|SUPER SERIES ROUND 2 PREVIEW|
It’s Sportivo! It’s Nuovo! No, it’s… Nuotivo?
With track repairs delayed, the CalSpeed Super Series receives a bit of a curve ball in the track configuration department, taking to a melding of two tracks this weekend: Nuovo and Sportivo. The layout will be all Nuovo until the back straightaway, where drivers will then head into the Monaco hairpin, famous for many race-deciding passes on the Sportivo layout. From there it will continue on in normal Sportivo style, rounding the Horseshoe before finishing out the lap in Long Beach.
While not a dramatic change from the normally scheduled Sportivo layout, the absence of the off-camber Sportivo corner makes the course a bit easier for the un-initiated, while increasing the difficulty a bit in the Monaco hairpin. With the additional speed at it’s entry, braking points and prowess will be the keys to success through the Monaco hairpin, a fact that was proven during the IronMan season opener two weeks ago.
Aside from the unscheduled layout adjustment, the buzz around this round has been almost 100% about actually getting into the show itself. With the sellout of the first round coming early, so did the opening of registration for round #2; bringing about the fastest sellout of any CalSpeed event. Ever. 120 spots were sold and gone only three days after the conclusion of the opener, bringing about the new CalSpeed “priority system”, which basically allows drivers to confirm their entry, and not have to worry about whether or not they’ll be quick enough in the online race to registration. The result of this new system? Round #3 has sold out as well; Over one month in advance. Now however, it seems that most (if not all) the full-time drivers are in the field without worry, and the focus can return back to fighting for a championship, instead fighting for a spot on the grid…
A Look Back: 2014 IronMan Season Opener; A glimpse of what to expect…
As we have never actually been on “Nuovito” for a Super Series event, we’ll take a look back two weeks ago at the 2014 IronMan season opener, won by our current Super Series point leader, Patrick Britain.
Britain started the day off right, continuing his trend of front running speed by scoring pole position by about two tenths over his closest rival. Joining him at the sharp end once the green flag flew would be the reigning Super Series champ Sergio Bravo, along with ’12 SKGN Masters champ Dave Messimer. The three would tear away from he rest of the field, staying untouched throughout the 50-minute challenge, working together more than anything through the first forty minutes. Once the final stops were out of the way however, the last few minutes became a three-way chess match, with each taking their turn at the front. In the end it was Britain who scored the win, with Bravo and Messimer across the line less than two tenths back.
What was seen that day, was how important braking was into the Monaco hairpin, the sole part of the Sportivo layout in use. The track combined the finesse of the pack racing found on Nuovo, with hard braking, and multiple line options of some of the other layouts, making for a fairly interesting experience. Above all, the higher speeds carried into the Monaco hairpin, and the heavier braking this required, proved to be one of the focal points of not only getting in a quick lap, but also moving up through the field. Several drivers would get caught out, locking up the brakes, and losing everything they had worked for during the last several laps. While time is on your side to make up for such a mistake in an IronMan race, that will not be the case this Saturday…
RD’ Spotlight: Who to watch for in Round #2
In this months Spotlight, I want to focus on the two drivers at the top of the standings from last round: Patrick Britain, and Taylor Hays. I got a chance to catch up with both of them earlier this week, and it is interesting to see the different approach either one have. While both are very experienced out here at CalSpeed and in arrive and drive racing in general, their mentality toward each event couldn’t be more different. Here are the quick interviews with both drivers:
RD: Patrick, you have kicked off the new year with a second place, and the overall Super Series point lead, and then a win and the ensuing point lead in the IronManSeries. Coming out of the box this strong, you have to feel pretty good about your championship chances here in the Super Series. What’s it going to take to make sure this trend continues?
PB:I've had a great start to the year without question.Being in the top three in every timed session so far is pretty crazy. I changed my approach this year and I feel like I don't have to beat 100+ drivers, they have to beat me. That confidence has made all the difference.
RD: Although I mistakenly forgot to mention you in the championship preview ahead of round number one, it is impossible to forget that you are one of the best in the business out here at CalSpeed. Tied with Jon Kimbrell for most A-Main wins, and finishing third at the Sport Kart Grands in 2012 more than proves that. Aside from the title fight, are you one with an eye on the stats? Are they important to you?
PB:Stats are pretty much the most important thing to me. A lot of driver’s say it doesn't really matter; they just worry about one race at a time. That's BS in my head. I aim to re-set every record, every time I get in a kart.
RD: Ahead of this weekend, you’ve got to feel pretty good about your chances, having run on, and won onthe configuration only two weeks prior in the IronMan season opener. What’s going to be the keys to winning this weekend on this modified layout?
PB:I love Nuovo and the combinations of it. The racing is always super close and my circle track racing background always plays into my favor. Everyone has become so good with the draft that you have to go as hard as you can from the drop of the green. Round two will be exciting; I'll be aiming for another 400+ point round.
RD: Thanks for your time Pat, and good luck this weekend!
RD: Taylor, much fanfare was made about your first career win late last year, and now you’ve followed it up with another in the season opener, starting this season off right. Are you surprised that the second win came so soon, or do you feel that this could be just the beginning?
TH:It seems that the mantra of ‘the first win is the hardest’ is definitely ringing true. The first win was huge, and required me to jump out to a lead early and control the race from the front. The second ended with me leading only a single lap in a frantic lap-shortened main. Being able to win in complete polar opposite ways gives me confidence that the next really could be just around the corner. CalSpeed always fields such a deep field of drivers that the next win can never be taken for granted, but to be the man, you’ve got to beat the man.
RD: As the most consistent driver in the series, you are accustomed to being towards the sharp end of the field, but even you have to be pretty happy with how 2014 has started. While not in the overall point lead, you have started the title fight in a very strong way; how important is it to start out the season on a high note like that?
TH:This season started as well as I could have imagined. I’m typically pretty critical of myself during my early season performances because I don’t typically come on strong until after the mid-season SKGN break. Winning round one and sitting second in points after the opener is great and I couldn’t ask for much more, especially to be trailing to a teammate. If I can keep the consistency up while picking up a few more points every round, I’ll definitely have a shot at the championship again come November.
RD: This season sees the return of the Team Championship, and you and the rest of T4 Autosport have entered five teams into the fray, including the overall leader in the category. Aside from your own championship ambitions, you have also taken on the task of helping gout newcomers into the sport. What would the team title mean to T4, and is it one of the main focuses for you, or just something (the points) that takes care of itself in the background?
TH:There was great focus put in to the T4 Autosport lineups for 2014. With the new structuring mandating a balance of drivers to prevent the stacking of A-main frontrunners, the championship is wide open this year. After so narrowly missing out on the overall team championship at SKGN 2012, we’ve put forth a wide array of teams and drivers of different caliber that warrants ourselves the greatest chance for success. My specific team is a bit of an experiment, as I’ve taken a bit of a backseat from management to focus more on coaching and helping other teammates improve.
RD: Thanks for your time Taylor, and good luck this weekend!
In Patrick we have a guy that is probably carrying more momentum than any other driver in recent memory, as he said, being towards the top of the charts in every session so far this season. A win and a second, along with the point lead in two different series; he is without a doubt the guy to beat right now.
With Hays, we have a guy who has won two of the past three Super Series races going back to 2013, and is looking better than he ever has at the start of a season. Anyone that has been there can tell you, winning races does wonders for your confidence, and momentum going forward.
Heading into Saturday, one thing is for sure: If you are going to do well this weekend, the only way, will be through Britain and Hays…
The Overall Championship: Watch out for The ‘Not-So’ Usual Suspects
As was mentioned before, Britain and Hays have gotten off to a fantastic start to the season, and that is to be expected from the perennial front-runners. Joining them in the top 10 overall, which has become their typical home, is Sergio Bravo (4th), Darren Mercer (5th), Bill Kreig (7th), and Jon Kimbrell (9th). For these six drivers it’s really no surprise to see them inside the top ten, as every one finished there last year, save for Britain who didn’t run the full schedule in ’13. Even Kirk Feldkamp isn’t much of a surprise here, as he finished 10th last year, and perhaps could have been higher if not for a dismal season opener. The entire group of seven will most likely be fighting in the top ten throughout the season, and this is just the beginning of a long, 12-round bout to the finish.
What I want to point out here however, are the ‘newcomers’ inside the top ten, Alex Herndon (6th), Bruce Allen (8th), and Jonathan Vitolo (10th). Two of the three are less of a surprise, that being Herndon and Vitolo. The former actually was inside the top 10 at the beginning of 2013, but only ran a truncated schedule, while the latter finished 14th, also with only 9 rounds to his name. Both of these guys have the pace, and experience to be inside the top ten, and will likely be regular front-runners as we move forward.
No, the big surprise is that of Bruce Allen, putting together a career effort in the 2014 opener, finishing 5th in the A-Main after a pair of top 5 runs in his heat races. A fluke? Well, he backed that up with a 4th in the IronMan two weeks ago, on the same layout that we’ll be on this Saturday. No, I’d say ole Allen might just be here to stay.
Thing is, the field is full of “Allens” this year; drivers who are starting to really come into their own, putting in career performances, and showing that they are the new crop of front runners. Where the question lies is ‘staying power’… It is a long season, and while a strong round will get you some good points, a few more positions in the standings, and a mention in the write-up, consistency is what will keep you there. Below is the top ten, but there are a lot of people just on the outside of this group that want in…
Overall Top 10 Heading Into Round #2
The Masters Championship: Sergio out of the gate strong; 2nd-7th super close
It may be no surprise that the three-time champ is out to a big lead right out of the box, as Sergio Bravo has continued his out-right speed here in 2014. A ninety-point lead is quite strong after one round down, and he’ll be keen to build on that as the season progresses; he knows all too well what one bad round can do.
Behind him however, is a point battle that is one of the closest in any category, as the depth in the Masters division has grown over the last few seasons. Only 39 points separate second place, back to seventh, and all six drivers look to be in for the whole season. With only three spots awarded in the division, that is a lot of talent all vying for just a couple spots, and this class looks like it will put on quite a show this year.
Ben Blank currently sits second, and after his strong run in the latest Ironman where he just missed out on a top 5, he is looking really strong at the moment. Chris Carter had a really strong, albeit quiet run in the opener, while Jose da Silva backed up an eventful Super Series opener with a P2 in IronMan qualifying two weeks ago. Rounding out the top 5 is David Kelmenson, who historically, is one to challenge the front on a regular basis, and will be a very strong contender here.
It is early days yet, and while one eye is towards the front in this category, you know these guys also have one eye on the competition behind them, as Vince Burke (6th) and Steve Spring (7th) linger close enough to strike.
Masters Top 5
The Grand Masters Championship: Starr Leads New Category
The new sub-category to the Super Series fraternity, the Grand Masters division has already shown it has plenty of depth in its ranks, with several “GM’s” clawing their way towards the front in round one. Leading everyone is Brian Starr, whose top 20 finish in the A-Main capped off a stellar day that also saw him grab a 2nd in his first heat race. Jeff Latimer sits 2nd in points, and while he was the only other Grand Master in the A-Main, he was unfortunately collected in an incident that kept him from scoring better points.
Which brings us to one of the strongest drivers in the category, Dennis Kimbrell. Sitting third in points, he didn’t have the opener he could have, after contact not of his doing took him out of a strong top 5 run in his first heat race, which set the tone for the rest of the event. These three definitely lead the category in experience, as well as points, and with question marks looming over some of the other drivers behind them, they look to be the ones leading the way for the championship as well.
Grand Masters Top 5
The Rookie Championship: Alekseenkov takes Round 1; “Round 2, FIGHT!”
As it is every year, the rookie championship is my favorite sub-category; the storylines in this class are always the most fun, and ever changing, as the class leaders ebb and flow with every lap, let alone every event. It really does feel like each and every race is a mini championship in and of itself, as each rookie targets in on their rivals during every race they run.
2014 is no different, as the top 8 drivers are separated by less than 60 points, and most of them have taken steps to improve their game; many attending clinics, or getting coaching since. Of all of them, it is Nor-Cal driver Roman Alekseenkov leading the way, a “healthy” 26-point margin his reward after a 4th place finish in the B-Main last round. Still, while he was a front-runner all race long, he certainly wasn’t satisfied, and won’t be this round either unless he’s inside the A-Main.
Tied for second in class are Ashley Arnott and Wes Dent, having finished 8th and 11th respectively in the B-Main. Both looked strong and consistent all day, and along with Roman have a bit more experience than some of the other rookies, have run a few races in 2013. Still this doesn’t put them out of reach by any means, as 4th place in class Jin Bai proved after he finished as the 2nd highest rookie in the opener, via his 7th place B-Main run, bouncing back from some tough heat races.
This years rookie class looks every bit as talented as last years, and with the efforts put in by it’s front runners to improve even further, it is a matter of when, not if we see an [R] moniker in the A-Main.
Rookie Top 10
Heavy Class: Jasinski leads, but an old rival returns…
While Steve Jasinski took home top honors in class in the opening round, there was an epic race behind him, as the rest of the Heavy Class drivers battled for 2nd. Earning a berth into the B-Main via his C-Main win solidified Jasinski’s role as the top earner in the category, scoring yet another finish in the top half of the 100+ driver field, and with it a strong lead in class. Behind him however, Greg Reinhardt, Max Hilleret and Marc Salvador all battled it out, contesting not only each other, but the other non-heavy drivers in the same C-Main. Last year’s #3 finisher in class would come out on top of that battle, as Reinhardt brought home a top 20 in the C-Main, his challengers only a few spots astern.
Now the big news for round #2 is the return of class standout Mike Arnold, who will without a doubt be looking to take the fight to the front in the category. A regular class front-runner, and point leader in 2013, this will be the opening round for Arnold, as he missed the first event in January. For this class, round #2 may be the true measuring stick for who the contenders are…
Heavy Class Top 10
Team Championship: Silly Season Is Over, Time To Get To Work…
The final rosters for the Super Series Teams are now final, having been set in stone a couple weeks after the opener was in the books, which gave everyone a chance to work out the new rule package. The result is exactly what the rules hoped to achieve, with team lineups consisting of drivers all up and down the field.
Leading them all after round #1 is T4 Autosport ‘Onyx’, made up of Ian Enz, Cameron Rose, and Vince Burke [M], while Arkham Motorsport 3 and it’s drivers Bruce Allen, Charles Eichlin, and Ashley Arnott [R] sit second. Rounding out the top three is the Team HubCapMike.com squad of Mitch Collins, Brian Starr, and Dennis Kimbrell, a team that wasn’t finalized until the day of the deadline.
All three teams managed “800 days” a term I think we may hear more as the season progresses, and a term I think many teams will want associated with them. That said, both the top two teams were very close to a 900 point total, which I think in the Team Standings will be liken to a 400+ point day as a singular driver.
All in all a very close, and exciting start to the championship, which will get even closer this weekend, now that all of the rosters have been set, which include several drivers that had been absent for the opening round. As I said earlier in this preview, round #2 may indeed become the true measuring stick of talent this year, which could prove truer in the team fight, more than anywhere else.
Team Championship Top 5