Hunter McElrea, a 19-year-old born in California but raised in Australia, was named winner of the third annual Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200K Scholarship Shootout on Sunday that took place at the Bondurant Racing School in Chandler, Arizona.
The award opens the door for McElrea to compete in the 2019 season of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, the first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder sanctioned by INDYCAR.
McElrea, who recently clinched the Australian Formula Ford Championship with 13 wins in 21 races, bested 18 other competitors from official feeder series around the world to capture the honor and scholarship. The two-day contest featured on-track competition in Formula Mazda cars as well as off-track interviews and assessments from the shootout’s panel of judges.
“I can’t believe it,” McElrea said when named the scholarship winner. “This is definitely the most exciting opportunity that I have had in my racing career. I cannot thank Mazda and everyone enough for making this possible for me. The fact that I am going to be on the grid next year thanks to them is a dream come true.
“They have given me the opportunity to prove myself in such a high level that I never even thought I would be able to reach. I have to thank Andersen Promotions, Cooper tires, all of the judges, everyone from Mazda, the Bondurant Racing School and the other competitors, who literally pushed me to the limit. I am just so happy. It is still sinking in, but I just can’t wait to get next year started, and I’ll be representing Mazda in that nice Soul Red USF2000 car.”
The early competition eventually whittled the field to six finalists. In addition to McElrea, they were: Jake Craig, Mission Viejo, Calif.; Michael Eastwell, Southampton, England; Braden Eves, New Albany, Ohio; Flinn Lazier, Vail, Colorado; and Ross Martin, Kilmarnock, Scotland. Those six participated in a qualifying session and 30-minute simulated race, from which McElrea emerged as the winner.
“Today was an incredible day,” said Tom Long, Mazda Motorsports factory driver and one of the judges. “There was so much talent here for the shootout. Hunter McElrea just rose to the top when it was time to shine, but our decision was very, very difficult.
“In the end, given all of the circumstances, we were able to make a pretty good decision and we are really, really proud of not only Hunter but our whole team here with Mazda to be able to grant this $200K scholarship for his opportunity in USF2000 next year.”
All three Mazda Road to Indy levels open their 2019 seasons with doubleheader race weekends on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, from March 8-10.