Three different races and three different winners; the 2014 CalSpeed IronMan Series is dishing out surprises and excitement at every turn, with round #3’s edition coming in the form of first time winner Mark Connell. Backing up a solid qualifying time, Connell showed he had the pace, and in the end, the patience to add his name to the shortlist of winners in this series, scoring his first win in only his 3rd start.

Qualifying once again showed how important seat time was in the Sport Kart Clinic that same morning, with several drivers putting together some of their best qualy runs ever, after improving during the morning sessions. This fact was compounded by track conditions that were a bit of a wildcard, as the track had been a true parking lot during the NASCAR race the week prior.
Ed Lewis would be the first into the 1:06’s, coming out of the box strong to set the early fast lap, before some of the ‘usual suspects’ starting to bring the time down even further.

Point leader Patrick Britain would set the bar the very next lap, putting up his 106.412 to take the provisional pole spot in the second lap of qualifying. That lap would hold until Justin Tolman knocked him down a peg on his penultimate lap, clocking a .391 before also getting bumped to the outside of the front row by a scorcher of a pole time at 106.135, set by Sergio Bravo on the last lap.

Bravo would assume the point right from the start, and would be accompanied by Britain right away, the two leading the pack similar to the way they lead the standings. Things would not stay single file for long, as things started getting racing after only four laps; twelve drivers shuffling and fighting to stay towards the front, with contact ensuing in the Long Beach corner.

While unintentional, contact between Bravo and Jonathan Vitolo saw the latter lose several positions, and the ‘Give Back’ board displayed the very next lap. As the shuffling continued, Justin Tolman capitalized by assuming the point, in front of Britain, Bruce Allen, and Jon Kimbrell, with some of the first pit stops already happening deeper in the field. Having served his penalty, Bravo in turn put on the afterburners, clocking the fastest lap of the race, and the only driver to clock a 105 in an effort to get back into the fray. Rejoin the fight he did, working back into the top three by lap 15.

At this point the filed was askew with drivers having completed stops mingling and mixing it up with the leaders, and those that had yet to stop, prompting many of the leadings to make their first trip down pit road just prior to half way. Tolman would be the first, stopping on lap 18, followed quickly by Britain (lap 19) and Allen (20) while Bravo elected to stay out in the lead with Kimbrell and the aforementioned Connell in tow.

While Kimbrell would peel off on lap 22, Connell, who had been lurking towards the back of the lead pack for the first half of the race, stayed on the same strategy as Bravo, albeit a couple seconds back. Then, when Bravo made his first stop at about halfway, Connel would stay out, continuing to cut consistent laps from the point, until finally stopping on lap 33, just 12 laps from the end. Having had clean air much of his run, he had been able to match Bravo lap-for-lap, and came out of the pits second, still about two seconds back.

One key person missing from the front of the pack was that of point leader Patrick Briatin, succumbing to an engine failure after completing one of his stops, similar to the bad luck that had befallen both Jon Kimbrell and Sergio Bravo the round prior. Still, he would take home 5th place points with the way the ‘mechanical give back’ works, meaning it was not all for naught.
Another driver that stayed out of the limelight, but that was making moves throughout the pack all race long, was that of Chris Huerta. Forced to make a last second kart change do to a mechanical issues with his ride during qualifying, Huerta would proceed to march from caboose on the field, using exceptional pit strategy and pace to make it into the top five by race’s end, his best finish of what has been a roller coaster season.

Back at the front, the same lap the Connell made his first stop, former leader Justin Tolman was bring it in to make his second, coming out 6th, but the first driver with both stops in the books. Consistent and smooth was the name of the game, and when Bravo made his final stop on lap 38, it was Tolman with the advantage. Tolman wasn’t the only one putting solid laps in however, as Connell put in quick lap after quick lap, not only cutting the gap down to Sergio before he pit, but then coming in to avoid traffic on lap 40, coming out right behind the lead duo.

This left it to a four lap shoot out between Justin Tolman, Sergio Bravo, and Mark Connell, each within .5 at the line, but with Bravo carrying the one position post race penalty from the give back board earlier in the race. Never the less, Bravo was going for max points, and made the move for the lead with about 3 laps to go, dispatching Tolman and allowing Connell to make it around for second. Tolman would strike back before coming to receive the white, taking back the second spot, and setting the stage for a last lap try at the reigning Super Series champ. Heading down into the final corner, Bravo would go very defensive, forcing a committed Tolman well to the inside, and onto the dirty part of the track to attempt his pass. Not having any of that, Connell swept to the outside on the entry, and when the inevitable contact happened at the apex, he was able to carry enough speed to bring home his maiden win in the CalSpeed IronMan championship. Tolman would beat Bravo back to the line, and after running a clean race all 45 laps, Bruce Allen came home on the podium once the post race penalty as assessed to Bravo, who eventually took home 4th.

For Mark Connell, it was the culmination of a lot of hard work and dedication over the past three months, and his fist pumps across the line showed just how much the win meant. “To be able to drive with guys like Sergio, Justin, Jon and Patrick among others, and hold my own for even one race was unthinkable back in October when I was finishing seventeenth in the D main for my first kart race. This win means that all of the effort I’ve been putting in with schools and clinics is starting to pay off and it just makes me want to work harder now”.

Having scored his first victory so early in the year, the question of how this success would effect his 2014 goals came up in a post race interview: “I’d say my goals now are to be top three in the (Super Series) rookie championship for 2014, get better at improving and/or holding my starting position in all races, and to be a clean, consistent, smart and fast driver. This win simply added a new goal, which is to stay in the top ten in the Ironman points for 2014. I think if I accomplish these I’ll have had a very successful year”.

For Justin Tolman, this one definitely had the feel of ‘one that got away’. “I am absolutely not satisfied with finishing second. My goal for the race was to make a statement and prove that I do have the pace to contend up front, especially after my dismal performance in round two. After the first few laps of qualifying, I knew that was going to be possible after putting down some very solid lap times. I was not content to follow anyone around during the race, as I showed going three-wide to take the lead early. They knew I was there all day. It’s just a shame how the last corner played out”.

As with many drivers that race in the IronMan championship, the CalSpeed Super Series is also a big focus on their racing calendar, and Tolman looks to continue where he left off here in this series. “I really hope I can continue this momentum in next weeks Super Series. After finishing fifth in IronMan round one, I was able to put in a career-best performance the following Super Series weekend. I plan on doing the same this weekend”.

For Tolman’s teammate and team leader Bruce Allen, a podium finish was also of the ‘not good enough’ variety in a post race interview, but was still happy with the points, and how it helped his championship hopes. “I think I was still a little heated that I timed my second stop wrong and had no draft partner, but looking back now, I’m happy with the result. Obviously the goal is always the top of the podium, but a step or two down is nothing to bitch about. You have to take it one race at a time. It’s a good footing, but anything can and will happen. The championship is always the goal though”.

When asked how he and the team approach these races, especially now with he and his teammate tied for 3rd in the standings, Allen emphasized team orders were out of the question. “We will always help each other out for the greater good of the team. But if it comes down to it, we will race the hell out of each other. Specific team orders though, no”.

The IronMan Series will return in just under three weeks, marking the halfway point on the calendar, and then end of the Winter Sub-Championship. The ‘Super Speedway’ of CalSpeed layouts, the Nuovo configuration will be the stage in which the 30 driver field will do battle, and with the unpredictable way this season has gone, it should be an exciting finish to the first half of the season! Registration is open for the next round, so get your entry in before it sells out!

Top Ten in Points after Round #3 (After Throw Out)

1Patrick Britain195
2Sergio Bravo [M]180
3Bruce Allen175
4Justin Tolman175
5Jose da Silva [M]174
6Steve Spring [M]158
7Mark Connell [M]156
8Dave Messimer [GM155
9Jon Kimbrell151
10Kirk Feldkamp148