 of the last 7 races. He also has 3 top 4 finishes in his last 5 starts on the season.  Rasmussen was 1st, 5th, 1st and 3rd in 4 Indy Pro 2000 starts on the track just last year. He won all 3 races there in USF 2000 competition in 2020 and was 1st and 2nd in 2019 in the same series on the same track. That’s 7 top 2 finishes in 9 Mid-Ohio starts.

This weekend’s performance at Mid-Ohio for McElrea is mirroring the drive he had at the start of the season on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Florida. McElrea, 22, paced practice, started on the pole and led the first 11 laps of the race before a mistake put him in the wall and ended his chances for victory.

Since then, McElrea, a New Zealand driver who was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Australia, has worked on being less aggressive on track. He is currently seventh in the championship, 117 points back of leader Lundqvist.

In his young racing career, Mid-Ohio has proven to be strong for McElrea, who has five poles and two wins at this track prior to this weekend. Therefore, McElrea is confident about finally scoring that elusive first career win in Sunday’s Indy Lights at Mid-Ohio (10:35 a.m. ET, live on Peacock Premium and INDYCAR Radio Network).

“It’s pretty obvious what I’m going to plan on,” McElrea said. “We’re pretty dominant all weekend, so I don’t see why we shouldn’t keep that pace in the race.”

He’s qualified on the front row 5 times in 8 attempts this season and been in the top 5 in all 8 at that. He also has 4 top 6 results including 3 of which on the podium in the last 5 races run this year too. McElrea was 3rd and 9th in Indy Pro 2000 competition at Mid-Ohio in 2020 and 4th, 1st, 7th and 6th last year. He was also 2nd and 1st in 2019 in USF 2000 racing there. He’s won in the other two ladders at Mid-Ohio, can he do so in the third?

Andretti Autosport has won 8 of the last 9 Indy Lights races at Mid-Ohio on a track that rewards qualifying. The last 8 races were won by a front row starter. The last 19 from a starter from the top 2 rows. Andretti has 3 cars starting inside of the top 5.

James Davison back in 2008 was the last time someone won at Mid-Ohio from a starting position worse than 4th. That’s the only time it’s happened since Indy Lights started coming to the track in 1986 (32 out of 33 times).

Expect a tight 35-lap race as the top nine drivers in qualifying were separated by just over half a second.

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