The IronMan series originally began as half of what was called the Super Series at the time. It was, in combination with the Grand Prix series that has now solely become the Super Series, half of the puzzle that drivers needed to solve in order to be crowned Super Series champion.
As time went on, the IronMan developed its own personality, and eventually, received its own weekend. The IronMan has now rightfully earned its place as a destination for Sport Kart drivers rather than a hurdle that has to be jumped over in order to win a different championship. The list of previous champions proves this point as it encompasses some of the most successful drivers in CalSpeed Sport Karting history.
Only four drivers have earned an IronMan championship; Jon Kimbrell, Sergio Bravo, Bill Myers and Patrick Britain. So, as we get set to start the 6th IronMan season, the question becomes, who’s next?
Kimbrell has already stated that he does not plan on contesting the entire 2015 IronMan season. Myers will be taking at least the first few races off which will knock him out of championship contention, at least for 2015. Bravo has not yet stated his plans for 2015. And Britain is writing this preview, which obviously prohibits me from defending my crown.
So with at least three of the four past champions not in the running, the question becomes, who are the drivers that stand the best shot at joining them as IronMan champions? In order to answer that question, we have to start with everything that is new for 2015.
2015 Rule Changes
Some of the key elements of the IronMan remain unchanged from 2014; two pit stops per driver, two four race sub-championships, and an eight race overall championship. However, nearly everything else has changed.
The race will now begin with a new Le Mans style start that will see the karts gridded up along the pit straight just as they would be for a standard Le Mans start, but the drivers will not run to their karts to start the race, drivers will already be seated and will accelerate once the green has waved. The starting order, starting with Round 2, will now be gridded based on inverted results from the previous race, with new drivers starting behind any returning drivers. This change should shake up strategy and make drivers who are hoping to race for the win have to think hard about when to pit.
Further mixing up the pit strategy will be the addition of bonus points for any driver that leads a lap, and the driver that leads the most laps. This change will make drivers have to consider who they are pushing, will they want to sit in second all race and let someone else collect the bonus points as a sacrifice of being able to race for the win? Or will drivers race hard from green to checkered and try to lead every single lap? The fact that all of your bonus points go into a separate category and would not be part of a race drop will ensure that these decisions make a difference throughout the entire season.
A small change on paper that has not yet received much recognition, but will surely create a very large change in race strategy is the reduction of the number of stop boxes in pit lane from three to two. The first stop box will now be towards the middle of pit lane rather than right at the start, which means that drivers can now carry a tremendous amount more speed into the tricky pit entrance before coming to stop in the first box. Drivers will need to be careful, however, as any contact on pit entry will be harshly penalized. Seconds can easily be gained and lost in this new scenario, and in a series where positions are routinely separated by tenths, a second or two will make all of the difference.
With all of these rule changes, the driver standing tall at the end of the year will be the one who can best mix speed with strategy. That has always been the case with the IronMan, but the strategy should be even more important this year.
The driver who has to be the favorite going in is Jose da Silva. Da Silva was third in overall points last year, behind only Britain and Kimbrell, and in the process, taking it to the final race with Kimbrell for P2. Da Silva has a great mind for strategy and the IronMan races seem to suit his style very well. If he can adapt to the lead lap bonuses and the new starting procedure, da Silva will be the driver to beat.
There are a host of drivers that could make his life very difficult in 2015, including Mark Connell. The two-time IronMan race winner has been hard at work in the offseason training for a championship run. Connell does not lack anything for speed, and his race craft is improving rapidly. He also has a full year of experience under his belt now; every other driver in the paddock needs to be fully aware of Mark Connell.
David Kelmenson is another driver to watch after a breakout 2014 season. Kelmenson grabbed his first CalSpeed win last year in the Super Series, and was a regular contender in the IronMan. Kelmenson might be the fastest outright driver entered into the IronMan this year, but just needs things to click for him this year in order to make a real charge. It is almost guaranteed that excitement will follow Kelmenson all season.
If there is one driver that has been close more often than anyone else, but yet to really break through, it is Steve Spring. Steve was 2nd in points in 2013, and 7th in 2014, so he knows how to get to the front. Steve has more experience in Sport Karting than most others, dating back to the days pre-CalSpeed, at Dromo 1. Interestingly, every past champion has come from Dromo 1; that could be a good omen for Spring in 2015.
Charles Eichlin is a name that we haven’t seen before in an IronMan, but has to be considered among the favorites for the season. Eichlin came on strong in the second half of 2014, grabbing several top 5 finishes. The IronMan format might be a perfect fit for Charles as he is known as one of the fastest drivers in the paddock. In an event where a driver can sometimes be by himself for several laps at a time, or when a fast lap can leap frog another driver in the running order when they have made a pit stop, the ability to turn fast laps can make a big difference.
One driver looking to regain a step or two in the IronMan is the winner of the first ever event, Taylor Hays. Hays is signed up for Round 1 but has not yet committed to the entire season. It is believed, however, that if the first couple of rounds go well for Taylor that he will commit to the entire season. Raw speed is no issue for Taylor, nor is adapting to strategy. Look for Taylor to be a big threat on Saturday.
Finally, we come to Kirk Feldkamp. Kirk has not run many IronMan races in the past, but is a regular front-runner in the Super Series and is widely believed to be the driver that is the most over due for a Super Series A Main win. Feldkamp is one of the most strategic drivers on the grid and will likely have no problems thinking through multiple strategies at once to decide what will work best in his scenario. The only possible kink in Kirk’s race could be that he is without teammate for Round 1 and will need to find a new drafting partner, which could take some time to adapt to.
There are so many contenders for Round 1 that it is a bit difficult to find drivers to classify as a Darkhorse. However, there are a few drivers that have proven to be contenders in other series’ but haven’t yet shown their muscle in the IronMan.
The best example of that is Adam Nagao. Coming off of a career best 4th place finish in Super Series Round 1, Nagao is no stranger to the front of the pack. Nagao has proven himself to be one of the outright fastest drivers, but has very little experience in endurance style racing. If Nagao can get a little bit of assistance from his RNA teammates in regards to a strategy plan, Nagao could shock some other drivers in Round 1 or even the entire season if he decides to run for a championship.
There are a host of drivers who have had varying levels of success in the Super Series but have not run many IronMan events in the past that we will be keeping an eye on throughout the year. Drivers such as Ian Enz, Patrick O’Keefe, Alyssa Yauney, Sean Fite and many others will be looking to show some muscle early on in the year to move themselves squarely into the list of contenders for the remainder of the season.
A few drivers will be making their first ever IronMan start this Saturday, but one of which is no stranger to CalSpeed. Alex Bermudez is a name that no one will recognize, but will almost definitely have an impact during the season. Alex has been running weekly coaching sessions at the track for over a year now and surely has more seat time than nearly any other driver on the entry list. However, the catch is that Alex typically runs his sessions in the Club Karts. If Alex can adapt to the Sport Karts and show the same speed in them that he has shown in the Club Karts, watch out.
Smitty’s Spotlight: Let the Strategy Games begin!
The CalSpeed IronMan Series is the sole chance for drivers to get a taste of endurance style racing throughout the year at CalSpeed, with the hour-straight length combined with pair of pitstops testing drivers both physically and mentally. And while the physical test has become less strenuous for series regulars, the mental chess match will in fact become even more challenging in 2015, with a few new changes coming into play.
The first of these new-for-2015 elements will be how the race begins; IronMan races will now be 10 minutes longer, and will now start immediately, with no practice. That’s right, zero practice. This means a driver’s ability to adapt on the fly will come into play as soon as the green is dropped, and will add to the when to/when not too part of the pit stop game. Further, when the green does fly, drivers will take off from a ‘standing LeMans-styled’ grid, set by inverting the previous round’s finish. This, combined with the ability to earn bonus points for leading laps, and the strategy game has been blown wide open! No longer will it be a ‘processional, work with each other for 50 minutes, and then have at it out at the end’. Now it is worth something to go out and snag the lead, or stay out to try and get it during the pit stop cycles; especially since you keep all of your bonus points, even if you throw out the round! The last big change will be the reduction in pit stop boxes from 3 to 2: the first box has been removed, making getting on pit road as quick as possible a much more crucial element to the pit stop. A drivers ability to get on to pit road safely, and quickly will now be able to earn them more on the stop watch, and adds one last part to the strategy game.
As someone who has always loved the strategy part of arrive and drive racing, I couldn’t be more excited to see how this season shakes up. Let the Strategy Games Begin!
So what does this all boil down to? Well, the simple answer is, Round 1 is anybodies race. With new rules for the start and for the points system, anyone could come out of the box and grab the W in Round 1 and set him or herself up for a run at the championship.
That all said, my pick for Round 1 is Taylor Hays; I believe he is going to come out of the box hard in season opener and take the win. For the championship, I have been told that Sergio Bravo may still take a run at it. In my opinion, the championship goes straight through Bravo, he’s the guy to beat.
Round 1 Wrap-Up
We’ll know in just over 24 hours who the drivers to watch for this season will be, a bad first round gives a driver a big hurdle to have to overcome in the Winter sub-championship and the overall championship, so getting out of the gates fast is very important. On the tricky Tecnico layout, anyone who can run up front in Round 1 certainly will have proven that they have the ability to do it all season.
1. Mark Connell
2. Charles Eichlin
3. Sean Fite
4. Jose da Silva
5. Ian Enz
6. Nick Marascio
7. Ed Lewis
8. Steve Spring
9. Alyssa Yauney
10. David Taylor
11. David Kelmenson
12. Simon Wong
13. Brennan Rogers
14. Michael Wojdat
15. Emon Fazlollahi
16. Ariel Rubio
17. Nathan Hood
18. Greg Reinhardt
19. Kevin Taylor
20. Adam Nagao
21. Patrick O’Keefe
22. Kirk Feldkamp
23. Michael Floerchinger
24. James Lieser
25. Jetson Lieser
26. Taylor Hays
27. Andrew Brown
28. Alexander Bermudez
29. Joe Sabella
30. Chris Carter
2. Julio Mendoza