In a field that included some of the best sport karters at CalSpeed, veteran racer Patrick Britain took back the lead and the victory on the final lap, besting Sergio Bravo and Dave Messimer in the process. This marked Britain’s second ever victory in the series; his first win coming way back in 2010.
His quest for the top step started out as it will for every driver in each of the 8 rounds this season; with a ten minute practice /qualifying session to set the starting grid for the race. 29 drivers took to the temporary Nouvo/Sportivo mash up course, all vying for a fast time to start at the head of a very competitive field. While qualifying isn’t as important in a long IronMan race as it is a Super Series sprint event, it is still qualifying, and by its very nature must be flat out.
Right out of the box it was Jose da Silva setting the bar with a 57.662, before the aforementioned Britain took over the top spot with a 57.628 on lap three. Britain would maintain the top spot throughout the rest of the ten completed laps, scoring pole position with a time of 57.343 on the final lap, with da Silva scoring the outside pole, and Sergio Bravo and Justin Tolman completing the second row.
With the full field of near thirty drivers gridded and ready to set out on the pace lap, the question of pit strategy started to immerge, with the possibility of one of the two required stops being done on lap 1. Sure enough, two drivers would duck into the pits right at the start, with both Ian Enz and the reigning champ Bill Myers electing out of the first lap madness, scoring clean air as their reward. T4 Autosport leader Taylor Hays would follow suit one lap later, with fellow T4 driver and last years runner up Steve Spring the very next lap. Hays then surprised a lot of people by knocking out his second and final stop on lap five, still with nearly 45 minutes left to play.
Pit stops continued throughout the race, with one or two drivers stopping nearly every lap, varying strategies enacted from one end of the field to the other. At the front though, three drivers had broken away from the rest of the pack, decidedly working together even after the first series of pit stops happened. Patrick Britain led over Sergio Bravo and Dave Messimer from the drop of the green; until Bravo found his way by on lap thirteen, keeping both the other two in tow.
Bravo would lead the way until about the halfway point, when Britain re-took the point in traffic, which they were now negotiating on a regular basis. Messimer would be the first of the lead trio to make his stop, coming in on lap 29, with Bravo entering three laps later, rejoining the track right in front of Messi. Britain would elect to wait a couple laps before making his first stop, but without a partner to draft with, would come back out of the pits behind his two rivals, and in third.
Now with a stop in the books for the lead trio, it was Messimer who would take over the top spot; but just as soon as he took the point, he relinquished it by heading down pit road. Having seen the time lost from staying out the previous time around, the other two amigos also ducked into the pits; first Bravo and then Britain, with Messimer retaining his advantage over the two, now with both required stops completed. Having yet to complete his second stop, This gave the lead over to the #2 qualifier, as Jose da Silva circulated at the point for a handful of laps before making his second, and final pit stop with about five minutes remaining.
With all stops completed and only a few laps left, Messimer led, but was being stalked by his race-long rivals Bravo and Britain. All three drivers stayed nose to tail, waiting either for the improbable mistake, or for an opportune passing moment, daring not to strike too early. Lap 48 belonged to Messimer, only .315 over the hounding duo. On Lap 49 it was now Bravo in the top spot, with the gap to third now .215 at the line.
The end of Lap 50 marked the two to go sign, and a new leader with Britain now making it three different leaders in three laps; his advantage over third less than two tenths. On to the main straightaway and across the line to take the white flag and it was Bravo once again on point, with Britain in tow and Messimer right on his heels. The final corner is where it was all decided, with the trio coming out near even, and a drag race ensuing to the line. At the checkers, the pole sitter would triumph over the fastest of the race by .099; Britain scoring the win while Bravo had to settle for second and fastest lap, and Messimer crossing third, .190 shy of the win.
Further back, another great race had been taking place to round out the top five, as Arkham Motorsport’s Bruce Allen and Justin Tolman did battle with Ben Blank for positions 4th-6th. Encompassing several laps, the trio swapped positions nearly every lap, and coming to the white it was still all to play for, with Allen leading over Tolman and Blank. Then on the final lap, Blank made his way around Tolman, but in his setup for Allen, opened the door for a Tolman counter attack. Across the line, Allen would hold onto 4th over Tolman and Blank, the trio split by less than a half a second.
For the Arkham duo, it was a great way to start the IronMan season, one they are both definitely in the championship hunt for. “There’s such a huge crop of talent and a much longer season that it’s hard to say if this was a good enough springboard to the top,” Arkham Team Leader Allen mentioned in an interview. “Very happy to have a top four spot though. Consistency is what will pay off later and I feel like I have found that.”
His teammate echoed his sentiment, but also pointed out how the difference in the rules effected the race. “Round one presented a new challenge with the addition of a second pit stop,” commented Tolman. “In the past, you could ride around and judge your lone pit stop off the other leaders. Deciding on how and when to throw in that second stop was an interesting new wrinkle. I was happy to qualify fourth and bring home a strong fifth place finish in such a stacked field. These Ironman races are a blast!”
Scoring a podium finish may have been tough to swallow after having had a shot to win, but after having been out of the seat since November, third place finisher Dave Messimer can feel good about that finish. “I came out to the Ironman to see if there were any changes to the program and check it out to see if I wanted to partake in this series.” So will we be seeing more of the 2012 National Masters Champ? “…Yes I will be entering the complete eight round series,” Messimer confirmed.
Second place finisher Sergio Bravo does not plan on running the whole series, but may make a few more appearances this year in the Series. “I like the competitive full fields, so I may race a few”, he answered when asked his future in the series. In regards to his race with the long time runners he shared the podium with, Sergio added “I hooked up with Patrick through the first half of race then with Messimer the second with Patrick joining in. Britain and Messimer know how to run this kind of race, and the three of us were patient until the white flag flew, and the raced to the finish began. Britain went into Long Beach leading when I took the inside line and thought I had a very good line through the corner, and out of long beach only to see Britain gaining, and passing me on the outside. Anyone of the three of us had a shot at the win, and it was PB’s turn.”
Jumping back into the Sport Kart racing scene in full force this year, Patrick Britain backed up his second place (and overall point lead) in the Super Series with a win and point lead here in the IronMan Series. Confirming he is running the whole season, Britain was very happy with the win in a post race interview. “I’ve run a lot of races in my life, and that Ironman was without question one of the most challenging, rewarding and fun. Big credit to Sergio Bravo for working with me all day as well as racing hard and fair at the end. Have to give credit to Dave Messimer as well for a fantastic battle with Sergio and I at the end. I can’t wait for Round 2!”
While round #1 showed what was easily the strongest IronMan field in recent memory, it looks like that will be a continuing trend in the series, making the “signing up for an A-Main” phrase more of a reality, than a joke. Round #2 will see the championship head to the Grande Counter-Clockwise layout, where speed and passing are at a premium, hosting some of the best racing on the schedule. Registration for that event opens January 22nd, so be sure to lock your place in the field; spots are limited!
2014 IronMan Series Round #1 Top 10
1. Patrick Britain
2. Sergio Bravo
3. Dave Messimer
4. Bruce Allen
5. Justin Tolman
6. Ben Blank
7. Jose da Silva
8. Jon Kimbrell
9. Bill Myers
10. David Kelmenson