By: Tanner Watkins
August 11, 2019 | 9:00 PM
The season opener for the MYLAPS Indy Elite Series’ fall championship got off to a rough and wild start at Pocono Raceway. On this Sunday night, it was Connecticut’s Ray Kingsbury taking home his first career victory in 16 career MYLAPS Indy Elite Series starts.
Action on this evening picked up right off the bat as 40 drivers were available for qualifications. With only 33 starting spots available, that meant seven drivers would go home without making the season-opening show.
Brendan Lichtenberg set the quickest time in qualifications, posting a 40.662s lap (221.337 mph) that barely edged Michele Costantini for the top spot – by just one thousandth of a second.
Brandon Traino (P3, 40.718s), Zac Campbell (P4, 40.724s) and AJ Burton (P5, 40.822s) rounded out the first five starting positions ahead of the 140-lap contest. And not only did Pocono serve as the first round of this fall championship, but it also stood as the first of three legs in the Coca-Cola Local Refresh Triple Crown.
In the end, Joe Flanagan, Joe Branch, Logan Simmons, Richard Holt, Gabriel Esek, Marshall Stanley and Flinn Lazier were left on the outside of the first 33 positions. All drivers but Lazier were bumped from the field, as Lazier enjoyed a professional driver’s provisional and was the 34th-place starter. Lazier would drop out of the race after running three laps.
The race start was clean and fast as Traino and Campbell traded the lead early on. It wasn’t until Lap 9 when we saw the first set of incidents, which included Brandon Trost and Costantini. The two drivers touched entering the Tunnel Turn without much fanfare, and then traded paint once again in Turn 1 of the following lap.
Trost would lose ground with the second car contact, but continued to fight through the field in the race’s first half.
The first of what would be many yellow flags on the evening came when Chris Cahoe smacked the wall exiting Turn 3 on Lap 20. Cahoe’s car would come to a stop just before Turn 1 to bring out the caution flag, and his race was over.
The next yellow flag wouldn’t fly until Lap 33 when Adam Dock and Austin Espitee touched in Turn 3. Dock continued on, but Espitee was sent into a high-speed collision which also cleaned out Niall McBride. The two Team Talent drivers would finish 31st (McBride) and 32nd (Espitee).
Just mere moments after going green again, a massive seven-car crash on Lap 38 brought out yet another yellow flag. The melee began when Adam Dock and Riley Thompson came together before entering Turn 3, and the ensuing carnage either wiped out or damaged contenders such as Jeff Drake, Tim Doyle, Simon Briant, Chad Simpson, and Frank Levick IV.
Eight laps later, another multi-car accident would see Matt Kingsbury and David Adams exit the race. Kingsbury unfortunately lost control of his car on the exit of Turn 1, making hard contact with the wall and Adams before all was said and done.
Through the early-race carnage, there was some spectacular racing to be found. Overcast conditions set a quick track, and drivers were pushing the envelope in this double-points round.
At the front, Josh Chin, Liam Quinn and Chris Stofer had joined Traino as each driver found their time at the head of the field. The four drivers would battle for much of the race’s first half while Zac Campbell and AJ Burton worked into the top five towards the midway point.
For Campbell and Quinn, though, their races would end shortly after that halfway mark.
Hustling through Turn 2 on Lap 72, an apparent netcode incident pushed Campbell into Quinn before both drivers went careening towards the inside wall for race-ending impacts.
For the next forty laps or so, the race ran without interruption while Traino, Chin and Stofer put on a show up front. Burton had remained in touch with the leaders, and Andreas Eik was lurking around the top five.
After the leaders had successfully completed their green flag pit stops around Lap 100 – the first stops under green all race – the battle continued. Traino and Stofer were comfortably battling for the lead while Chin found third place to be nice and cozy – before disaster struck.
On Lap 117 – with just 23 laps remaining in the event – Chin’s internet connection dropped out and the Florida driver was kicked from the race momentarily. Running in third place at the time, Chin would be relegated to a 14th-place result after falling five laps down in the debacle.
Just a few laps later, Dan Lee Ensch and Michael Peters spun in synchronized fashion entering pit lane to bring out the caution flag. What seemed to be the Traino and Stofer show would now add a few characters to the final cast of contenders.
Back under green with 15 laps remaining, Traino and Stofer were joined by Burton and now Ray Kingsbury in the first four positions. It seemed as if Burton had waited patiently all night, and now was the time to strike.
The London native made his move underneath Stofer entering Turn 2 on Lap 132, fighting for second place with just a handful of laps remaining. On corner exit, though, the two drivers came together in a race-ending accident for Burton. Stofer would have to pit for repairs to his machine, though the No. 13 car eventually finished seventh.
This would serve as the final yellow flag of the night, and it brought some interesting strategy into play. When pit lane opened for the final time, Traino and Eik stayed out on-track with old tires while Kingsbury, Henry Bennett and John Downing opted for four new Firestone Firehawks.
One final restart on Lap 136 would see Kingsbury gobble up Eik after the first corner, then taking on Traino by Turn 3. The two veterans – Traino and Kingsbury – raced side-by-side through the first half of Lap 137 until they approached the tricky Pocono Tunnel Turn.
Entering Turn 2, both drivers fought for the same real estate before coming together near the corner’s apex – again, due to the world-famous iRacing netcode. Kingsbury was able to continue on without much issue while Traino fought to keep his car out of the fence. Traino would drop back to fourth place with three laps to go while Kingsbury had a healthy lead over Bennett.
But the race wasn’t over. Traino consumed Eik and Bennett on Lap 139 in a daring three-wide pass, moving back to second place with two trips around the track remaining.
After being over a second behind the leader with two laps to go, Traino trimmed the gap to 0.392s by the race’s conclusion – close, but not enough to take the victory away from Kingsbury. For the first time in his career, Ray had become a MYLAPS Indy Elite Series winner.
“I don’t really know what to say… We just survived the entire night,” said Kingsbury post-race. “We pitted every single time we could have, and our priority was missing the wrecks. I was just hoping I would get a top-ten (finish) at the end of this thing, and we somehow won so you are not going to hear me complain.”
After the race, Traino’s frustration boiled over when he intentionally collided with Kingsbury on the cool-down lap. In Kingsbury’s eyes, the contact on Lap 137 was simply hard racing for the win.
“I went into that corner and I held the bottom line… there was plenty of room above me so I don’t know what happened,” relayed Kingsbury. “I didn’t feel any contact. I don’t know if he was upset or what, but I don’t really care because I won.”
In the end, it was Kingsbury, Traino, Bennett, Eik and Adam Plunkett rounding out the top five positions. Just eight drivers finished on the lead lap while John Downing, Stofer, Lichtenberg, Rob Powers and Costantini filled the rest of the top ten.
The race was slowed by nine cautions (on 27 laps under yellow) and ran at an average speed of 160.379 miles per hour. 12 different drivers picked up bonus points for leading a lap, and Traino had the most laps led with 76 under his belt.
Only Bennett, Eik, Plunkett and Downing finished the race without an incident point to their name.
The series will now shift its focus to Gateway Motorsports Park next week and the Web Sports Radio 150. The last time the MYLAPS Indy Elite Series visited Gateway, the race was won by Joe Flanagan in a close triumph over Josh Chin. The race will go green on Tuesday, August 20, live on SYM TV.
Images by Tanner Watkins/Open-Wheels.com.