The fourth round of the 2014 IronMan Series doubled as the finale for the Winter sub-Championship, and in the end we had our first two-time winner of the season, as well as a champion crowned. Mark Connell would walk away scoring his second career victory in back-to-back style, while Patrick Britain capped off an already impressive opening to the year with the Winter Championship title.
Qualifying this season has been one of the most unpredictable parts of the series, and while this round was no different, what still held true was that experience or practice definitely helped your chances. Right out of the box Patrick O’Keefe clocked fast lap having shown with the latter can do for those who get the seat time in. His lap was the first in the 103’s, and it stood for two laps before Mark Connell eclipsed it, but only just with a time only .056 quicker. After that though the times started to come down, with Connell clicking of a strong mid 103 time, before finally setting the bar at a 103.236 on the fifth lap. Looking to secure a front running spot to help him achieve the winter title, Britain was also flying, putting in the second fast lap, with the aforementioned O’Keefe rounding out the top three qualifiers.
Right at the drop of the green experience triumphed over exuberance, as Britain lead the field straight away, with Connell content to slot into second. Content the front duo would stay too, as the rookie showed poise beyond his experience to work together with Britain for the duration of the race. This allowed the front duo to slowly but steadily pull out to a sizeable lead over the trailing pack behind, which was led by Bruce Allen in the early going. Allen however would not get the satisfaction of ‘working together’, as he attempted to fend of multiple attacks from Zoltan Sule, who looked to capitalize on a career qualifying run. However, the constant in-fighting from 3rd on back allowed the front two to pull out to a 2.5+second lead in less than five laps, setting the tone for the rest of the 50-minute affair. It also kept things quite close for the top ten, as the pack stayed nose to tail thanks to the constant position swapping going on at the head of the train.
The accordion effect happening at the sharp end caused many to lose time to Britain and Connell, and one driver who couldn’t have this happen was Winter Title contender Sergio Bravo, stuck behind the long train at the front. After losing considerable time on lap four, Bravo ducked in the pits in an effort to get out of the mess, and try and claw back some time to the front. One by one, more from the lead pack would follow suit, with Dennis Kimbrell, Craig Stanton, and David Kelmenson each making a stop before finally the aforementioned Allen had enough and made his stop on lap 14. With each driver that came in, the lead pack continued to thin and spread out, with a more collaborative tone starting to set in. Now at a third distance, the lead duo were all but out of sight, now enjoying a 5+ second lead having not battle a wink since the green flag fell. Additionally, the lead pack had all but broken up, with only Jose da Silva, Jon Kimbrell, and Patrick O’Keefe still in a row, whom were willing to work together to distance themselves from the rest.
O’Keefe would be the first of this trio to pit, followed immediately the next lap by da Silva, and then by Kimbrell on the next, with da Silva once again showing his prowess in the pits, emerging with the advantage over the others. O’Keefe would then pit again, coming back out right with the leaders Britain and Connell, and in their draft cut the fastest lap of the race, allowing him to start eating back the time he lost during his first stop. When da Silva and Kimbrell made their final stops only a handful of laps later, O’Keefe was right where he left off, virtually no time lost. In fact, with the lead duo forgoing pit stops till much later in the race then others, 3rd-5th on track saw themselves mixed up and running nose to tail with the top two, but a lap down, albeit going much quicker than their competition.
This only lasted for a few laps though, as both Britain and Connell pit together with about 10 minutes to go, and then again a couple laps after that, resuming where they had left off, but now with stops complete, and 10+ second advantage to third in hand. It was now a mano-y-mano fight for the win, and a three-way challenge for third; each battle isolated from those around them by hefty margins.
For Connell, he would first have to reel Britain back in, as the more experienced driver found his way through traffic slightly better, maintaining a small gap for several laps after their final stop. Having caught up with a handful of minutes to go, Connell made his move down the main straight, stealing away the lead Britain had held for the 42 circuits prior. While he was not able to shake Britain from his tail, he was able to stave off any challenge by putting in some of his best laps of the race, crossing the line comfortably at the point to score the win for the second round in a row. Coming home second, Britain secured the Winter Sub-Championship, his first ever title at CalSpeed. Behind them, the battle for third was a great one, with Round #2 winner Jose Da Silva taking the fight to former Super Series champ Jon Kimbrell in the closing laps, with Patrick O’Keefe in tow. Da Silva would steal away the final podium spot as they came to greet the white flag, but it was Kimbrell having the final say, taking it making over the final few corners, with an advantageous move by O’Keefe in the final corner dropping da Silva back to 5th at the line.
CalSpeed caught up with all the podium finishers, each with a different view of the race, but all very happy with how the day turned out:
CS:You looked surprised when you scored the pole position; Are you also surprised with scoring your second IronMan victory in a row?
MC:I was definitely surprised with the pole! When I got into second I had the feeling I could win if I played my cards right, so I wouldn’t say I was totally surprised at the end. However, if you had asked me earlier in the day if I’d be surprised to win again, much less back to back, I’d have said hell yeah!
CS:How does this win compare to your first ever win last round? How was the race from your perspective?
MC:That first win was kind of a gift but this one is legit in my mind. I learned in the clinic that once people started messing around the guys behind them would close quickly, so I knew teamwork & drafting were the keys. I screwed up the start but got back to Patrick quickly and decided it was best for both of us if I were to stay behind him, and work together on getting a gap to third. At the end I didn’t want to wait until the last lap, so I went for it with a couple of laps remaining and was able to hold on to the end. I’m pretty proud of myself in that I didn’t once make any contact that would have slowed us down in all of our laps together, even though I was inches or less from Patrick a lot of the time. I’d also like to say sorry everyone in my lane at the start. It was my first time on pole and I was really late to get going. I’ll know what to do if I ever get there again.
CS:This win moves you up to 3rd in the standings, just 9 points back from Sergio Bravo in second. Two wins in a row; you have to be thinking overall podium this year, right?
MC:I’m thinking top 5 at the end of the Ironman series right now. It’s too soon to think about where I’ll be in the final 4 races, and I’ve got a lot of work to do in the Super Series as well as the Grands, so I don’t want to only focus on the IronMans. If I get it right and win again in the Ironman though, yeah, I’ll be shooting for the overall podium.
CS:Another second, but good enough to score the first championship of the 2014 Season; congratulations! Describe the championship season thus from your perspective.
PB:The first half has been nearly perfect. Great karts, great luck and some OK driving too. I’ve been fortunate to be on the podium for each race that I have made it to the finish; that is my ultimate goal each time I get on track.
CS:You spent most of this round at the point, even gapping Connell through the first bout of traffic. The time sheets say you guys were nearly equal, so how’d he reel you back in, and how would you describe this race. One that got away?
PB:I knew all race that he had some time in the bag. I’d feel him fall off slightly from my rear bumper then nearly immediately reel me back in. When he passed me with five minutes to go I figured that I’d be able to get his draft and try to battle back, but I quickly realized that it was going to take everything I could get out of the kart just to stay within a few kart lengths. He just wasn’t struggling with understeer as badly as I was. Congratulations to Connell all the same, well earned win for him.
CS:With the first half of the IronMan season behind you, you are the Winter Champion, and have a strong point haul heading into the second half. In fact, your consistency is unmatched so far. Will the 3+ month gap between season half’s effect this momentum, or can you repeat this performance to make it an IronMan sweep by years end?
PB:I am obviously very happy with the first four races and being able to claim my first CalSpeed championship. The gap shouldn’t be a problem. I have been running these races for a while, and I actually believe I suffer from “race rust” less than most others; evident by the strong start I have had to this season after taking last season off. For now, I’ll focus on the Super Series, the Grands, and the upcoming oval race.
CS:Jon, this might be your first podium of the IronMan season, but you have been towards the sharp end all season. How was this race from your perspective?
JK:This last IronMan race was a pleasant surprise actually. After putting in a near perfect lap in qualifying and ending up eighth, I figured I was doomed to only fall back during the race. After about half of the race I realized I was actually advancing a few positions; it gave me a little extra confidence to push harder. My kart might not have been the best but I was mistake free and made sure I was constantly working with someone, and it seemed to pay off in the end. So that being said I am more than happy on my third place finish. This round in comparison to the others had definitely gone much smoother than the others.
CS:You moved up to sixth overall, just shy of 50 points astern form Britain with this podium finish. Is an IronMan championship still in the cards for you this season?
JK:I personally think that yes, it is definitely not over yet. Compared to the Super Series my IronMan races have been a little off and my results haven’t reflected in the same way. But it is still very early and judging from my recent performances in the Super Series, it is definitely possible for me to do well. I might sit sixth, but I feel I’ve gotten all of my bad luck out of the way. I am confident I can turn it around and get a few wins here at the Summer IronMan Series.
CS:Does scoring a podium this weekend on the same layout as the upcoming Super Series help a driver, and if so, how does it help prepare you for the next round?
JK:Yes, scoring a podium on this layout will definitely help for when we run it at the next Super Series. But for me personally it’s rather in a sense of confidence than knowing how to drive it properly. In my opinion, Nuovo is the most simple, straightforward layout there is. And since I’ve been racing here for a while, I’ve figured out the track by this point. The way it helps prepare me is by knowing I’ve done well here in the past, especially if it was recently.
That wraps up the first half of the IronMan Series, and begins the 13-week break until the second half begins, which doubles as the season opener for the Summer Sub-Championship. The Series will return to the Grande CCW configuration when it returns on July 19th, the second time the series will have seen the layout this season.
While the IronMan Series takes a break, the track will by no means be quiet, with several events taking place in its stead. Super Series rounds #5, #6, and #7 will finish out the first half of their season, while 2014 Sport Kart Grand Nationals takes center stage in June over the 20-22 weekend. Taking the usual IronMan time slot for right after the Sport Kart Clinic in May however, will be CalSpeed Karting’s first Oval Race, slated for the May 24th date. This special one-off event is sure to sell out, and will be a ton of fun with no points, and just trophies and bragging rights up for grabs. Registration is now open, so get your entry in before it sells out!
Top Ten in Points after Round #4 (Total Points)
|2||Sergio Bravo [M]||265||(313)|
|3||Mark Connell [M]||256||(256)|
|4||Jose da Silva [M]||254||(254)|
|8||Steve Spring [M]||221||(259)|
|9||Dave Messimer [GM]||220||(220)|
|10||Dave Kelmenson [M]||217||(267)|
*Patrick Britain is the 2014 Winter Sub-Season Champion!