|SUPER SERIES ROUND 7 PREVIEW|
Super Series Round #7 Preview
And so begins the second half…
Now for the third year, the round after the Sport Kart Grands marks the beginning of the second half of the season, but for the first time, we still have seven rounds to run on the calendar. With the 3rd round getting postponed, the second half of the year looks a bit heavy on the schedule, which could be a great thing for those drivers who found a little something extra at the once a year contest. With that many rounds still left to run, everything is still up in the air, but if drivers don’t hit the ground running on Saturday, it could be the beginning of the end. Either way, this weekend will be a game changer for some, a trend setter for others, but exciting to for us all to see how the stage gets set for the rest of the season.
RD’s Spotlight: The view from the top; Convos with three of the best in the biz...
I was able to catch up with a few drivers after the Grands finished up, and got their thoughts on how the National Championship effects their ‘regular season’ here in the Super Series. We chat it up with Super Series round #6 winner David Kelmenson, overall point leader Jon Kimbrell, and the new National Champion, Aaron Downs.
RD: David, you enter Super Series Round #7 fresh off your first career A-Main win, and a great battle at the Grands that saw you take third in the Masters category. Is it safe to say you enter the second half of this season stronger then ever?
DK: One hundred percent! I went into the Grands feeling very confident after that A-Main win. Grands practice went super well and I was consistently fast on both practice days. I then struggled on Grands day one, Friday. But I made a big step in my mental preparation and learned to make the best of the days where I'm challenged, and to minimize damage. Then Grands Saturday went much better with a few second place finishes and a third. I had a great semi final on Sunday, qualifying on pole and leading the majority of the race. Since I knew I just had to be top ten in my semi, I didn't need to battle too hard for the win as I just wanted to guarantee my spot into the Super Final.
RD: While you may have finished third in the Masters class at the Grands, you did sit second in points at one stage, and finished ahead of your Super Series Masters rival, Sergio Bravo. As someone who is chasing the overall and Masters champion from last year, what did the Grands do for your confidence heading into this weekend, and beyond?
DK: As we all know, Sergio is one of the top drivers in Sport Karting and I have loads of respect for him personally, and as a driver. With all that said, I want to beat him on track as much as any of the other top drivers. Sergio did struggle in the Grands, which occasionally happens to all of us, but I'm sure he will be in top form moving forward. I look forward to the challenge on track and plan to be at the front!
RD: Is it all about the Masters championship for you, or does where you rank in the overall standings also come into play? What’s the goal for the rest of the 2014 season?
DK: Seems as though the Master Championship would be my main focus points wise, and it's currently and seeming more attainable. But my overall ranking is important as well. Driving for a top team like T4 Autosport is also helpful as I have teammates to work with on track. This can play out on track when you have teammates to work with while out in front or making your way there. Bottom line goal is Masters Champion, and top five or ten in over all points.
RD: You’re having the best year since your last championship in 2011. What is different about Jon Kimbrell that has helped you find the old magic again?
JK: You know, as much as I try to think of what's happened in the past three years after 2011, I can't come up with an answer. It's mind baffling to me that the past three years I haven't been able to put myself to the top. It definitely could be luck, but from driver to driver in reality it should all equal out at the end of the year. It also could be that back in 2012 everyone else caught up to the level that I was at and I stayed the same. But for some reason this year is different. Maybe I did the unthinkable and started driving better than I ever have before. I definitely feel a lot more dominant than I was even in 2011. I couldn't tell you what's triggered that, but I definitely feel like I am back to my old nature.
RD: You narrowly missed scoring your fourth National Championship a couple weekends ago, but still put together one of the best performances at the Grands anyone has ever seen. Does a strong weekend at the Grands help your chances of staying out front t the Super Series?
JK: Here's the thing about the Grands and the Super Series, in my personal opinion. Whenever there's a big race that is hyped up for awhile, I think other drivers tend to over think it, get nervous, and tend to under perform. Where as since I've had previous success in big races, I actually thrive off of the fact that it’s a big race. A huge portion of being a complete driver includes your mental game. I honestly think that when the Super Series starts again that everyone will be back in their comfort zone and it will be almost, if not, just as competitive as the Grands. Nevertheless, yes, performing well in the Grands definitely should be a great confidence booster, and should give you a good amount of respect from the other drivers, which is important. As far as my overall performance in the Grands went, I think Aaron and I were feeding off of each others success the whole weekend, I think it made things absolutely awesome. For me to be damn near perfect and still be beat is absolutely amazing. The kid deserves this one; he simply out drove me.
RD: You head into the second half of the year with a lot of momentum as one of the top drivers, and the man to beat right now in the Super Series. What is it going to take to stay out front, and score your third Super Series Championship?
JK: To stay at the top in the Super Series takes a lot of different things. First and foremost is my mental game. I can't let myself get too conceded on the fact that I did well in the Grands. The Super Series is extremely competitive and anything can happen. I have to know that I need to perform at the same level as I was in the Grands to know that I even have a chance at being at the top. Also consistency and the obvious things like concentration and luck are huge to find success in this series. Pat and I are right in the middle of a really close points battle and it's really exciting to me. He's a great driver and I know it will be extremely close at the end of the year. I'd rather lose by one point than win by a hundred because that's what brings so much excitement to this Series.
RD: First off, congrats on scoring you first ever National Championship Aaron Downs! This may be your first, but you have always been at the front at these big events. Has it settled in that you are now, and for at least the next year, the National Champ?
AD: For a little while after the championship it was hard to believe that I was the National Champion. It was such a great weekend at the Grands and many great drivers who could have won it. In my family the national events have always been a big deal. We get to the track early, get plenty of practice, eat, drink and sleep racing. We’re usually pumped up by the time the first green flag flies.
RD: While you’re aren’t having a bad year in the Super series (currently 15th), it doesn’t compare to the run you had at the Grands. Does a weekend like that help you in your regular racing series, and can you carry this momentum into the second half of 2014?
AD: Yes, a weekend like I had at the Grands definitely helps with my confidence to be able to do better the second half of 2014. Jon and Patrick have had a good start in the first half of the year, but there’s still a lot of racing to do. I think a lot of drivers come out of the Grands better drivers, so that could shake up the points by itself.
RD: Just a tick over 200 points astern from your brother in the overall standings, but still seven rounds of racing to go. Do you have enough time to take the fight to the top of the podium, or is there another goal in mind?
AD: It’s hard to say what’s going to happen in the future. I’m going to do my best to improve and aim for as many podiums as possible, and see where it ends up at the end of 2014. Jon knows I’m gunning for his spot. Hopefully he’ll be getting nervous as the new National Champion passes him. Let’s see how he likes it.
The Overall Championship: Not so cut and dry as it once looked…
The reoccurring theme in this section has been the lead of the front two drivers, but things are starting to get reeled in by the rest of the field. In fact if you look at the points, you can see that if the top two post an ‘off round’ like the rest of the field has, things close up in a hurry. Now especially as we return from the Grands, the status quo could very well change, giving the advantage elsewhere in the top 25. Several drivers are further down the charts, not because the have been having a bad season, but instead because they haven’t posted the high marks of the top group. The other piece to think about is the fact that it has been a revolving door inside the A-Main top 15 thus far, with the points being shared across a large number of drivers. It is no surprise then that when one has a breakout, or season-high performance that they jump up the charts.
Case in point, Aaron Scott. Putting on a career best 370 point day in round #6 boosted his total enough to move inside the top 10 overall, and after his performance in the Grands, he looks there to stay. On the other side of the coin is Bruce Allen, hovering just outside the top 10 thus far, but yet to put on the big number day. Instead his consistency has kept him close, and with a total point total ranked 7th overall, a big point run should push him just shy of the top 5 in one round.
The big question this round will be who can carry momentum form the Grands the best? If it is Kimby picking up where he left off, things could get tough; but if it comes from drivers deeper in the standings, the championship and podium fights are going to get really fun to watch.
Overall Top 25 After Throw Outs (Total Points)
1. Jon Kimbrell 1175 (1860)
2. Patrick Britain -13 (1872)
3. Sergio Bravo -45 (1758)
4. Darren Mercer -61 (1774)
5. Bill Kreig -81 (1672)
6. Taylor Hays -92 (1729)
7. Jonathan Vitolo -101 (1367)
8. Kirk Feldkamp -103 (1592)
9. David Kelmenson -117 (1505)
10.Aaron Scott -137 (1525)
11.Bruce Allen -150 (1613)
12.Rene Hourian -183 (1534)
13.Adam Nagao -197 (1576)
14.Jerott King -197 (1510)
15.Aaron Downs -214 (1487)
16.Ben Blank -227 (1507)
17.Charles Eichlin -238 (1464)
18.Michael Wojdat -252 (1072)
19.Ian Enz -254 (1305)
20.Chris Huerta -261 (1111)
21.Andrew Lemons -267 (1268)
22.Brian Starr -272 (1325)
23.Justin Tolman -281 (1275)
24.Derek Esquibel -290 (1094)
25.Cameron Rose -290 (885)
The Rookie Championship: Rookie class still deceivingly close…
Round #6 may look like a turning point in the championship, but I think it is more the realization of a day finally going right for a few drivers. Romans massive 375 point day launched him to the point, showcasing what happens when a day goes your way. Also, Mark Connell leaped from his near-perpetual spot in 5th to 3rd after finally putting a full day together, his 320-point day eclipsing his string of consistent low 200 days. Those two made the biggest, and most noticeable jumps as they are inside the top 5, but further back several others put in career performances, including Moises Lizama (6th), Nathan Hood (7th), and Riley Dugan (8th). Watch out especially for Dugan too, who after collect ing valuable experience at the Grands capped it off with a big improvement at the most recent clinic.
It was the exact opposite for O’Keefe and Arnott last round however, as both had rough rounds, and slipped slightly in the standings. Both head into round #7 with the Grands under their belt, and a renewed vigor to return to form, so keep an eye on both of those contenders Saturday.
300 points is a large gap sure, but in the ebb and flow that is the Rookie championship, it is far from too late to get things started for those deeper in the standings. Now is the time though…
Rookie Top 10 After Throw Outs (Total Points)
1. Roman Aleeksenkov 876 (1099)
2. Wes Dent -28 (1265)
3. Mark Connell -105 (1185)
4. Ashley Arnott -144 (1134)
5. Patrick O’Keefe -182 (921)
6. Moises Lizama -200 (1004)
7. Nathan Hood -210 (925)
8. Riley Dugan -265 (902)
9. Ariel Rubio -301 (750)
10.Jake Hood -307 (794)
The Masters Championship: Will the Masters Class continue to dominate?
I think the best is yet to come in this class, and a lot of that has to do with what we have seen so far already. In case everyone has forgotten, the last time a NON-Masters driver won was back in February for round #2, and after the performance from the top Masters at the Grands, it could very well continue in round #7. The depth in the class is better than ever, with even more talent emerging after this past months races. Sergio Bravo is still the bar everyone else in this class compares too, but his dominance doesn’t seem so assured anymore. With Kelmenson’s win, followed by 3rd overall at the Grands, he looks to be right on the cusp of a championship winning performance. And while outside of the top 10, round #4 winner and #2 Masters driver at the Grands, Diego Morales is easily the biggest threat to steal away valuable points from the top title contenders.
Behind the top two is a fierce fight for the final podium spot, which is currently held by veteran driver Ben Blank. Having a strong year in his own right, Blank has actually matched Kelmenson in his average point haul, but just lacks the top point hauls of his rival. 2013 rookie of the year Steve Spring and IronMan winner Jose da Silva are right on Blank’s heels too, with several more drivers just behind them. With standout performances lately from Jeff Carson and rookie Mark Connell, the fight for that last piece of hardware could get real interesting, real fast…
Masters Top 5 After Throw Outs (Total Points)
1. Sergio Bravo 1130 (1758)
2. David Kelmenson -72 (1505)
3. Ben Blank -182 (1507)
4. Steve Spring -246 (1364)
5. Jose da Silva -275 (1040)
The Grand Masters Championship: Brian is still the Starr of the show…
Until Brian Starr scored his phenomenal 350-point round in round #5, this fight was very close, primarily between the top three. And even though Jeff Latimer outscored him this past round, it only scratched the surface of the point gap between them. Truly, besides that one round, there has been virtually nothing between the top two, but there is one key bit that may turn the tables on Starr. Both Latimer and third place Dennis Kimbrell raced in the Grands a couple weeks ago, and could very well enter this weekend with an added boost to the cause. With each driver making noticeable strides during the 3 day contest, it will be interesting to see if they can take a renewed fight to the status quo, and start chipping away at the 100+ point lead.
Grand Masters Top 5 After Throw Outs (Total Points)
1. Brian Starr 903 (1325)
2. Jeff Latimer -126 (1187)
3. Dennis Kimbrell -144 (924)
4. Scott Swayzee -316 (852)
5. Peter Kushdillion -358 (545)
The Heavy Championship: One of the closest podium fights in the Series…
Jasinski. Arnold. Reinhardt. Salvador. Four of the top five ran at the Grands, and made some significant improvement during the event. With Jasinksi the far and away leader, the focus in this class is squarely on positions two and three, and who will take the final two spots on the podium. Last year Arnold took second, with Reinhardt third, but this year the gap between the two is much, much smaller. Additionally, they now have the additional pressure coming from Collins and Salvador, the latter one of the most improved drivers in the class. With the aforementioned 2nd and 3rd in class showing the way, it will be interesting to see how 4th and 5th take the fight to them in round #7. What makes it so much more exciting is the fact that these guys are almost always close to each other on track, with every postion seemingly worth more here, than other classes…
Heavy Class Top 5 After Throw Outs (Total Points)
1. Steve Jasinski 529 (821)
2. Mike Arnold -151 (453)
3. Greg Reinhardt -178 (496)
4. Mike Collins -205 (465)
5. Marc Salvador -263 (361)
The Team Championship: Eagle in the lead, but some strength lies elsewhere…
With a breakout performance in round #6 Jeff Carson helped his team return to the point in the Team standings, accompanied by yet more strong point hauls by his ‘mates, Chris Carter and Patrick Britain. Anchored by Britain’s strong run all season, both Carson and Carter have elevated this team to a true contender, and truly have the teams future in their hands. Just behind them, and arguably the best performing team thus far in 2014, Arkham Motorsports third entry sits just 28 points astern, but well out front in the total points department. Led by Bruce Allen’s meteoric rise to just outside the top 10 overall, as well as strong performances from sophomore driver Charles Eichlin, and top rookie Ashley Arnott, this team could be the one to beat as the season enters the second half. Now all that said, the team that is really hitting its stride right now is third place T4 Hesketh, with round #6 winner David Kelmenson and Aaron Scott sitting 9th and 10th overall in the standings. Joined by one of the best up and coming drivers in Tom Zevin, and this team has surprised many by its rise to the top 3 in the standings. With three drivers all putting in their best career performances this year, expect them to continue to be a contender for the rest of the season.
Team Championship Top 5 After Throw Outs (Total Points)
1. T4 Eagle 2722 (3891)
2. Arkham 3 -28 (4211)
3. T4 Hesketh -73 (3812)
4. RNA Motorsports -85 (3992)
5. S3 / GranStand 3 -94 (3599)