Kicking off the second half of the season for the 2017 CalSpeed Sprint Series is the Sportivo layout, and on some of the hottest temperatures we’ll see all year. Last month saw a first time winner in Diego Alvarado as the top three in the standings joined each other on the podium to put a cap on the first half of the season. It was overall point leader and Winter Series sub-champion TJ Blackledge’s fourth podium of the year, while Don Diego continued his steady improvement with his second podium in a row. With Alvarado missing the rest of the summer races the spotlight will fall elsewhere here in round #6, and with the slate wiped clean for the Summer sub-championship, everyone is tied for first heading into tomorrow…
Smitty’s Halfway Report
Round 6 of 10: Sportivo-
The last time the Sprint Series visited the Sportivo layout was in February for the second round of the championship, and it was TJ Blackledge earning his second win in a row. This one came a bit more handedly than the post race decision in his first win, leading by over 1.5 seconds at the line after infighting for second stalled the chasing pack’s advance. Dmitry Korotkov scored his first ever podium that day with a 2nd place, while Andrew Brown made it two podiums in a row with another third place. This time around Korotkov will be absent, but many of the other front runners form that day will be in attendance, including five of the top six in the overall standings. Notably missing is Diego Alvarado, who after scoring his maiden win confirmed that he will be missing the next three races in the championship. While he may be back to play spoiler later in the season, this turns the spotlight to a few others, who I have highlighted below…
Thomas ‘TJ’ Blackledge- TJ has been the de-facto guy to beat since the green fell on this season back in January, scoring three wins, a second and a fifth in the first half of the year already. The rest of the field has slowly closed the gap in pace, but he still enters every event with the target squarely on his back, especially after clinching the Winter Series title one round early. He currently only has one driver in close proximity in the overall standings, but the slate is wiped clean for the Summer Series starting tomorrow, so it will be interesting to see if he picks up where he left off.
Don Diego Veloria- As much as TJ has been the de-facto number one, Don has been the ‘best of the rest’ and his most consistent challenger in the points. Steadily improving as the season has gone on, Don’s pair of podiums the past two rounds show he is a proper challenge overall, and for the Summer Series here in the second half of the season. Aside from his fellow title rival, no other driver is putting the time in like Don, and there is very little between he and the top step of the podium.
Andrew Brown- ‘Brownie’ started of the season with a pair of thirds, but sickness in round number three kept him out of the seat, and seemingly stalled that momentum. While he has been in the top five hunt the past couple of races, he has been forced to settle for a pair of 7th place finishes when the checkers fell. He was on the podium the last time we were on Sportivo, so perhaps a return to this track is all Andrew needs to get back on the box, if not a step or two higher this time.
Caden Thure- A title contender last year, Thure put in some of the most exciting drives of the 2016 season, eventually settling for 4th overall when the dust settled. Caden was in position to win the season opener before contact knocked him to second, and picked up another top 5 in round #4, but has been mired battling for a top 10. Caden’s three podiums in a row last year –including on Sportivo- proves what he is capable of, and perhaps this weekend will be the reset button he needs to get back to form.
Randy McKee- Randy picked up where he left off from last season, continuing his steady improvement he showed last year, becoming a regular front runner in 2017. A consistent force in the top 3 in the heat races this season, Randy broke out with his first podium in round #4 with a third place finish. He is definitely in the overall podium conversation, and with everyone tied for first for the Summer Series this weekend, he should be in the hunt for the sub-championship as well.
Aside from these five drivers at the sharp end of the standings, there are several others that are making waves deeper in the field, and are on the verge of their own break out runs here in the Sprint Series. First on my list is last year’s Super Series Rookie runner-up Tyler Rousseau, who gave us a glimpse of what he was capable of last round with a heat win and a 6th in the main. Next is Kevin Erikson; something has clicked for this guy and for the past two rounds has been the top dog in qualifying, backing it up with a win and a second in the heats the past two events. Ivan Martinez really showed what he was capable of on Nuovo, scoring a third in his heat before just missing the podium in the main. The same could be said for Samuel Hunt, finding the top five in the heat races for the second time this season last round, finishing up with a top 10 in the main. Then there is series regular Eric Monteith, whose consistent improvement sees him now a top 10 threat in the main every round, and just outside the top 10 in points overall. Lastly I want to point out two drivers inside the top ten, Michael Floerchinger and Tyler Redman. Michael has had a more sporadic year than usual, concentrating on school with a busy work schedule, but has still shown he can be in the mix when he shows up. Tyler ran a partial schedule last year, but has shown he is not only a regular top 5 contender in the heats, he has continued to improve throughout the season.
This is just the tip of the iceberg in the emerging talent that is in the Sprint Series, and I am really looking forward to not only seeing everyone improve on their game, but also who will join the list of standout performances in the second half of the year!
Current Top 10 Standings After 1 Drop (After 2 Drops)
|2)||Don Diego Veloria||1130||(860)|