|SUPER SERIES ROUND 6 PREVIEW|
The halfway point greets Sportivo
Originally supposed to be run for the second round in the championship, weather prevented a re-surfacing to be completed prior to the event, and with that came the change to the “Nuotivo” layout. Now on Sportivo for the first time in about nine months, or the first time ever in the case of many rookies, the implications and weight of this round starts to be revealed. Round #6 on the schedule, but fifth round being run so far, the points are starting to take shape, with drivers getting a better look at where they rank. Typically at the halfway point you start to either continue on the goals and the path set at the beginning of the season, or check those, and hit reset.
Overall title? Class championship? Podium or top five in either? Top 10, 20, 35, 50? What are you working towards? Whatever it is, get focused, because you’ll need all of it this weekend: Sportivo awaits.
RD’s Spotlight: Sportivo for the first time this year…
The “Surprise” track for the inaugural Sport Kart Grands back in 2012, Sportivo made its Super Series debut during round #10 that same year, and has been a driver favorite ever since. One of the more technical layouts in the CalSpeed library, Sportivo includes blind apexes, and off camber corners to be a one of a kind layout, and one that sees some of the best passing, and racing of any layout at the facility. Maybe more than any other configuration at CalSpeed, Sportivo requires you to be on your game, to get the most out of every lap, but then bites you when you try to snag just that little bit more.
I had a chance to ask a couple drivers who found success last year on the layout, just what exactly it takes to master Sportivo. Two-time podium finisher Bill Kreig, and the most recent winner, Jonathan Vitolo…
RD: Both times the Super Series visited Sportivo in 2013, you found yourself on the podium at the end of the day. As the only driver to find the top three both times in 2013,what would you say are some of the keys to doing well here?
BK: Keys to doing well here are pretty much the same as the other layouts; drive fast and stay out of trouble. As far as keys to the track go, making sure you get a good run out of Sportivo for the run down to Monaco is key as well as getting a good run out of Monaco for the run down to Long Beach. Do those sections right and you should be in a good position to make some passes.
RD: What sets this layout apart from the others at CalSpeed? Given your success here, would you consider it a favorite of yours, and if so, do you approach this place a little different, knowing you historically do well here?
BK: This layout is a nice mix of medium and high-speed corners, which I enjoy more than the slower corners like in Grande. I think this layout also offers up more passing opportunities which always makes things more fun. As far as my approach for Sportivo goes, I usually like to stick to the "drive fast and stay out of trouble" approach, but with this layout you also need add in the additional awareness of what the people around you are doing, because of the increased passing opportunities there is also the potential for increased black flag opportunities. The other thing I will do to prep for the race is spend a couple extra hours in the GranStand Cockpit Sim Rig in the week leading up to the race, so my focus and motor skills are already warmed up and ready to go when I hit the track for the first time (insert shameless product plug...).
RD: You have a checkered past with this layout, but most recently scored your first Super Series win here. Would you consider it a love/hate relationship with this place, or do you treat Sportivo like any other layout?
JV: I can't really deny that statement, can I? Lots of people in the paddock always talk about which layouts they like or dislike, and I'm still struggling to remember which name is which (laughs)! I try not to pay attention to that banter because fueling a love/hate with any of them serves as nothing but an excuse not to keep trying to improve. It's going to be the same for everyone so you don't have a choice but to show up and race anyways. I approach every track with the same attitude, but Sportivo has a few elements that separate it from the others. It certainly has been good to me and that gives me some extra confidence.
RD: Even when things haven’t gone your way here, you have always been quick on this track. What are some of the keys to not only going fast, but winning here?
JV: Sportivo is shorter and more technical, and that's why you see the field spread out more compared to the other layouts, which are very similar and rely more on momentum. Everyone has done tons of those laps (on the other layouts) which makes it tough to gain an advantage pack racing. Introducing different surfaces like Monaco means you need to break your rhythms up, and think about what the kart needs. Since you are going slower, patience and timing really are the keys to doing well here. Winning here really depends on who is around you, and if you've played nice with them all day to be there at the end; one mishap can cost you more time than the short laps allow to make it back up.
The Overall Championship: Point for Point, Kimbrell matches Britain
It is easy to look at Patrick Britain’s year so far, and think that he is the far, and away favorite for the Super Series title so far: In four rounds, he has qualified 3rd, 2nd, 7th, and 34th. His finishing positions? 2nd, 2nd, 7th, and 5th. So aside from a single off qualifying run (which he turned around to a great result anyway), and a single outside the top 5 finish, he has been pretty impressive. But he only has a 5-point lead? How is that possible after these results?
Because Jon Kimbrell. While he has gone 50/50 on his qualifying runs (27th, 3rd, 2nd, 21st), he has rebounded to finish strong at the end of each day (8th, 1st, 3rd, 3rd), including a win in round #2, and actually outscoring Britain the past two rounds. Both ‘Kimby’ and Britain have nearly matched each other this season in the Super Series, and it may only be because Pat’s success has been across all other events that it seems he has the edge…
This isn’t to say however that this is now just a two horse race; indeed the top two have had a great start, but this is a twelve round championship, and it is hardly decided in the first four. In fact, the next five drivers in the standings have all put up consistently strong numbers in their own right, albeit perhaps a bit more under the radar then the top duo (if you can call round wins from Taylor Hays and Sergio Bravo “under the radar”). What this analysis does mean however is that unless the top two begin to falter in a spectacular fashion, the rest of the group is going to need to step things up, or they may build too large a gap to make up, a la Logan Calvin in 2012.
Further back in the standings we will be seeing a decent amount of shake up after this round, with a few drivers missing from the entry list, and a few others forced to take either zeros or dismal point days because of it. Alex Herndon (11th) will most likely be out of the top group after this round; having elected to not run the entire season, while both Michael Wojdat (16th) and Cameron Rose (22nd) will probably slip a bit after being forced to miss this round as well. The only other driver that may drop outside the top 25 is Brad Packard, who will also miss round five, and will now have to keep a 166 point round…
Overall Top 25 After Throw Outs (Total Points)
The Rookie Championship: Top 4 show superiority, potential shown astern
The ebb and flow that always seems to surround the Rookie championship has already come to fruition, as some drivers who started out the year strong, have faltered slightly. Others however, that perhaps struggled with the rookie learning curve in the opening rounds, have now starting to come on strong, posting some of their best points in recent rounds. The top four have managed to pull a slight gap on the rest of the rookie contenders, but we have seen strong runs in at least one round this year from several drivers throughout the standings. This means that once those drivers flip the switch firmly in the on position, their results will become more consistent, and up the charts they will climb. There is still a lot of time left in the championship, but it is certainly ‘time to go’ for those further down the standings.
At the front things have turned into a four-way battle for supremacy, and while Wes Dent has lead the field most of the season thus far, he hasn’t always been the top dog on campus. The opening round belonged to Roman Alekseenkov, before Wes took over in round #2, and then Ashley Arnott claimed top earning honors during the third round run. This past month in round #5 we saw Patrick O’Keefe back up is performance in April, and after calculating two drops, moved into the 2nd spot in the points. Having personal best rounds in May was Mark Connell (5th), Nathan Hood (7th), Jake Hood (9th), David Irish (10th), and Kevin Taylor (16th), all showing that there is talent deeper in the field. The big mover however was Arial Rubio, leaving round #5 as the top scoring rookie, while moving up to 8th in the standings in the process.
Fact is, while the top four may have an advantage now, there is a very deep field that would like to show that this championship fight should involve a few more…
Rookie Top 10 After Throw Outs (Total Points)
The Masters Championship: Bravo solidifies spot at the point with round win
Sergio Bravo reminded everyone with his win last round that he is an overall threat, and is the de-facto leader in the Master’s category, and has pulled out to a strong lead in the class. Sergio at the point is less a talking point, as what is going on behind him, with David Kelmenson leading the group of challengers in this division. In fact, David owns nearly as large a lead on third as Bravo does on him, and has consistently shown that his is the primary challenger to the throne. Behind Kelmenson however, it is incredibly unpredictable when trying to see who has the best shot at claiming a podium spot. Ben Blank, Steve Spring, and Jose da Silva have all shown supremacy over one another, with no driver really having a consistent edge from round to round. Also don’t count Chris Carter out just yet, as he sits in 6th, and if he hits the same numbers he did in the opening two rounds, he could get right back in the hunt.
Further back are drivers that are starting to come into their own, including Vince Burke, Mark Connell, and Nathan Hood. If any of these guys turn things up a notch, they could reel in the top 5 group, and possible make a run at the podium fight. Regardless, for everyone outside of the top five, this weekend needs to be a good one for sure…
Masters Top 5 After Throw Outs (Total Points)
The Grand Masters Championship: Starr stamps authority on class
Brian Starr laid it down this past round, putting in a commanding Grand Masters performance that stamped his authority in this class in a convincing fashion. Right now he is definitely the guy to beat here, putting up more consistent numbers than his rivals, either outscoring them, or keeping the loss at a minimum in most cases. That said, both Jeff Latimer and Dennis Kimbrell have put in some very strong runs thus far, and if they can do that a bit more consistently, can take the fight to Starr for the top step. These three definitely have the advantage on the rest of the GM class, but there are a few behind them that are starting to get things sorted out, starting with Scott Swayzee.
Things clicked in a fashion for Swayzee this past round, and after a career best performance, moved up to 4th in the standings. If he continues with this rise in performance, than he could surprise the status quo in the later stages of the season. Right behind him is Peter Kusdillion, who was unfortunately knocked out of the previous round, and had to use it as a drop. As a driver that is making consistent positive strides, he too could surprise the front three as the season progresses.
Grand Masters Top 5 After Throw Outs (Total Points)
The Heavy Championship: Fight for “best of the rest” continues…
While Steve Jasinski continues to pull away from the rest of the field here, the fight behind him for the final two podium spots is just epic. Greg Reinhardt once again outscored the rest of the challengers, scoring his second triple digit round of the year, while Mike Arnold and Mike Collins swapped spots in the standings after Arnold put together a slightly better round. These three are so close, and most times find each other on track, making the fight in this class one of the most exciting.
Just behind these guys is Doug Lewen and Marc Salvador, and while they currently sit 6th and 7th respectively, one or the other will be inside the top five this weekend, taking the spot relinquished my class standout Max Hilleret. That said, both of these two guys will need to start turning up the wick this weekend, as if the gap to the sharp end widens much more, a podium may be out of the cards by seasons end. With both drivers getting some extra seat time prior to this round however, this could be the round that starts their march to the front…
Heavy Class Top 5 After Throw Outs (Total Points)
The Team Championship: RNA Motorsports puts it all together…
The way the team championship format was built, teams needed to take drivers of different ‘skill levels’, essentially snagging three drivers from three different experience stages. There are no ‘stacked’ teams in this championship. Yes, many have an A-Main regular, but they are coupled with a B, C, or D-Main level drivers to complete the squad. Well at least that was the level in which they started. The teams that excel help their teammates improve, especially the C or D level guys from the start of the season. And this is what makes this past round so impressive…
Team RNA Motorsports was able to get all three drivers in the A-Main, and score the single highest round by any team thus far, 915 points. Rene Hourian, Adam Nagao, and Nick Marascio have shown what happens when a trio of drivers keep helping each other improve, and has beat out many other ‘names’ in the series. This performance sees them take over the top spot in the standings, with a very bright future ahead if they can keep up this kind of results.
Now that isn’t to say they are the only team working well together, as Arkham 3’s line up of Bruce Allen, Charles Eichlin, and Ashley Arnott have been impressive all year, scoring more total points than any other team so far. In fact, they are another team that has seen all three drivers in the A-Main, but unlike RNA it wasn’t in the same round. Still, they are one of the favorites in this championship, and have been the most consistent out of the top teams.
Also at the sharp end is team T4 Eagle, which like the aforementioned Arkham 3, has been a staple at the front of the pack all season long. Eagle’s lineup of Chris Carter, Jeff Carson, and Patrick Britain obviously have the boost of having the point leader on the team, but both Carter and Carson are having career years too. With a format that rewards the improvement of all drivers on the team, having the point leader on the squad bodes well for the longevity of this team’s chances.
And with all the improvement that happens in the month of June with the extra seat time from the Sport Kart Grand Nationals, we could see even more of these “A-Main rounds” from other teams, keeping this championship wide open till the end of the year…
Team Championship Top 5 After Throw Outs (Total Points)