Hunter McElrea has explained that he had to drive with a delaminating tyre in Indy Nxt’s season finale at Laguna Seca, which he finished second in.
The Andretti Autosport driver started second and dropped to third on lap one behind team-mate Louis Foster, but moved back past on lap two. However thereon he had no answer to the pace of leader and title rival Christian Rasmussen, who became champion by winning the race by almost 18 seconds.
“The start was tricky. I got passed by Louis, and then I did probably one of my best moves of the year. I wasn’t really anticipating to brake so early, so probably exaggerated the move. But I don’t really know what happened with it,” said McElrea.
“There’s something happened on the right funny. I don’t want to say anything negative about [tyre supplier] Firestone, they’ve been awesome all year. But something really funny happened. I don’t know if it was on our side or what, but lap two my tyre was delaminating, my right-front, and that was that.
“That’s why – I mean, we were the dominant car all weekend, and we didn’t touch it and it’s not like we forgot how to be quick. So it was a shame not to fight for the win, but to get second with what we were dealing with, I think I would’ve taken that. It was a long 35 laps, I’ll tell you that.”
After passing Foster, McElrea “thought I was probably going to run down Christian” before encountering his tyre issue.
“Kind of sums up the year really: it’s just been a lot of funny little scenarios like that. But overall, pretty proud of what we have achieved despite obviously not achieving our goal.”
McElrea still comfortably became championship runner-up with the result, and reflected on the “awesome experience” of two years in Indy Nxt. He won two races in both seasons, and by scoring 14 more points this year finished two places higher in the standings.
“I’ve loved every minute of it, as up and down as it’s been. And as much as an emotional rollercoaster it’s been. You invest so much in it, all your family’s invested in it, your sponsors are invested in it, and you do it with the plan of winning and getting to IndyCar and I fell short, it hurts. But I think we’ve achieved a lot of good stuff and I’m proud of what we achieved.”
“I’m not sure what my future looks like. I know I’ll be racing something. I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m planning on and trying to get to IndyCar, what that is or what that programme is, I’m not sure. [This] chapter for sure closes today.”
In addition to holding IndyCar ambitions for 2024, McElrea is “working on” a Daytona 24 Hours drive and other IMSA opportunities.
“I don’t think I’ll necessarily have a full season of anything next year, if I’m honest. I think it’s going to be a lot of kinda off-and-on type of things.”