By: Tanner Watkins
December 11, 2018 | 8:00 AM
The racing career of Hunter McElrea changed in an instant on Sunday when he was announced as the 2018 Mazda Road to Indy Scholarship Shootout winner. The Australian Formula Ford champion picked up a $200,000 scholarship towards funding his 2019 season in USF2000.
Even in the midst of the celebration, McElrea still has the itch to get on track and begin work on his maiden season in the Road to Indy.
“I am extremely excited… I can’t wait!” exclaims the Australian native – who was born in California. “It has always been a massive goal of mine to compete in USF2000 and thanks to Mazda Motorsports it is a reality! I can’t thank John Doonan and everyone else at Mazda for there belief in me.
“It is going to be an extremely competitive Championship next year, but I can guarantee that I am going to give it everything I have!”
McElrea has already worked at the USF2000 level this offseason, testing with Pabst Racing at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test in September at Indianapolis and most recently during Road to Indy offseason testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway last week.
Throughout the most recent Florida test, McElrea was one of the quickest USF2000 drivers – a prelude to what would unfold at the Bondurant Racing School this past weekend.
A total of 20 drivers from various formula championships around the world descended on central Arizona for the two-day competition. A panel of renowned judges evaluated the talented prospects in a variety of categories – some of which were not limited to racing.
Sealed off to the public, the private competition presented quick and difficult challenges to competitors in which McElrea noted the immense pressure.
“It was such a great experience, everyone who was at the Shootout was already a Champion, so there was definitely a lot of pressure,” said McElrea.
“Once I got on track though you forget about all that and just drive, it was so much fun, but definitely a tense environment against many talented drivers. To come out on top was amazing and I cannot thank Mazda enough!”
McElrea becomes the third winner of the Mazda Road to Indy $200,000 Scholarship Shootout. Former USF2000 champion and current Pro Mazda driver Oliver Askew won the competition in 2017 while Ireland’s Keith Donegan won last December.
Askew formed a quarter of the four-man judging panel alongside Indy Lights driver Victor Franzoni and Mazda factory pilots Tom Long and Andrew Carbonell. The best drivers in this competition’s short history have done well to absorb the judges’ critiques and translate that to the track.
McElrea picked up on the hints right away and displayed his relatively polished skill set early.
“Today was an incredible day,” said Long. “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.”
“The judges where all very helpful,” McElrea added. “Oliver, Tom, Victor
Now the focus can shift firmly to 2019 for McElrea and his family. The 18-year-old will be racing stateside next season in the 15-round USF2000 championship. In 2018, USF2000 was the most competitive of the three Mazda Road to Indy levels and projects to be just as wild in 2019.
The season kicks off at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg with opening practice on Friday, March 8.
Header image courtesy of Road to Indy.