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Indy NXT Laguna

Indy NXT Laguna Seca: McElrea dominates shunt-packed race

Andretti Autosport’s Hunter McElrea went flag-to-flag from pole to win a chaotic Race 1 for Indy NXT at Laguna Seca.

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McElrea jumped out to the early lead and began gapping the field to a 2.7s lead around the 11-turn, 2.238-mile natural terrain road course after the opening two of 35 laps.  

The rivalry of Jacob Abel (Abel Motorsports) and Louis Foster (Andretti Autosport) continued with the two battling in close quarters early on for sixth, which led to clear contact on the nose of Abel’s No. 51 entry shortly after the start. Abel called over the radio accusing Foster of blocking, but no penalty came from it.

The biggest mover was Nolan Siegel (HMD Motorsports), moving up from 18th (last) to 12th after lap 8.

The field began to spread out, with McErea pulling a gap of over 4s over Rasmussen, with Danial Frost (HMD Motorsports) in third.

Despite being an early charger, Siegel fell under attack to teammate Reece Gold (HMD Motorsports) for 12th on Lap 16. Gold went to the inside of Siegel going through the frontstraight and into Turn 1. Siegel attempted an over/under move going into Turn 2, but Gold closed the door to solidify the position. 

A near 7s lead by McElrea was negated after the caution came out on Lap 17 when Foster went off course and nailed the tire barrier in Turn 6.

The Briton was in another heated battle with Abel, who was alongside and not completely cleared when he drifted over to set up his entry into the next corner. As a result of that move, though, it forced Foster off-line to ignite the incident. 

The race restarted with 13 laps to go, but it would be brief when Kiko Porto (Cape Motorsports) ended up stuck in the gravel trap in Turn 11. 

McElrea jumped out from the field when the restart came with nine laps to go. Race control deemed avoidable contact on Abel’s earlier battle with Foster, giving him a drive-thru penalty and dropping him from sixth to 15th

The yellow flag returned with eight laps to go due to debris. 

A restart with five laps to go saw Kyffin Simpon (HMD Motorsports) jump from fifth to fourth, while McElrea continued the theme of gapping the field and pulled out to a 1.5s lead by the end of the circuit. 

Ernie Francis Jr. attempted to hold on to eight with a broken front wing with three laps remaining, holding up the likes of James Roe (Andretti Autosport), Gold and others. 

Meanwhile, Rasmussen began to close in on the leader before the caution came out once more with two laps after a multi-car crash in Turn 10.

Seigel and Jamie Chadwick (Andretti Autosport) were battling for the final spot in the top 10 when the two came together, breaking the left-front suspension of Siegel’s No. 39 entry and sending both into the gravel trap. “She brake checked me,” Siegel called over the radio.

The field took the white flag under yellow as McElrea came around to take the checkered flag at idle speed, ahead of Rasmussen, Frost, Simpson and Matthew Brabham (Juncos Hollinger Racing).

Rasmussen holds a 51-point lead over McElrea entering the final race of the 2023 season tomorrow.

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