Saturday’s fourth round of the IronMan Series will be the deciding round for the Winter Sub-Championship, crowning the driver with the best three out of the first four rounds thus far. It will also mark the end of the first half of the season, setting the stage for the final four rounds that will kick off with round #5 in July.

The first three rounds have seen three different drivers on the top step, two of the three of them scoring their first ever CalSpeed victory. It has also seen several up and coming drivers make a name for themselves as part of the ‘new class’ of front runners, adding to an already densely talented group of drivers.

Round #4 will see several storylines unfold, starting with the series’ first go on CalSpeed’s Nuovo configuration, and how the draft may effect pit strategy over the course of the 50 minute race. There is the battle for the Winter sub-championship between Patrick Britain and Sergio Bravo, the only two drivers still mathematically with a shot at the title. And of course there is the fact that the overall title fight is one of the closest in series history, with the top 5 within 26 points of each other, and the top 11 still within 50 points. But with a few of the regular names missing from the entry list, and more new faces then normal, the status quo could get shifted this weekend. Will we see more of the same from the sharp end, or will we see a new trend begin from further back in the pack?

The track: CalSpeed serves up the ‘Super Speedway’ for round #4: Nuovo

Pack racing is part of the game at CalSpeed, but it reaches a whole new level when we take to the near flat-out realm of the Nuovo circuit. When conditions are right, the layout is full throttle all the way around, save for braking into the Contino, and Long Beach corners. This means you are potentially on the throttle for something like 98% of the lap, and the draft comes into play more than any other CalSpeed configuration. So the question is, how will this affect the racing?

The one truth that all regulars know is that while you don’t necessarily have to be the fastest, you absolutely cannot be by yourself. With the draft helping to shave off .5+ seconds per lap, losing the draft after a miss timed or botched pit stop will spell disaster for anyone looking for strong points. You have to have a partner on Nuovo, and if you can have more than one, even better. Drivers will be looking to time their stops to come back out with a pack, and may even start making deals prior to the start of the race, with everyone doing the ‘work with me’ tap to the helmet as the race unfolds. Patience is a virtue here that rewards, and we will see many drivers forgo a chance to make the pass, simply to be in the right position for the final run to the checkered.

So how do you win on Nuovo? You have to be real good at chess…

RD’s Spotlight: Britain VS Bravo: Winter Championship ‘Title Fight’

New to the Series for 2014 are the two sub-championships that run along side the Overall title; the Winter championship (rounds 1-4) and the Summer championship (rounds 5-8). As the winter finale, round #4 will decide the first championship of the still young 2014 racing season, with the title going to either point leader Patrick Britain, or challenger Sergio Bravo. Britain enjoys a 15 point lead going in, and as long as he stay within two places of Bravo, will clinch the title regardless of what his challenger does. A win, or at worst a second is on the docket for Bravo, needing Britain to finish in 4th or 5th respectively at best to bring home the title.

I caught up with both drivers a little earlier in the week, one of which who wasn’t even on the entry list…

Pat Britain

RD: This weekend is the fourth of eight rounds, will be the deciding race for the IronMan Series Winter Sub-Championship (which you lead), and is the last IronMan battle before round five picks things up in July. Patrick Britain: You. Aren’t. On. The. Entry. List.

PB: The reason that I’m not on the list is simple; I forgot. I thought I had signed up weeks ago but only realized that I hadn’t when Chris Huerta pointed it out to me. Definitely was not a good feeling.

RD: Assuming that you will indeed get a seat in Saturday’s event (the number of drivers willing to give up their seats for you are astounding), how do you approach this weekend? Championship Saturday, or is just any other race?

PB: I am pretty confident that I will get a seat on Saturday, whether it be from someone dropping out or someone selling me their spot. I am going to approach this one the same as any other. It is in my control, as any podium finish will clinch the Winter Series in my favor.

RD: While the eight round championship is certainly the primary goal, nobody balks at a title shot, and this Winter Sub Championship sees you pitted up against a very formidable rival, reigning Super Series champion, Sergio Bravo. How would you describe the season thus far, and what does it mean to be heading into a mano-e-mano title fight with Bravo, never mind the other 29+ talented individuals in the series?

PB: The first three Rounds have been really interesting. Rounds one and two really went my way and if not for a little bit of a slow stop I could have won them both. Still, a win and a second is a strong start. Round three felt like it was going well until a little bit of bad luck caught up with me. The major thing from here is to focus on getting my season pointed back in the right direction. As for the Winter Championship, there is no one that I’d rather go head-to-head with than Sergio. He is the fastest driver at CalSpeed so anytime that I can beat him it is earned via race craft. Luckily, I don’t have to beat him on Saturday, just keep him in my sights.

RD: Thanks for the time Pat, and good luck (getting into the show) Saturday!

Sergio Bravo

RD: Another weekend, another championship up for grabs. This time it is a sub-championship, and your only rival is Patrick Britain, who has a 15-point lead going in. Having been in this kind of ‘come from behind’ situation before, can you walk us through your thought process leading up to the weekend?

SB: I have five championships in three years. In every one of those I respected the talent of the other drivers, tried to stay close to the top of the points, and raced each race one at a time. Saturday is just another race, and I’m racing to win.

RD: To score the Winter Sub-championship, you need to finish first or second, and need Pat to be three or more spots behind you. Do you figure the math while you are driving, or do the points never come into play during a race like this?

SB: I usually have a general idea of what needs to happen but I don’t absolutely focus on each point. I can only control what I’m doing, not what the other guys does. What’s the other guys name again?

RD: Regardless of how this round ends up, the overall championship is looking really good, especially for someone who wasn’t sure if they were going to run the whole season. That said, it hasn’t been perfectly smooth for you either. How do you see the rest of the season playing out? A two-man fight to the end, or will we see a few more players come into the mix by round eight in October?

SB: I’ve led every race so far and if not for a couple issues out of my control could already have two wins in my pocket. For those reasons, you never count anyone out of the running – including me. Kimbrell is always around, Tolman is showing good form, so it’s going to be interesting but I’m confident that I’m going to continue to put good races together and hopefully pick up another championship.

RD: Sergio, thanks for your time, and good luck this weekend!

The Overall Championship: Less than 50 points separate the top 10…

The 2014 season thus far has been an exciting one, and it sees the points championship very close after one drop is taken into account. While Britain and Bravo will be the only ones battling for the winter title, they by no means have a comfortable lead, with three drivers nipping at there heals. The rest of the top 15 aren’t exactly out of it either, but it is certainly go time to finish out the first half strong, and set things up for a title run in the final four races.

Heading into Saturday, Arkham teammates Bruce Allen and Justin Tolman sit tied for the third position, with round #2 winner Jose da Silva just on epoint back from them. These three have a shot to close the gap to near nothing this weekend, but of the three, da Silva will have to dig deepest to stay in the hunt. After missing round #3, he is out of drops for the year, and will have to be on point for the next 5 races. Not to say that the Arkham boys can rest on their laurels, after each had a rough go of it in round #2, they don’t have much to fall back on.

Behind the lead five is where we could see the most movement this weekend, as positions 6-16 are separated by only 40 points, and three of the group will be absent from this round. Steve Spring leads ‘the best of the rest’ from 6th overall at the moment, with he and the two drivers directly all having found the podium this season already. Next in line is Jon Kimbrell who is deceivingly lower in the standings, having had the pace in round two to possibly bring home the win, and with it about 20 more points. For the drivers behind Kimbrell (10th-16th) it is absolutely time to shine, and I think that is exactly what we will see this weekend. Looking at this list of drivers, we see a few have had some good runs cut down, or that have shown potential for much better points than what the table shows. If everything comes together, we could see a much tighter points championship heading into the second half of the season…

Top 10 after Round #3 (total points)

1. Patrick Britain195(275)
2. Sergio Bravo180(265)
3. Bruce Allen175(222)
4. Justin Tolman175(216)
5. Jose da Silva174(174)
6. Steve Spring158(196)
7. Mark Connell156(156)
8. Dave Messimer155(220)
9. Jon Kimbrell151(222)
10. Kirk Feldkamp148(210)