Tecnico would play host to the seventh round of the IronMan Championship, and for the first time all season we had a repeat winner, although it didn’t look like it would end that way…
After an incident in turn one the previous round, David Kelmenson would lead the field away from the standing Le Mans-styled start, and this time would stay clean through the first several corners. In fact Kelmenson would continue to put in solid laps to the tune of an eventual 6 second lead, capitalizing on the infighting happening throughout the lead pack.
That infighting was the product of one of, if not the deepest fields in terms of experience all season, with title contenders and former race winners pushing to get their way to the front. The ebb and flow of this event began straight away from the drop of the green, as some drivers seemed to have things go their way, while others got hung up in their quest for the front. On driver to make it look easy was the round six winner Jon Kimbrell, starting back in the 23rd position, but remarkably making it up to second by lap 8. Conversely, another driver on the move albeit not with the benefit of a smooth road ahead of him was round five winner Sergio Bravo. Up to 7th by lap five, he would get involved in an incident that dropped him several positions, and a lap later was the first of the contenders to pit. Once again in clean air, Bravo returned to the task at hand, and set forth on a spirited drive back to the sharp end.
Amongst all of the commotion of the lead pack, eyes were watching the two drivers locked in the fight for the overall title; Taylor Hays looking to clinch it one round early, while Mark Connell looked to take it to the final round. While each to their turn leading the other, neither would get very far from each other up until the first stops, smartly negotiating whatever the pack through at them. And while the championship took the focus for many on the sidelines, another driver made a silent steady charge from last on the grid…
A last minute entry that capitalized on another driver not running, Adam Nagao started last on the grid, making just his second start of the season. By the end of lap one he was up eight spots to 22nd; 18th on lap two; 13th a few laps later… By the quarter distance mark Nagao had made it inside the top five, pushing hard to close the now seemingly insurmountable 10 second gap to the lead. And unlike a lot of previous IronMan events, late pit stops looked to be the order of the day, meaning to get to the front you had to race your way there, instead of using pit strategy to leap frog the competition.
Over the next 10 or so laps there was but one goal; manage the gap. If you were leading you tried to pull away, and if you were behind you tried to reel in the driver ahead. Unfortunately for the leading drivers, most were alone, and the added benefit of the draft gave the chasing pack that once loomed in the distance, the little extra steam needed to slowly bring the gap down. Kimbrell would be the first to succeed in his march to the front, catching and passing Kelmenson for the first lead change on lap 27. At the same time, Sean Fite lost his solo battle against the coming swarm, with Nagao leading the main pack to his rear bumper, increasing its membership to twelve drivers. Further, the once 10 second gap to the front had been cut in half, and with half of the race yet to run, it was once again time for the pack to get to work.
The second half of the race would change a bit to favor the leaders and smaller groups however, as with pit stops starting to happen from drivers further down the order, traffic was now becoming an increasing issue. With every lap the chasing pack spread out, eventually splintering off to smaller groups, which were then able to redouble their efforts for the front. Nagao, Hays, Connell, and Fite would break away and begin to reel in a slipping Kelmenson, who was slowly losing touch with the leader Kimbrell. The would catch the pole sitter at the race’s ¾ mark, with Nagao taking over the second spot on lap 45. But the group wasn’t just catching Kelmenson, but Kimbrell too, the gap down to just one second when Nagao assumed the challenger position.
At this point the top six had yet to pit, and it wouldn’t be until lap 49 that Connell would be the first to blink, ducking in from the 5th position, having slipped off the tail of Hays for the last few laps. Kelmenson and Fite would each follow suit the very next lap, pitting from 3rd and 5th respectively, with Fite being the big loser in the sequence with a pit lap 2 seconds slower than his rivals. Needing to find a little bit more to take the fight to the podium, Hays pit one lap after Kelmenson and was able to chip .8 out of the gap, just as Kelemnson would come right back in to make it back to back stops.
At this point there was less than ten minutes to play, and although pit road had become a very busy place, the two leaders had yet to pit even once. Nagao would lead his first lap as Jon Kimbrell would finally come in on lap 52, but would relinquish it one lap later with a pit stop of his own. Further back Hays mimicked the double stop strategy of Kelmenson, and would be rewarded by coming out right behind his rival, his second stop lap over 1.5 seconds the better. Bravo was also seeing is race-long drive to the front coming to fruition, as he would position himself next after Hays for those that had completed their stops, albeit a few seconds back.
This left our two leaders as well as Connell and several others in the top 10 yet to pit with just over five minutes left, with lots of position jockeying finishing out the 60 minute contest. Connell would slip behind Bravo with the completion of his stop, along with the rest of the top ten challengers, allowing Bravo to secure a top 5 to go along with his fastest lap of the race. At the sharp end it was a tale of two battles: Kimbrell vs Nagao for the win, and Kelmenson vs Hays for the final podium spot, the latter two having completed their stops. In the battle for third, Hays would keep the pressure on, but just could not find a way past Kelmenson and had to settle for 4th at the stripe.
Out front it would be Kimbrell once again electing to come in first, but unlike the first set of stops, Nagao would leapfrog his rival with a quicker stop, and would lead the duo to the line to see the white flag in the air. Kimbrell would make a couple looks, but it would be Nagao holding on at the line, maintaining the top spot for the duration of the cool down lap. Unfortunately, at the scales it became apparent that Nagao had lost too much weight during the race, and would be light by .4lbs below allowance. This promoted Kimbrell to the win, joined by Kelmenson and Hays on the podium.
Although we were unable to get a final comment from Jon Kimbrell after his second win in a row, The win was big for him, as he was able to take over the point lead in the Summer Sub Championship, and is the only repeat winner this season.
We were able to talk with the new 2015 IronMan Champion Taylor Hays however, riding yet another podium to the title, his 5th of the year:
“Obviously, it’s a really cool deal winning my first championship in the 8 years I’ve been karting. Even better is locking it up early ensuring that there is no pressure heading in the finale, and being able to help out teammates where I can. I definitely didn’t begin the season expecting to have all my keeper finishes in the top 5, but some luck plus my affinity for taking advantage on the inverted starts has really proved to be the key to my success this year. Looking forward to the finale, and my title defense in 2016.”
Top Ten in Overall Points after Round #7
|6||Jose da Silva||427||(50)|
Top Ten in the Summer Sub-Championship
|9||Jose da Silva||139||(50)|