The sixth round of the 2015 IronMan championship saw the field of thirty take on yet another technical layout in Classico Counter Clockwise this past Saturday, and when the checkers fell it was Jon Kimbrell standing on the top box. It was the second time the series had visited the configuration, debuting last year for the first time, with Kimbrell also finding victory then. For the 2015 edition however there is no qualifying, and our winner and the rest of the protagonists had to come from deeper in the field to find the point…
Tom Zevin would lead the field away from the standing le mans start and through the first couple of corners, but behind him, the fight to get to the front start in earnest. Making it through the first couple of corners with only minor contact, the battle for real estate heading into the esses for the first time would end in foreclosure for a few drivers, namely David Kelmenson. Two wide through the esses requires a bit of give and take; three and four wide can only end one way, as both Kelmenson and Ariel Rubio found the tires on the outside. Kelmenson would retire after the incident, while Rubio soldiered on to salvage an 18th place finish.
In front of the first lap melee, Simon Wong worked his way up from third to lead the first lap, and would hold on to the front for the first four laps before being passed by Sean Fite. Fite would only have the point for two laps, but his charge up from 8th on the grid was rewarded by the 3 bonus points he earned for leading a lap. From there it was point leader Taylor Hays that would lead the field, clicking off lap after lap at the sharp end while stealing away from nearly everyone, with only one driver able to match pace: Jon Kimbrell. Kimbrell took his shot at the front on lap 25, making the pass inside in turn #4, with Hays smartly letting him go and slotting in behind. The two would stay like this and work together until their first pit stops.
About four seconds behind the leaders the fight for the final podium spot involved several drivers, with Round #5 winner Sergio Bravo making his way up to the third spot, leading Steve Spring, Charles Eichlin, and Ben Blank. But only about a second behind this quartet was a train of six drivers, led by Mark Connell and early race leader Fite. It was in this group that the majority of the action, and swapping of positions came, as they would never catch the runaway duo out front. Much of this change began when pit stops started in force at about halfway, the musical chairs of who would lead who growing the fight for 3rd to a list of almost drivers at one time. With a multitude of strategies, and traffic playing a huge part on how the pit cycles worked out, the third spot wouldn’t be decided until the final corner of the race
Out front Jon Kimbrell would finally duck in the pits on lap 38 after leading for fourteen circuits, with Hays remaining out in an attempt to leapfrog his opponent one more lap, successfully stealing away the top spot via a slightly fats stop. With the leaders coming in, this relinquished the lead temporarily to the leader of the second pack, with Sergio Bravo earning his bonus points for leading a lap before coming in, and then Sean Fite taking a turn at the front for a few laps before also making his stop. This finished the cycle at the front, and it would be the last time anyone other Hays or Kimbrell held on to the lead.
These first pit stops were nicer to some than others, and with the first cycle finished, the battle for the final podium spot became much clearer; coming from nearly last, Patrick Britain now led the group and was joined by Chris Huerta, who had pit way back on lap 6. They were joined by Mark Connell, Sergio Bravo, Steve Spring, and Ben Blank, each having various success in pit lane, the entire group pacing about 9.5 seconds behind the leaders. The group stayed together while driving smart for the next several laps, fighting more to get around traffic with speed, than each other for position, setting things up for the final pit stops late in the race.
Out front it was still the Hays-Kimby show, with Jon the first of the two to pit with about 10 minutes remaining in the 1 hour event. Like he did earlier, Hays elected to go longer than his rival, but this time things would take a turn for the worst. Collected in an incident with lapped traffic heading into the esses, Hays lost several second to Kimbrell, and once he finally made his stop he chance at the win was dashed. The silver lining for the overall point leader however that because of the large lead he had built up, he was still solidly in second, and would also end the day with a full haul of 5 bonus points for leading the most laps. For his part, Jon Kimbrell just clicked off clean, uneventful laps to take his first win of the year.
Behind these two hower was a great fight for the final podium spot, with Chris Huerta managing his way to the 3rd spot with just a few laps remaining. As the white flag was displayed, Huerta needed only worry about rival Patrick Britain, as the duo had pulled away from any other threat to their position. This mano-e-mano fight came down to the final set of corners, as a defensive move from Huerta allowed Britain to get a run into the final right hander. Hoping to get to the corner before his challenger, Huerta turned in a bit too early, and making contact with Britain, saw the podium slip through his fingers as they came to the line.
For Jon Kimbrell, this win marked his first of the year in this series, mimicking what he did in the 2014 event, and is the onoy driver to win on the Classico CCW track winning 2 years in a row. It was a near perfect day in the points too, something he needed as he is going for the Summer sub-championship exclusively.
“The race went just as I hoped it would!” Kimbrell mentioned post-race. “Before it started, I was aware that it was a stacked field. Starting from the back of the pack is never easy and I had no idea what to expect. After the green flag, I was very fortunate that there was a lot of battling between other drivers, all throughout the first few laps. I was able to stay out of trouble fortunately, and passed about thirteen karts on the first lap. After a few laps in and a few more passes, I looked ahead and saw that Taylor Hays was making the same progress through the field that I was. My goal at that point was to get to Taylor and work together. After we found each other on track at about ten laps in, we did just that. We had great pace with no incidents all the way until there was ten laps to go. I elected to pit at the ten lap mark, and pray that i would come out with someone to draft. Taylor pit with five to go but unfortunately had an incident right before pitting which put him a few seconds behind, and gave me a comfortable lead. Had Taylor not had the incident I think it would have been a drag race to the finish!!! All in all it was an exciting race and i couldn’t have asked for it to go any better!”
And although the race didn’t end the way he wanted, Taylor Hays exited round #7 very positive with the overall picture as he widened his margin in the standings.
“The race was definitely wild”, stated Hays. “I was fortunate enough to get a great start and gap myself from the main contenders early so I could settle it between myself and Jon. The second is definitely disappointing, as it was going to be a great finish for the win. I took a gamble knowing Jon had already pit, trying to stay out and beat him in pit lane, it just happened to bite me this time. Hays continued, “Realistically, I’m looking to have the title clinched before the final round, leaving very little pressure for everything other than the sub-championship. With that said, I’m also looking at how many points per round I can give up if I do struggle. Fortunately, I have Ironman podiums on each of the remaining tracks, so I am confident.”
Top Ten in Overall Points after Round #6
|6||Jose da Silva||371||(50)|
Top Ten in the Summer Sub-Championship
|7||Jose da Silva||83||(50)|