February 12, 2019 | 9:45 AM
If there’s been a driver whose been beaming since late last year, it’s 19-year-old Hunter McElrea. After all, he’s coming off a terrific 2018 that saw him win the Australian Formula Ford Championship on the strength of 13 wins in a 21-race season and a triumph in the third annual Mazda Road to Indy Shootout which awarded him a season scholarship in the 2019 USF2000 championship.
Excited and grateful, McElrea cannot wait for the USF2000 season to start as he joins Pabst Racing, the two-time consecutive USF2000 team champions.
“I am ecstatic to be on the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship grid this year in the Soul Red Crystal No. 22 Pabst Racing car!” McElrea said. “Without the amazing support from Mazda Motorsports and my personal sponsors, Doric NZ
McElrea embarked on his racing career at age 9 as he competed in go-karts. By age 17, the young racer graduated to Formula Ford, winning events in Australia and New Zealand. Certainly, McElrea, who was born in the United States before moving to Australia, looks forward to his return to America in an effort to climb up the open-wheel racing ladder.
After testing with Pabst Racing during the Chris Griffis Memorial Open Test last fall, McElrea looks forward to his new car along with his transition back to the U.S. Notably, McElrea recognizes the distinctions between his drive from last year to the one he’ll become acquainted with on a full-time basis in 2019.
“The main difference from the Formula Ford I was driving last year is having a slick tire and aerodynamics,” McElrea observed. “This obviously means a lot more overall grip which I really like. Living in the U.S. this year is also a new adventure which I am enjoying a lot.”
One thing that McElrea will enjoy is the winning attitude and ethics that make up the foundation of Pabst Racing. With two straight team championships in USF2000, McElrea recognizes what he will gain along with valuable experience.
“I am extremely happy to be joining a top Road to Indy team such as Pabst Racing,” he noted. “I am really looking forward to putting the massive effort from the team and myself from the offseason to use, and I will do my very best.”
The team is equally thrilled to welcome McElrea. “This announcement has been in the making for quite some time and we couldn’t be more excited to have a talent such as Hunter as part of our team,” said team owner Augie Pabst.
“Mazda Motorsports has been a huge part of open-wheel racing for many years and we couldn’t be more honored to put this effort on the racetrack for 2019.”
Given his life experiences in Australia, McElrea looks to some international IndyCar superstars for inspiration along with a Formula 1 immortal who still resonates with young drivers. “I obviously look up to guys such as Scott Dixon and Will Power in the current era, who both have achieved my dream of winning the Indy 500 and IndyCar Championship,” McElrea said.
“Ayrton Senna would be my racing idol, but I look up to many others.”
For a driver like McElrea, he will have the opportunity to further showcase his prowess, potential, and talents on various tracks currently on the NTT IndyCar Series schedule and the 0.686-mile Lucas Oil Raceway Park in Indianapolis, Ind. Likewise, McElrea cannot wait to drive his No. 22 car on these respected venues that his inspirations have competed at over the years.
“I am looking forward to all of the tracks,” McElrea said. “Obviously, tracks with history such as Indianapolis, Road America, and Laguna Seca are going to be special, but also experiencing street courses and an oval for the first time will be a great experience. I can’t wait!”
Fortunately for McElrea and Pabst Racing, the USF2000 season is just around the corner with a series test coming up at Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 2-3 before the season opener at St. Petersburg, Fla. for rounds one and two on March 8-10
Until then, McElrea and Pabst Racing look forward to the 15-round USF2000 season in the pursuit of wins and this year’s championship. This international talent looks to achieve his dreams of becoming an Indianapolis 500 winner and NTT IndyCar Series champion.
Release courtesy of Pabst Racing. Header image by Road to Indy.