Sprint Series 2018 Round #4 Preview

With the third round of the series in March postponed due to weather, it has been over two months since the Sprint Series has seen action, now entering round four on the Grande Counter-Clockwise configuration. Back in February, it was James Lieser scoring his maiden win, joined on the podium by Diego Alvarado and [2R] driver Lukas Dziemidok. It was two podiums in a row for the latter pair, and with both not running the rest of the season, we’ll be guaranteed some new faces on the podium tomorrow.

The question is whether it will be faces from the sharp end of the standings, or if someone breaks through with a performance that stamps their name on the 2018 campaign. With only two rounds in the books and eight more to go, it is anything but certain what to expect. Today we’ll take a closer look at the arena that is Grande CCW, as well as take a little closer look at not just the drivers around the top of the standings, but a few more that could surprise this weekend…

Round #4 Track Spotlight: Grande CCW

The Grande Counter Clockwise layout begins with a run down the front straight and only a short distance after the start/finish line to the braking zone for the first corner on this circuit: ‘Short Beach’. Implemented several years ago along with the Bypass corner to lower RPM’s on the sport karts, Short Beach got a facelift last year when the re-pave happened, and this is the only course that uses it. Last fall it was still a bit low on grip, but now that grip has come up nicely, but the bigger challenge may be with the curb at it’s apex. The apex is actually quite late here, and it is actually possible to upset the kart if you use too much of the curb, with not a lot of room on exit if you need to catch it. Another note; where once holding the outside was a regular occurrence here, the new layout sees this as a much rarer opportunity for success.

After Short Beach is Horseshoe and the high-speed entry into Contino Carousel, each only seen in this configuration. Horseshoe is pretty straight forward; keep it tight out of Short Beach and then just opening things up about a kart width off the wall as you ‘diamond’ the double apexes of the right hander. Contino on the other hand has a lot of different options, and the choice made has a lot to do with what the session is, or who you are racing with. Keeping things tight will make it a bit tougher for drivers to make the pass on entry, but a wider entry is needed for qualifying to be able to carry maximum speed throughout the second double-apex corner on the track. The big trick to getting Contino right in these karts is to ‘float’ the kart through the first third of the complex, waiting for it to take a set in the center, then accelerating off with a straight a line on exit as possible.

The run down the back straight should see karts lined up on the far left side of the track, protecting the inside as they approach the kink, and then finally the flat-out left hander of Silk. While there are a couple different ways to enter this corner, the most important part is how you exit, and more specifically, the setup for the slowest corner on the layout, Hairpin. Hairpin tends to be the corner that gives people the most trouble, as you are exiting the fastest part of the circuit turning left, followed by the slowest corner and it’s a right. Vision is key here, and getting your eyes on the apex of the Hairpin can make this challenge a lot less daunting. To add to things, this can also be a very strong passing zone; but that will require good lane choice through Silk, proper timing, and finesse on the left foot.

What also makes Hairpin so important as it starts the run up the hill through Scandi, and then finally to Kornakurva at the top of that hill. A poor exit will cost not only time up during this climb, but will also see drivers come under fire for a pass into Kornakurva. The Kornakurva/Bypass combination is seen this weekend for the second time this year, having been used in the last round on Tecnico. Nothing has changed save for perhaps a little bit more grip with the higher temperatures, but drivers can still lose a chunk of time if they overshoot the off-camber, off-surface corner that is Bypass. As always on counter clockwise tracks, expect plenty of passing to take place around here, especially as the laps wind down…

Smitty’s Spotlight: Its been a long time since round #2…

If it seems like there hasn’t been a lot of Sport Karting going on lately at CalSpeed, you’d be right. With the seven-week gap from rounds 2-3 of the Super Series and the postponement of the third round in the Sprint Series, this weekend’s event marks just the second time sport karts have done battle in over two months. That is an awfully long time to be out of the seat, but for many of our Sprint Series regulars, the Super Series event on Sportivo was a chance to knock off the rust. A few of those drivers looked like very little rust had taken hold too, with a handful coming up big; Sam Hunt, Spencer Russell, Tony Chen, and Daniel Eaton from about the top 10 in Sprint Series points all found the A-Main. Others from a little further back -like Michael Chen, Vladimir Orlov, and Tom Zevin- also made the big show, with all save Zevin in attendance this weekend.

As always, the best way to bolster your chances at a strong Sprint Series run is to take part in the Race Clinic that same morning, and again we see several of the front runners signed up to do so. This weekend could see the first of some separation between the sharp end of the standings and those pushing for the front; the time between rounds, those that ran at Super Series or are doing the clinic or not, and the absence of many [2R] drivers all playing a part. Grande CCW is a different beast than Super Series, and it will be interesting to see who can carry some of their Sportivo momentum into the quicker, more technical track…

Derek’s Download: Round #4; Expect new faces on the podium for Grande CCW…

Well, after quite the hiatus we are about to get rolling again with Round 4 of the Sprint Series. Grande CCW will be the arena this Saturday for another sell-out crowd of drivers. One of the biggest layouts CalSpeed has to offer, it also happens to offer some of the best racing in my opinion. If you want to make it such, every corner is a passing opportunity.

From my own experiences, patience is a big part of keeping yourself up front for Grande CCW. Like I said, there is a bunch of passing zones; because of that, it is really easy for drivers to get caught up with trying to make too much happen in a single lap, which will cost a chunk of time.  If you get passed, get right back in line and just look forward. Be patient and save any run you might get and make it count. The further the race goes on, the more defensive the top group will get and the higher the risk it will become to gain more spots.

I really enjoy making passes into Contino Carousel; it is also a pass that you can make holding the outside tougher for. If you really attack the first apex and beat the next driver on entry, most likely you will have that position by the second apex. But! Always make sure you have that driver clear on exit, it is a silly penalty to get for not checking over your shoulder as you come through the kink.

Now for the competition; Dziemidok is a 2R and is done for the year, Alvarado moved and most likely won’t be returning to run a full year. I feel now that both Lukas and Diego are done for the year, the field will now be that much tighter amongst the top 5 in the A Main. This leaves Russell as our current point leader with just a 6-point gap over Lieser before the drops.  These drivers should be hunting for a podium finish this weekend if they wish to extend their lead. Between Spencer and James, it’s going to come down to which driver the track clicks with fastest. For Nuovo it was Russell and on Tecnico it was Lieser. Both drivers are still developing, certain tracks will show better for certain drivers over others.

As the year progresses, knowledge will be gained and confidence will go up. Drivers will think less about negotiating the track, and more about the race craft surrounding it. At this point in the year, driver finishes are still a toss up. I expect to see a more consistent podium around the halfway point in the year. For right now, there is not much separating the top 3 with 4th and 5th still being able to upset the order. Grande Counter, do your work.

—Derek Esquibel
Sprint Series Race Director

Overall Championship: Lieser atop the standings after maiden Sprint Series win…

Snagging your first win is always a special thing, and when it puts you on top of the leader board, it is something to be relished. James Lieser has been able to do both unchallenged for a bit longer than normal with the postponement of round #3, but I expect him to come out of the gate just like he did in February. Lieser is the point leader when a drop is calculated, but Spencer Russell actually sits 6 points ahead when you count both of the first two events, and with another ten markers back to third in total points, and almost 50 separating 1st to 5th, it is obvious who has been a bit more consistent in the open pair of rounds.

The first two rounds were starkly different -Nuovo and Tecnico- and this weekend kind of melds the two places together; add the fact there is only one [2R] in attendance (Sheng Wu), and this could be a true unhindered test for our series regulars. 16 of the top 20 full time Sprint Series drivers are signed up for this weekend, with 35 taking to the series for the first time in 2018, or perhaps ever. This should solidify the front half of the standings into the top two mains, but having a rough heat race tomorrow could be devastating to the point haul. Almost the entirety of the field did well on one or the other track, and when the points are tallied at the end of this weekend, that hot/cold split will really shake up the standings.

Now aside from the aforementioned Lieser and Russell, the next few drivers in line have been pretty consistent thus far, including podium contender from last year Randy McKee, Ivan Martinez, and Frank Hsu. We saw what McKee was capable of last year when he scored an overall win, and he showed well last round with a 4th overall. The latter two are both having a breakout year here, each punching above their weight class if we look at last year’s results. All three of them have put up pretty solid points in the opening two rounds, but there are a couple drivers I think are deceivingly further down the order than where they could be; Sam Hunt and Seth Willits. Hunt has looked strong in every session he has been in, and I think will be someone we see on the top step this season here in the Sprint Series. Getting collected in an incident in the opener sees his point total a bit skewed, but he was one of the stronger runners that day, and has been equally strong in the Super Series. In Willits we have someone that was a front runner all year last season -snagging a pair of podiums- and while he had a slow start in his first heat race of the year, made up 11 spots in the first Main of the year, backing it up with a heat win and top 10 in round #2. Both of these guys are podium contenders, and we could see either on the box this weekend.

There are a couple more names I want to toss out there that are further down the points order, but that I think could make a splash this weekend; Mark Sternberg and Danny Bopp. Each of these guys have only run a single round thus far, but both challenge the front of their heat races, and I think we could see more from them this weekend. If there is a standout performance from someone outside the status quo, don’t be surprised if it is one of these guys…

Current Overall Standings Top 10

1)James Lieser300
2)Caden Thure [2R]300
3)Diego Alvarado290
4)Lukas Dziemidok [2R]290
5)Spencer Russell285
6)Randy McKee275
7)Sam Hunt275
8)Ivan Martinez270
9)Frank Hsu270
10)Seth Willits269