The extremely popular and seldom seen CalSpeed Oval is back on Saturday, and it is bigger and better than ever.
After a very popular first event back in May of 2014, the foundation for the yearly tradition was set and the 2015 is set to build on that groundwork. This year, the track layout is longer, faster and racier. In kart testing, the outside line was the place to be for the leader as the inside driver struggled to get any kind of a run on exit of the corner. This created fantastic two and three wide racing, oftentimes several rows deep. Back and forth passes, over unders, drafting, pack racing; these are all things we expect to see en mass on Saturday.
Let’s first take a look at what hasn’t changed from 2014 to 2015.
Unchanged for the 2nd annual Oval Showdown is the overall format. Drivers will still run a practice session, a qualifying session, two 20 lap heat races and a 40 or 60 lap main. (C and B Mains are 40 laps, A Main is 60.) Also unchanged is the second round of heat races having a ten kart inverted start. Last year, the inverted starts proved very popular as many drivers were able to put in strong runs in their second heats, thanks to a starting position that was further towards the front. Drivers will still be required to make one pit stop in the A Main, which allows drivers to change their strategy and think ahead about how to work traffic.
With all of that in mind, there have been several key changes to this years event, most notably, the new qualifying format. This year, qualifying will look very different to anything that has been done at CalSpeed before. Drivers will have four laps of qualifying, and all four will count. Just like at Indy, qualifying will be a four lap average, but unlike Indy there will be several karts on track at a time which means traffic could play a huge role. Drivers will have to be perfect for about 90 seconds in order to get towards the front of the field.
Also changed this year is the inclusion of pit stops into the B and C Main. Just like in the A Main, all drivers will have to take a trip down pit road one time. For some of these drivers, this will be their first experience making a pit stop at CalSpeed, so expect pit lane to be a very exciting place in these two mains.
The final notable change is not even on track, but instead, is the new victory lane. The winning A Main driver will now roll into victory lane off the front straightaway where he or she will be greeted by their trophy, the champions wreath and a tall glass of milk. Shortly thereafter, the 2nd and 3rd place drivers will join the winner on the podium for the champagne spray. It will be an experience unlike any other.
So now that we have an idea of how the event will look, let’s take a look at who the competitors to watch are.
When we’re looking at drivers that have a shot at winning, we have to start with last years podium. Both Tyler Bryant and Jon Kimbrell return this year after finishing 2nd and 3rd respectively in the 2014 oval event, and there is no reason to expect either to do anything short of run towards the front. Bryant has made a full time return to Sport Karting and has run most of the Super Series events. Kimbrell is in fine form and is battling it out for yet another Super Series title.
Right there with them are drivers who ran strong last year, but didn’t have the result that they hoped for. Foremost on that list is Aaron Downs. The defending national champ won both of his heat races at last years oval and ran 2nd all race, directly on the rear bumper of the leader, until he made his pit stop. A blend line violation ended Downs’ hopes of a win, but be assured that he will be out to make good on his run from last year. Also keep an eye on Taylor Hays. Hays won a heat race last year and ran strong all day, but did not have things go his way in the Main. He’ll be a guy to watch on Saturday.
Oval specialists are out in force this year, some of whom are established names in Sport Karting such as perennial Super Series front runner Darren Mercer who not only won pole for this race last year, but also has some short track experience under his belt. “Hubcap” Mike Collins is another driver with significant oval experience and has been running well in his Sprint Car at Perris Auto Speedway. Some names with experience that either haven’t been out here before, or we haven’t seen in a while include Jeremy Queener, Indy & Freddy Sandoval, Dale Cheeseman, Bryan Williams and Taylor Jocelyn. Some of these drivers are complete unknowns, while others have some experience, the list above (as well as a few others) are the “wildcards” to keep an eye on to possibly surprise some people.
Speaking of wildcards, keep an eye on the only two women in the field this year, Ashley Arnott and Caylee Britain. Ashley ran very quick times at the 2014 oval event, but had about as much bad luck as any driver could have, and Caylee is married to the driver who won this race overall last year. Both drivers circled this race on their calendar early in the year, they feel like this is their best shot to shake things up.
Finally, there were two drivers last year that made their CalSpeed debut and did so in fine form. Sean Fite and Luis Calderon both ran well at last years oval event, and have racked up considerable experience since then. Calderon is as big of an oval racing fan as it gets, and Fite is a championship contender in the Sprint Series; both are expecting to run for a win in the Oval Showdown.
The best thing about the oval is that it is such a huge departure from anything else that we do during the racing year at CalSpeed. So, there is always a sense of “expecting the unexpected,” and that is exactly why this wild event is called the Oval Showdown.
2015 Oval Showdown Rule Book – CLICK HERE