This past Memorial Day weekend saw CalSpeed Karting throw it’s hat in the ring for great race events during the storied weekend, with the inaugural CalSpeed Oval Race being held on Saturday. A near sell out entry list saw 55 drivers take to the brand new, unique layout, with Patrick Britain coming out on top over Tyler Bryant, and Jon Kimbrell who completed the podium.
Things would kick off with optional practice, something that most of the entered drivers would take advantage of, attempting to sort out the nuances of oval racing prior to the official timed practice session. Once the official sessions started, it became apparent that turning only left was a skill set employed by several new faces, with more than just the usual suspects populating the sharp end of the time sheets.
The times set during these sessions set the groups for qualifying, with less than ten karts taking to the track per group, allowing for (mostly) clean laps during the green/white/checkered sessions. Once in the books, it was Darren Mercer coming away with the overall top time, with Bruce Allen, and Super Series Rookie Wes Dent also scoring pole positions for their respective heat races.
The first set of 20 lap heat races would see a mixture of results, as the field was split between drivers who picked things up fairly quickly, and others that still had yet to come to grips with the track, and the style of racing. It also was the first chance to see some of the ‘classic’ oval styled side by side racing that we would see the rest of the day, especially towards the front of the pack. Coming away with race wins during the first set of heats was Patrick Britain, first time CalSpeed winner Derek Esquibel, and Aaron Downs, who scored the first break away win of the day.
The second set of heats threw a bit of a curve ball at the drivers, with the top ten in each heat race getting inverted, bringing the tenth place finisher up to pole for the start of heats 4-6. This meant that even if a driver had scored a breakaway win, and knew how to run in ‘clean air’, they would be forced to dice it up in the pack for their second time through. And dice they did. Aaron Downs would be the first to show his prowess in the first heat was no fluke, working up from 10th on the grid to score his second heat win of the day.
Heat 5 was probably the most action packed heat of the day, has Taylor Hays came out on top of a scrum of 5 drivers, each having a solid shot at the win. Then it was Patrick Britain also backing his heat race win up with a convincing second heat win, highlighting the fact that he had indeed ‘done this before’, citing his prior oval experience.
This would set the lineups for the three Main races, with the results from both heat races combined to sort out the starting grids; the entry list divided in thirds. First up would be the 40 lap C-Main, with IronMan Series regular Steve Branson leading the field down to the green for the start. While Branson would maintain the lead through the first 12 laps, he would not be able to stave off the attack from Ashley Arnott on lap 13, and would slot into second. Behind them, two drivers continued their march through the field, as Steve Frame and Steve Spring found themselves inside the top 5 at this same point, having started back in 12th and 10th respectively.
A top five would turn into a 1-2 after only a couple of laps however, as Arnott’s time at the front came to a premature close, getting collected in a incident with lapped traffic. This made it a mano-e-mano fight between the Steve’s in the closing half of the race, as the duo pulled out to a large lead, staying unchallenged at the front. While the top two swapped spots several times, it was Steve Frame with the slight edge, scoring the fastest lap of the race in route to his C-Main win. Spring settled for second, while Tom Wallerstein maintained a third place finish after an eventful race inside the top five.
The second of the two 40 lap mains would have Tyler Bryant and Bruce Allen lead the field down to the green, Bryant himself back in the seat for the first time in nearly a year. While it was Allen who led lap #1, Bryant showed that he hadn’t lost a step however, staying right with him, and he challenged immediately for the lead. These top two drivers would not only leave most of the field behind, they would put on a show in the process, one that was arguably the best race of the day.
Staying side by side for much of the first half, the duo eventually dialed things down, and stuck to cutting fast laps. The reason? Andrew Brown. With their in fighting, Brown was able to close back up, putting pressure on the top two while looking for an opening. However, as Bryant and Allen quite fighting, the started going much quicker, and again began to pull away from Brown, and the rest of the field. In the end it was again a two-driver fight for the Main win, with Bryant leading in the closing stages. Allen would have one more go at it, getting through turns 1 and 2 better than any other driver had to close the gap to Bryant’s Bumper, but couldn’t find a way around in 3 and 4 to seal the deal. Bryant would win by .259 at the stripe, with Allen second and Brown scoring best of the rest in 3rd.
For the A-Main, drivers would not only need to turn twenty more laps, but would also have to contemplate a bit of strategy, as a single stop and go pit stop would be required during the sixty lap contest. After their pair of perfect heat races, Aaron Downs and Patrick Britain would lead the field to the green, albeit a bit shoddy, as it took till the third time through to finally get the green. Once underway however, it was a display of perfectly balanced driving, the two driver working together for the duration, Downs dutifully pushing Britain away from all other challengers. This was not because Downs was slow; in fact he cut the fastest lap of the race in the process of pulling out to a 17+ second lead by the end.
Indeed this race was nearly decided at the beginning, with the top two pilots electing to work together instead of fight for position; they leaped away while the rest of the field jockeyed for position. The driver doing the best job of slicing through the calamity was none other then the B-Main winner, Tyler Bryant. Starting from last on the grid, Bryant systematically worked his way through the field, making it as high as third before making his pit stop on lap 46. Upon exiting the pits, it was a fight between Bryant and Jon Kimbrell for the final podium spot, the top two finishers a forgone conclusion. It wasn’t a cut and dry one on one fight however, as the two had to contest with lapped traffic throughout the closing laps, several times eliminating potential passing opportunities, with yet another lap clicking by.
Everything would change with three laps to go however, as the fight for third, turn into the fight for second, as surprise turn of events unfolded at the front. After completing his stop, second place runner and prime challenger for the win Aaron Downs would blow his pit stop, requiring a second go-through. This eliminated him from the podium fight, handing the win unchallenged to Britain with two to go, and turned Kimbrell and Bryant’s duel into a podium fight: where they going to get second or third? Britain would come in and successfully complete his stop, cruising on to the inaugural win, while Bryant sized up Kimbrell for a late stage pass, sealing the deal on the penultimate lap. It was an exciting, and surprising finish, to a day that had promised to be other new and unpredictable.
We caught up with our winner, who continues an already incredible run during the 2014 season:
CalSpeed: The wins just keep coming, in what has already been a career year for you. Specific to this race, what does taking the win in this, the inaugural event, mean to you?
Patrick Britain: I put a huge amount of pressure on myself to win the inaugural oval at CalSpeed. I felt like anything but a win was simply unacceptable due to my previous oval experience. So, to be able to follow through and grab that win was not only really special, but also a huge relief. I’ve had this race circled for a while now.
CS: You arguably had the most oval experience of any regular CalSpeed driver at the event. Do you feel your prior experience helped get you the win, and if so, what helped the most?
PB: A lot of my previous oval experience really helped in how I adapted throughout the day. I was not fast in early practice, but I was able to quickly change my approach and find the missing speed before the first round of heats. My dirt track experience in particular really came into play with the slippery turns 3 & 4. Once I started attacking that corner like a dirt track, my times became much more competitive.
CS: Leading up to the event, nobody really knew what to expect from the oval. Can you describe how you approached this event, or what you expected going in? And now that the first event is in the books, what are your impressions of oval racing at CalSpeed?
PB: I didn’t really know how to approach the event or really what to expect. I figured that turns 1 & 2 would be the trickier end of the track as 3 & 4 were broader. I did not expect the slippery entry into turn 3, which ended up really making the track a lot of fun and allowed for a few different racing lines. I’d love to see us run 2 or 3 of these events per year, maybe even with a couple of different layouts. I think bringing the draft into play would really be crazy.
CS: Last question. While it may only be turning left, and is certainly a world apart from the kind of racing we see on a regular basis here at CalSpeed, do you see this win helping you towards your larger goals for the year? Can you carry momentum from a win at a one-off event like this to the Super Series, or perhaps even the Grands?
PB: This win was very important to me to get momentum going for the rest of the year. I had a checklist of goals to meet this year, and so far I have checked off 2 of them with the Ironman Winter Championship and now the Oval. Next up is Grands, which will likely be my biggest test of the year. I feel like I am in top form and if anyone else is going to take the trophy at Grands they’ll really have to earn it. June 20th cannot come soon enough.
Inaugural Oval Race Top Ten
1. Patrick Britain
2. Tyler Bryant
3. Jon Kimbrell
4. Taylor Hays
5. Aaron Downs
6. Justin Tolman
7. Ian Enz
8. Darren Mercer
9. Wes Dent
10. Chris Huerta