Heading in to the season finale for the 2015 IronMan Series Championship, the final podium was all but decided, with Steve Spring the lone driver looking to hold off a band of challengers, while the sub-championship looked to be down two just two contenders: Taylor Hays and Sergio Bravo. While the point leader going in, Jon Kimbrell was unable to make the show, and saw his title hopes dashed even before the race began.
The race itself would take to the Grande Counter Clockwise direction for the first time this season, and while the 30 drivers starting the event would head into the now familiar Bypass corner for the 3rd time in a row, the would meet up with the Short Beach hairpin at the end of the front straight for the first time. While argy bargy like most of the opening laps in the IronMan have been, this one saw all drivers continue on, and was one of the nicer starts to the 60 minute test.
Leading everyone away from the pole spot was Adam Nagao, but by the time the drivers made it through bypass for the first time, it was Kelly Bastion ahead of the field. Nagao would strike back immediately, regaining the lead prior to the finish of lap one. And unlike previous IronMan races this season, we didn’t have to wait long to see some big names enter the pits, as Taylor Hays not only came in on lap one, but did the double knocking out both stops in near back to back fashion. Exciting the pits after his second stop, Hays backed up to leader Nagao, and the two started a partnership that would last the rest of the race.
While Nagao was leading and looking to keep it, Hays had things other than a win on his mind, the summer sub-championship being one, but assisting his teammates further back in the field for a podium shot being the other. The two big players there were Sergio Bravo for the Summer title who started 20th, and Steve Spring who lined up 6th at the drop of the green.
For Spring it was more about maintaining the lead, then trying to score more points. Enjoying a 20 point lead and starting in front closest rival Charles Eichlin (15th), the advantage was his out of the gate, and after quickly making it inside the top five, Spring held station. Behind him challengers were on the move, but none would close enough to challenge for the win, which is what was needed to knock Spring off the ledge.
Instead, most eyes were on the drivers making steady moves towards the front, none other than former IronMan and Super Series champ, Sergio Bravo. Bravo’s steady march to the front saw him get a hefty start out of the gate, picking up six positions at the completion of lap one. He knew he needed to get to the front, and score the win for his best chance at the Title, and he continued to slice through field, seemingly at will. By lap five he was inside the top ten, and then by lap nine he broke into the top 5, moving into second one lap later. 2nd place and about four seconds astern from Nagao with most of the race left, Bravo needed just to lead a lap and finish where he was (In front of Hays) hand he would have the Summer title.
Traffic started to become an issue right about this time, as drivers deeper in the field began making their first stops, make it a little more difficult for the leaders as they came through. While void of any huge issues, every little tenth could add up, the faster drivers were keen to not get held up. Someone who was able to work traffic quite well, both of the for-position and lapped variety was Patrick Britain. Not coming from as deep in the field as Bravo, Britain overcame some early hiccups to eventually move up into the third position, and with the drafting help of former teammate Steve Spring, found Bravo’s rear bumper just a little before the halfway point. There was now a front duo of the lapped down Hays and Nagao at the front, and still 4 seconds back Bravo, Britain and Spring; each group working together to pully away and reel in their respective rivals. Briatin would take over the 2nd spot in the bypass corner on lap 30, but this would not deter the primary mission, with Bravo letting him go and proceeded with the plan. It was working too for a while, closing the gap to as close as two seconds…
Unfortunately the best laid plans don’t always work, and for Bravo, it was a rare mistake making his first pit stop with about ten minutes remain, overshooting the first stop box. In that moment the podium, and his chance at the summer title was gone, forced to serve the penalty that saw him fall back to an eventual 12th place finish.
Pit lane would get busy those final ten minutes with many driver yet to finish their stops, and when it was all said and done, Britain was in third, with Hays able to stick the leap frog via his early double-pit strategy. Where it was close was the very front, with Nagao pitting late enough to never relinquish the lead, even with pressure from Hays in the final lap. It was a flag-to-flag run for Nagao, securing the win with Taylor Hays second, and Patrick Britain on the final step of the podium. Steve Spring would bring it home in 4th after being inside the top five most of the day, which was enough to secure the final podium spot behind Hays and Mark Connell in the Overall Championship.
For Adam Nagao the win was more an affirmation that he did belong at the top the previous round, bringing home some well-deserved hardware in the process. For Hays however, the podium marked the end to an unforgettable season, where he not only found the podium in six of his eight starts, but swept all three of the championships on offer. We caught up with Hays after the event, and got his thoughts on the season finale, and the sub-championship that came with it:
“Going in to the finale, I was not on the entry list, but with the overall championship already locked up, I decided to buy my spot from a teammate in order to play full team support for either Steve or Chris to secure an overall podium.” Continued Hays, “With them starting at opposite ends of the field, I told them both that I would pit at the earliest opportunity. Unfortunately, I gapped Chris early, which left him alone after the first stop, and Steve had already made up ground in the top 3. I figured after the 2nd stop I would come out 4-5 ahead of Adam out front, but I didn’t anticipate the lead he had already built up. Fortunately, we both hooked up, and we created the gap needed for him to come right back out with once his stops were done and secure a 1-2 finish and huge momentum for Machismo. With that said, being able to sweep the championships with 6 podiums on 8 rounds is fantastic, and couldn’t have asked for a better year. I look forward to defending the title next year.”
Official 2015 Final Overall Championship Standings
|Jose da Silva
Official 2015 Final Summer Sub-Championship Standings