|SUPER SERIES ROUND 1 PREVIEW|
It is finally here: The 2014 Super Series Championship. This season looks to be an excellent follow up to the “Greatest Season In Series History”, and will certainly put its best foot forward to take that title for its own. While all of our champs from last season return to do battle, this season may also see a changing of guard in terms of the usual pecking order. Names like Calvin and Cook, Schreiber and Messimer are void of the entry list, although most of rest that made the top of the charts last season return. Those that were just outside looking in will now be clambering for those newly available spots, striving to show they are their to stay.
The depth of the talent in the Super Series is a topic that was echoed all last year, and it will be a refrain once again sung in 2014, with things kicking off in this Saturday’s Season Opener with a record breaking 112 drivers. Taking to the ‘Super Speedway’ that is the Nuovo layout this weekend, we will get our first glimpse of just how deep that talent runs, as another exciting crop of rookies joins the already established fraternity. But it isn’t just Rookies, Masters and Heavy’s doing battle this season, as CalSpeed has added the Grand Masters class to the docket, as well as the Team Championship, which has already created quite a stir during the off season…
So lets dive in and take a closer look at what we can expect from not only this weekend, but the rest of 2014: 12 rounds, 6+ configurations, new championships, over 100 drivers every round, and oh ya, the new $5000 prize package. Come season’s end, the top drivers in every category will be walking away with not only hardware, but also their chunk of that package. And the nice thing about Season Openers? Everyone is tied for first.
All in all, the possibilities are endless. 2014 will see more drivers, more configurations, more karts on track, more talent… More variables. Saturday will see 112 drivers take to the course, more than any other round in series history. As the saying goes, “On any given Sunday”. True.
But around here, we do it on Saturday…
RD’s Spotlight: Who to watch for in Round #1
NASCAR has Daytona, the Super Series has Nuovo. That same pack mentality, the need to make sure you are good in the draft, the fact that one wrong move can find you ‘hung out to dry’, just as easy as that well timed pass that sees you slingshot past for the win. Nuovo also has a way of hosting ‘specialists’ that just seem to do well every time we go there, and is the track that many drivers can say they have had their personal best finish at. It seems that just like those plate races, everyone has a shot to win here; you just have to be in the right place at the right time…
And right now the right place at the right time seems to be wherever Sergio Bravo is. Our returning Masters and Overall champ was in the top 5 both times we went to Nuovo last year, winning the August round, marking his second of three total wins on the season. His strength on the layout, coupled with the fact that nobody is carrying more momentum into the new season than he is, and I think he is easily one of the favorites to win.
Next on the list has to be Mr. Nuovo himself, Kirk Feldkamp. There is something about this layout that clicks with Kirk, and he basically did everything BUT score his first Super Series win last year. Missing the win by .023 in the spring was certainly painful for him, and he came back with just as much speed for round #7, where he finished 4th, .461 from the win, and only .053 off the podium. As we have said about others, it is with Kirk and Nuovo, just a matter of when, not if…
The other driver to score a runner up finish in 2013 was multi-time Super Series champ Jon Kimbrell, finishing less than .2 behind Sergio in round #7. With a pair of heat wins and a tendency to be in the sharp end on this layout (or any layout), combined with the fact he recently shook off that offseason rust in the Clinic, ole ‘Jonny Go-Karts’ may be standing on the top step come Saturday.
Best returning Nuovo drivers from 2013
Sergio Bravo: Round #7 Win, Round #3 5th, 1 Heat win, 3 T3’s, 5 T5’s
Kirk Feldkamp: Round #3 2nd, Round #7 4th, 1 Heat win, 5 T3’s, 6 T5’s
Jon Kimbrell: Round #7 2nd, 2 Heat wins, 4 T3’s, 4 T5’s
Taylor Hays: Round #7 3rd, 1 Heat win, 2 T3’s, 3 T5’s
Jerott King: Round #3 4th, 1 Heat win, 3 T3’s, 4 T5’s
The Overall Championship: Time to hit the reset button…
To be honest, this is the last section I wrote in this preview. I kept coming back to it, writing a few lines before deleting the whole thing to start all over again. The reason? I have no bloody idea what to expect.
Sergio Bravo stunned many with his come from behind championship last year, and while he and many of the players from last season are on Saturdays entry list, there are also some big names missing. But instead of focusing on who isn’t there, I can’t help but ask, “Who’s going to step up?”
As it is when you are the returning champ, Sergio will have the target painted squarely on his back, with the daunting task of 4 in a row in Masters, and back to back overall titles laid out in front of him. Does he have what it takes? Absolutely. Do I think he will by challenged? Ya. And probably even more than he was last year.
‘How can that be possible?’ You might be asking. Last year’s field was stacked! Now there is no Calvins, no Cook… Where’s the challenging going to come from? Well I’m glad you asked…
Darren Mercer will lead the charge of challengers this year, having finished 2nd and 4th overall the past two seasons. Mercer has proven he is one of the best at CalSpeed, and is a threat for the win every single time he gets on track. Over the course of the past two seasons, he has put up numbers that have equaled or bettered some of his rivals, and has a knack for performing when the pressure is on. In my opinion the #1 contender for the title, Mercer will need to put the lessons learned from the past to seasons to secure his first Super Series championship.
Right there with him is Taylor Hays, who after scoring his first career win this past season, followed it up with yet another top five overall finish. As the only driver to finish inside the top 6 in every single Super Series season (4th, 6th, 4th, 5th), Hays’ consistency is unmatched season-to-season. There are few drivers out there that are able to find the front as easily as Hays can, and if he can improve his almost constant top 5’s into top 3’s, we could see him on the top step in the end.
The past two seasons have been of the resetting and rebuilding variety for the multi-time champ Jon Kimbrell, and this season could be the one that sees him atop the mountain once again. Jon has spent the past couple of seasons honing his craft, and during his practice sessions has looked like what some have called, ‘the Jon of old’. His sheer pace gets him to the front, his near mistake-free decisions keep him there, the question is if he’ll flip the switch needed to get back to victory lane consistently, and hoist the cup at the end.
It is no surprise that I have named the above four drivers as title contenders; the stats back it up, as does there consistent ability to be there at the end. The drivers that follow however will be new to the scene, and to be honest, are where a lot of the excitement is going to come from in the top 10. These new, fresh challenges to the status quo are sometimes what catch people off guard; a la Mercer in 2012, and Cook last year. That ‘new and different’ that people aren’t used to, that really spices things up, and gets you on the edge of your seat. I think this next crop of drivers can really do that…
Bill Kreig. He had a breakout season last year, where he went from a 250 point average and only two 300+ point races in ’12, to scoring no less than 325 points in any round (avg 350) on his way to 3 podiums and an 8th overall standing. One of the most improved drivers of 2013, Kreig flies under most people’s radar, but should never be underestimated.
Kirk Feldkamp. Kirk also improved a lot in 2013, growing into a consistent A-Main driver, although he had to dig out of a hole in the beginning of the season, which kept him clawing to stay inside the top 10. Starting the year off right will be important for Kirk, and staying mistake and penalty free throughout the season could see him fighting for a top 5 overall.
Jerott King. I think Jerott is a serious championship contender. Forced to miss two races last year, there was no room for mistakes in what would be his first full season in the Super Series. I think King showed that he had the pace, and now with the plan now to run every race, more importantly, I think he has the right attitude and the craft to take it to the next level.
Jonathon Vitolo. The big question here is, can he run the whole season? Running only 8 of the 11 rounds last year, Vitolo was able to secure 18th overall on the back of his win in round #8;one of his two podiums that season. Possibly growing more than any other driver in 2013, Vitolo has gone from being fast and unpredictable, to being recognized and respected as one of the best at CalSpeed. If he can run the whole season, he will undoubtedly be a contender for the overall.
Chris Huerta. 2013 was like two different seasons for Chris: his average in the first 7 rounds was about 255 points per race. The last four? 355. Out with the old and in with the new fits him perfectly, and if he kicks off 2014 as the ‘new’ Huerta, he’ll be right in the thick of things for the top 5 this season. Now, if he were to improve on that 355 number…
Derek Esquibel. Derek gave us moments of brilliance in 2013, showcasing what exactly he was capable of; we just didn’t see it on a consistent basis. That said he improved massively over the course of the year, outscoring his best finish from ’12 (223) by over a hundred points (334) while averaging 290+ points on the year. Also taking into account it was his first full season, and the potential for this kid is pretty high…
Andrew Lemons. This kid is just down right exciting. Starting his rookie season late, he ran only 9 of the 11 rounds, and with the typical rookie season woes; he had a few rough rounds. However in the 6 rounds that he had that were incident/mistake free, he averaged 296 points, while scoring a 340-point round in the process: the highest of any rookie. If there is a dark horse in the field, I think it may be this kid…
Top 10 Returning Drivers From 2013
#1 Sergio Bravo
#4 Darren Mercer
#5 Taylor Hays
#7 Jon Kimbrell
#8 Bill Kreig
#10 Kirk Feldkamp
#11 Jerott King
#12 Chris Huerta
#14 Derek Esquibel
#15 David Kelmenson
The Masters Championship: All roads go through Bravo…
Everyone in this class knows, that to win the Masters Division you have to be at the sharp end challenging for race wins on a regular basis. Three time champ Sergio Bravo has set the bar incredibly high for the category, winning the past three Masters titles while simultaneously finishing 12th, 5th, and then 1st in the overall championship as well. With his closest challengers from the past two years absent from the entry list, eyes now turn to see who the new season contenders could be, and that list has some of the strongest up and coming talent in the field.
Leading the pack of challengers is David Kelmenson, who’s best point haul came in round #7 (on Nuovo) where he put up numbers that proved he could be a contender. As is the case with all of the up and coming talent, consistently staying at the sharp end is the tough part, but David definitely has the pace to do it. Growing considerably as a driver last season, 2014 could be the breakout year for David.
Next is Ben Blank, who although was forced to run a truncated schedule last year (he missed the final two rounds) showed some huge improvement over the course of the season. Ben actually had several strong runs throughout the year, and a few others that got cut down from incidents, but his ability to bounce back is what kept him inside the top 20 overall. A full season, plus utilizing what he learned for 2013, and Ben could find himself well inside the podium fight, if not more.
In just his second full season, Jose da Silva proved that he’s one of the strongest Masters drivers in the field, regularly striking at the sharp end of the field. As it is with every new driver, growing pains are part of the process, and it is how you recover and learn from these that matter. Jose’s pace has increased immensely over the past year, and he should be in position now to challenge for a podium. His singular effort at this past year’s Machismo 12 hour gave a glimpse to what he could be capable of…
Although 5th on this list, Steve Spring enters the group as a returning champ, having won the Rookie of the Year title in 2013. An intense battle in its own right, it will have done a lot to help prepare him for the inevitable hard fight that will be a podium spot here in the Masters category. One of the most dedicated to the craft in the field, Spring’s constant driver to improve is what earned him the title last year, and is what will help him with this new challenge in 2014.
Top 5 returning form 2013
#1 Sergio Bravo
#4 David Kelmenson
#5 Ben Blank
#6 Jose da Silva
#7 Steve Spring
The Grand Masters Championship: 55+ now with its own division…
A brand new category for 2014, the entry list still isn’t a 100% confirmed, so there are some drivers that could be missing from this class. That said, the talent that was already in the run group is strong, and with the new spotlight on them, should provide for an exciting championship fight. This combined with an influx of strong talent coming in, and it’s sure to be one of the toughest title fights in the Series this year.
The highest confirmed Grand Masters driver from last season is none other than the patriarch Kimbrell, as Dennis finished out 2013 inside the top 25. With two 300+ point rounds, and several top 5 runs, Dennis Kimbrell proved that he had plenty of pace, and I think could be the immediate favorite in the class. His increased patience shown throughout the year will also pay dividends, something we have seen from the both the past two overall champs.
Next on the list from last year’s points table are a couple of guys who haven’t confirmed their GM status yet, but will be right in the hunt if they do. Jeff Latimer and Brian Starr both put up strong numbers in 2013, and each improved immensely over the previous season, finishing 32nd and 33rd respectively. Both drivers scored near 300 point days last year, and if they continue to improve as they have, could be knocking on the door of an A-Main appearance. Both are definite contenders for the GM title, again, if they confirm that status.
What could be the biggest talking point after round #1 is the influx of Grand Masters talent coming into the series, namely that of the ‘Senior Moments Racing’ trio of Gerry Florez, Hugh Robertson, and Steve Nakajima. While new to the series, they are not new to racing, having competed in the World Formula class regularly for the last few years. It will be no surprise if the trio is immediately up to speed, and all three could have a very strong shot at the Grand Masters crown.
The Rookie Championship: More questions than answers…
Who looks good?
Right now, the better question is who is running the whole season? Over the past few months, several drivers have been out to CalSpeed to practice, whether in Super Series events themselves, Sport Kart Race Clinics, or even one-on-one coaching; and let me tell ya, I think this may be the most dedicated group of rookies yet. And after the crop last year, and resulting championship battle we had, that is sayin something.
Honestly, there is a lot of talent in this season’s rookie lineup, but it is really hard to pick out a favorite in the group. As much as it will be for this writer, round #1 will be especially good for all the rookies to see where they stack up, and how they should approach the rest of their season. Looking down the list I see a lot of names that have shown well already in the Super Series; Danny Downey, Wes Dent, and Ashley Arnott all pop out as B Main or better runners. Still others have shown well, but with less race time before they did it, like Jin Bai, Moises Lizama, and especially Hasller Ortega and Roman Alekseenkov. Some drivers, like Riley Dugan, Patrick O’Keefe and Ed Lewis have put in eyebrow raising runs in the Sport Kart Clinics, driving what seemed was well past their experience level. And then there are the rookies that missed the signup for the first round, and will be forced to start their season in round #2.
In 2014 it will come down to the same thing these rookie championships always circle back to: when the skill sets match up, who wants it more? In a group of drivers that clearly wants it pretty bad, I couldn’t more excited to drop the green flag on this title fight…
The Heavy Class: Will we see Jasinski VS Arnold again?
I spoke with reigning champ Steve Jasinski in the offseason, and at that point he wasn’t sure if he was definitely going to run the class or not, as his goal was to lose more weight. Also running in the LAKC PRD Grand Masters class, the weight loss priority was important, so we’ll have to see what the scale says on Saturday. If he does run in the class, then the question won’t be whether or not he’s a contender, but who his challengers will be?
Obviously at the top of the list has to perennial Heavy Class standout Mike Arnold. Point leader for much of last season, Mike set the bar early for the class, and continues to be one of the best in the category. While he’ll miss the opening round this Saturday, the plan is for him to run the entire year, with championship or bust being his definite goal.
Next has to be Greg Reinhardt, podium finish in the category last season, and a driver who has made huge strides in the off-season. Showing increased pace and craft during the later rounds and off season clinic, Greg has already showed he a different driver than what start last year. Getting ready to start his second full season, he has already shown he’s improved, the question will be how much?
After the top two challengers, it is a bit up in the air who the contenders might be, as we’ll have to wait till probably round #2 to get everyone in the class registered. With that said, there is one driver that I think will make big strides in this class, and that is rookie Max Hilleret. In his first full season, this kid is focused on improvement, and I think given that constant desire to better himself, he could put up some big points in class, and surprise a few people by seasons end.
The Team Championship: Talk about ‘Silly Season’…
No other single change to the 2014 season made as big an impact in the off-season, as the announcement of the Team Championships return to the series. Geared towards balanced teams that have rosters spanning the entire field, and a focus on helping teammates improve, this new direction is a departure from the formats of old. Immediately following the announcement of the championship, e-mails, phone calls, facebook messages, and even the occasional smoke signal was used to start match making teams together via the new ‘value system’. At the time of this writing, 16 teams had been confirmed for the 2014 season, but with the deadline not until January 14th, the first round will likely be a scouting opportunity for those still looking to make teams, and there is a lot of talent yet to be ‘signed’…
At this point of the season, trying to point out which teams are stronger than others is just pure speculation, as every team has the room to grow and improve. It will be the teams that excel in helping each other that will have the best shots to win, making it a true TEAM championship…
Confirmed Team Championship 2014 Rosters:
-Jason Collins [M]
-Riley Dugan [R]
-Rodney Bryant [M]
-Ashley Arnott [R]
-Dennis Kimbrell [GM]
-Mike Collins [M]
-Wes Dent [R]
-Ariel Rubio [M][R]
-Hasller Ortega [R]
-Patrick O’Keefe [R]
RANDOM MANUFACTURING 1
RANDOM MANUFACTURING 2
-David Irish [R]
-Moises Lizama [R]
SENIOR MOMENTS RACING
-Gerry Florez [GM]
-Hugh Robertson [GM]
-Steve Nakajima [GM]
-Chris Carter [M]
-Jeff Carson [M]
-David Kelmenson [M]
-Tom Zevin [M]
-Vince Burke [M]
-Greg Reinhardt [GM][H]
-Steve Spring [M]
-Caylee Burgan [R]
TEAM OLD & SLOW
-Duane Lawson [R]
-Kelly Bastion [M][R]
-Mark Connell [M][R]