By: Tanner Watkins
October 6, 2019 | 8:00 PM
In an evening that was thoroughly dominated by Zac Campbell, the Georgia native still found a way to manufacture an exciting finish in the latest MYLAPS Indy Elite Series round on Sunday night.
Entering the sixth round of the 2019 fall season, Henry Bennett led the championship by 16 points over Adam Blocker. In qualifications, a 1m5.307s lap by Joshua Chin was good enough to take the pole ahead of Campbell and Brandon Traino.
On the first lap of the race, though, Chin ran wide on the fifth corner and relinquished the lead to Campbell – who set sail while his competitors shrunk in the rearview mirror.
The first ten laps saw experienced drivers such as Tim Doyle, Jeff Drake, Liam Quinn, and Ray Kingsbury all have incidents while Campbell extended his lead to five seconds over Traino, with Chin rebounding to third.
In that span, we saw Bennett go off-track on Lap 6 and sustain heavy, race-ending damage in a surprising turn of events. Twenty laps into the race, Campbell hit the pit lane as many of the leaders stayed out for a one-stop strategy.
Undeterred, though, Campbell emerged from the first round of pit stops with a 15-second lead. Chin had worked his way back into the runner-up position, while Blocker, Traino, and Frank Levick II rounded out the top five spots.
On Lap 35, Campbell pitted for the final time of the night, and was just 1.7 seconds back of Chin by Lap 39 for the race lead.
Unfortunately for Campbell, he would run wide on the exit of Turn 1 on the very next lap and lose more than a second in the chase – while also picking up front wing damage.
With just three laps to go, Chin’s lead was three seconds over Campbell – and all seemed to be settled up front. That was when Campbell turned in a finish for the ages.
In one lap, Campbell shaved 1.2 seconds off the lead, and the lap after that he was eight-tenths of a second quicker than Chin – who now lead by only one second heading into the final lap.
As Campbell continued to close the gap into the final corners, Chin appeared to be narrowly rolling to victory when a slight wiggle in the final corner opened the door for Campbell. That window was just enough, as Campbell slid into the gap (on highly-worn tires) to squeak by Chin in a photo finish.
The margin of victory? A scant 0.019 seconds, the closest finish at Mid-Ohio in the history of the MYLAPS Indy Elite Series.
The win for Campbell was his fourth in a lengthy Indy Elite Series career – though it was surely the most unexpected.
“I don’t even know where to begin to start. I (had been) practicing for Petit Le Mans and the BMW 120 and just put this on the back burner,” said Campbell to SYMTV post-race.
“Today, I started practicing and got everything back where it was, and I didn’t even know that a one-stop (strategy) would be possible here. I was told that the fuel (range) was 19 laps guaranteed, and I thought ‘Sweet, I will just pit at 19 laps.’
“About halfway through the race, I realized what Chin was doing, so I had to push and started doing Q-lap after Q-lap after Q-lap, and ended up with zero push-to-pass at the end. Just trying to burn it all and hit the fastest laps I could.
“Obviously I made a big mistake in Turn 1 and ran off, and maybe it would have been more decisive had I not run off,” continued Campbell. “But overall I couldn’t even imagine where to start (with this win).”
While Chin was able to make a huge leap in the standings – up to seventh after tonight’s race – it was hard not to wonder what could have been on that last lap.
“It is nice to get a top-five on the season, finally,” said Chin. “It has been a rough stretch of races and a lot of thrown away points. I don’t think this quite gets us to the top ten in points, but it is a better shot than before. Frustrating? Yeah definitely, maybe a little bit.”
Following Sunday’s race, Blocker is now the championship leader as a result of his third-place run – and Bennett’s DNF. Bennett is second, 14 points back, while Brendan Lichtenberg, Andrew Kinsella, and Ray Kingsbury round out the first five positions in the title hunt.
The next MYLAPS Indy Elite Series race will be held on Sunday, October 20 as the championship heads to Michigan International Speedway for the Gold Peak 300, the seventh round of the 2019 fall season. The race will be shown live by SYMTV.
Header image by Joe Branch/Indy Elite Series.