Sprint Series 2018 Round #8 Preview

Incredibly, for the second time in 2018 Mother Nature decided that the Sprint Series drivers needed a longer break from racing, this time drowning their hopes of finishing round #7 in the middle of July. With the last full round taking place back on June 9th, it has been two whole months since we have seen these drivers all do battle for the win, the last winner being point leader Spencer Russell.

The Sprint Series drivers are eager to get back at it, and their challenge for round #8 is the original CalSpeed layout: Classico. The shortest of all the Fontana, CA facilities configurations, the 14 turn -just over half a mile long- circuit is known to be the hardest of any CalSpeed track to pass on, and is also host to the biggest arrive and drive karting race of the regular season, The Classico GP next weekend. But first, the Sprint Series drivers will take to this challenging circuit, so let’s take a closer look at the track, and some of the drivers that could come out on top in the second half of the 2018 season…

Round #8 Track Spotlight: Classico

The original CalSpeed Karting layout, “Classico”, varies very little from when it was first designed and put to use when the facility opened in 2004 when it was simply known as CalSpeed. Since the start of regular arrive and drive racing here in 2010 with the very first Super Series season, everything about the layout remained untouched, until last year when a repave took place. This smoothed out the notoriously bumpy Esses section, and along with it, larger -and smoother- curbs were installed. Many purists and long-time Super Series regulars at the sharp end missed the ‘old’ Esses, but there is still plenty of challenge throughout the circuit.

While Classico shares nearly all of its corners with the much longer Grande circuit, the fact that both the Horseshoe and Long beach complex are absent makes a surprisingly huge difference, primarily in the general lack of straight-forward passing opportunities. There is still the usual spot at Kornakurva, and for the more experience the Hairpin, but other than that it can get to be a bit tough to overtake around here. This is one of the reasons Classico is so tough; it puts a premium on getting a good lap in qualifying, as working your way through a pack her is a challenge to do. Plus, it is a pretty short track, offering the quickest lap times of any layout by over 6 seconds.

Focusing on what makes Classico different, let’s pick up the lap in the middle of the back straight as we approach Contino. While the Esses are the unique section to Classico, getting them right actually begins in the Contino Carousel. The entry is still the same -it is still full throttle over the curb, with braking beginning right after we ‘land’ on the other side- but now when you float up the track after the first apex, you’ll want to hold it for a little while longer. This is because the second of the two apex’s in Contino is much later than other Clockwise layouts, and getting your positioning right sets everything up for the entry into the Esses. The kart should be lined up with the blue line at this point, with the driver’s eyes trained on the white curb to their forward-left; if done correctly this whole process should be full throttle since the time we returned to the accelerator back the beginning of Contino. Turn in is smooth, with an effort to ‘guide’ the kart through the section, and not force it through. Having a little lighter touch on the wheel will let the kart go over the curbs and pavement transitions with much less deviation on the line or the grip levels. Once over the back half of the first curb, heading straight over the second curb next to the tires is the plan, exiting out right to the blue line on exit.

The section is indeed ‘easier’ than it was in the past, but still requires a good amount of control to really get the most out of it. The Esses aren’t a place that drivers make up a bunch of time, but they certainly can lose a bunch if you don’t do it correctly…

Smitty’s Spotlight: Mother Nature turns season second half into a pressure cooker…

This weekend’s Sprint Series event will be the beginning to a run of five rounds in just nine weeks, with the typical 3-4 week interval broken up by the first doubleheader event in our history. Take into account that the entire Summer Series sub-championship will take place across these five events, and this ‘second half’ of the year is certainly a bit of a pressure cooker. The overall championship is still all to play for, and everyone is also tired off first for the Summer title coming into the first of the best 4 out of 5 contest to finish off the season. With all of the usual suspects from the first half of the season, plus several drivers coming out just to take on the second half, and the title fights are really going to be exciting over the next couple of months.

And the tracks we’ll be visiting do nothing to lessen the challenge, beginning with one of the toughest layouts on offer, Classico. While not the tight confines that we will see at the Classico GP in the Super Series next weekend, Classico’s near-constant twists and turns are reminiscent of an indoor circuit -or event the Machismo layout- giving drivers very little time to rest. And with fewer passing zones, the train of karts lend to the possibility of accordion-style issues, making the place almost as taxing mentally.

After that, we’ll have Classico again, but of the counter-clockwise variety, which is the layout that most closely resembles the Machismo track for those looking to prepare for the 12-hour contest in December. Then it will be the doubleheader event on September 29th, starting with Grande CCW in the morning, and ending with Classico CCW again in the afternoon. While each event still pays the same amount of points, that particular day will certainly have a lot of eyeballs on it, and I could more [2R] drivers pick that day to get in some extra seat time. Then we’ll have another driver favorite to finish things off, as Tecnico acts as the bookend to the 2018 racing season. It has been anything but a typical Sprint Series season, but this year’s edition is sure going to end on an exciting note!

Derek’s Download: First time on Classico for many drivers; who will adapt faster?

If there is one track where speed outweighs race-craft, it is Classico. CalSpeed’s shortest layout will see racing for the first time since last year, and the Sprint Series field will have a tough layout for racing on, as well as hot temperatures to adapt to all day.

Out of all the layouts that we have here at CalSpeed, Classico is by far the most challenging. A very short layout means for quick laps and less opportunity to make passes. This can only lead to one thing, qualifying. Starting towards the sharp-end is always a benefit, but on a track like Classico where there is pretty much one way around, not having to worry about passing and only driving will make the difference. The track only has two braking zones (Scandi and Contino) which are still very tough for passing, and the rest of the layout is either a lift or flat-out. The chances of staying out front are strong if you’re able to keep hitting your marks and get through the Esses smoothly.

The Esses are what make Classico. Negotiate through these final few corners well, and it will be hard for someone to get around you going up the hill. The new paving has definitely made these corners easier but has made Contino that much more important. The only real shot at gaining anything through the Esses will start back in Contino either from someone going a smidge too wide or an early turn in which will make the Classico section a nightmare. A typical mistake is focusing on trying to make it through the first corner, and then having the kart push wide on exit, forcing you to play catch up with the kart until you’re finally onto the straight.

I’ve always thought of Classico as a rollercoaster; one way around. A track with very little rest time, the driver has to tell the kart to where to go and not let it drive them. With us only seeing this layout once a year, many drivers are going in cold to this weekend. Learn the Esses, and get through there smooth. The day will be tough, don’t make it harder on yourself.

—Derek Esquibel
Sprint Series Race Director

Overall Championship: Its August, but there is still half a season to go…

In last month’s ‘Overall Championship’ section we looked at how the top two in the championship were definitely showing the way in the 2018 title hunt, led by Spencer Russell and his back to back wins. Russell’s wins in both rounds five and six allowed him to not only end the first half of the season as the Winter Series champ but also solidified him as the driver to beat in 2018. This has as much to do with his consistency in his point scores as it does his winning ways, as he owns the best drops in the series with a worst day of 6th overall. Still, he hasn’t been ‘dominant’ and is still well within reach of the challengers right on his heels, namely from Sportsman title contender from the Super Series, Sam Hunt. Hunt has a victory under his belt too -in round #4- and sits just 25 points behind Russell as we start the second half of the season. Hunt was also the pole sitter to the eventually canceled event last month, so he certainly hasn’t lost a step…

Like was mentioned in last month’s preview too, the next five drivers in line are all still within reach of the title, and are currently the closest contender for hardware at the end of the season; including Randy Mckee (3rd), Evan Karp (4th), Donnie Clarke (5th) Ivan Martinez (6th), and Michel Chen (7th). The 23 points that separate these five may as well be nothing, and the 89 that separates seventh from first could easily be chipped away with more 5+ position finishes out of the leader. And several of these drivers showed well on Classico last year: Mckee picked up a heat win and a top ten; Clarke emerged as a future rising star with his best career run at that point, including a top 5 in his heat; Martinez had one of his better days, while Evan Karp actually made his Sprint Series debut and 2nd ever CalSpeed start.

But there is as good a chance that we see a breakout run from elsewhere at the sharp end; case in point, Seth Willits. The round on Classico was the last race Willits did in 2017, and he narrowly missed his first win, settling for 2nd overall by just .116 seconds after scoring a heat race win. Or how about Mark Sternberg? He missed round #6, but prior to that had a podium and a top five; his 10th place in the standings is also after only doing three races this year…

Yes, the overall championship is anything but cut and dried, with several drivers still with a shot given there is half a season remaining. This weekend could be the catalyst to a new face on the top step, whether from the aforementioned names or someone completely new…

Overall Standings Top 10 After 2 Drops (Best Drop)

1)Spencer Russell890(285)
2)Samuel Hunt865(243)
3)Randy McKee824(260)
4)Evan Karp817(211)
5)Donnie Clarke816(193)
6)Ivan Martinez806(244)
7)Michael Chen801(235)
8)James Lieser769(208)
9)Seth Willits761(222)
10)Mark Sternberg761(0)

Summer Series Championship: Summer Series opener…Take 2

Let’s try this again…

The Summer Series starts this weekend with a clean slate for all the drivers, and there is no shortage of talent on hand to make it an exciting show. Winter Series champ and current overall point leader Spencer Russell leads a lineup that includes 32 of the top 35 in points, and several others that will threaten the sharp end. While last month’s event was postponed due to weather, it did give us a glimpse at a few drivers that could make some noise for the Summer championship but haven’t run earlier this season.

In the qualifying sessions, it was Sam Hunt that showed top speed, followed by Tony Chen and [2R] driver Don Diego Veloria, the trio again expected this weekend. Evan Karp kept his momentum going with a 5th overall in qualy, continuing to raise eyebrows in what is his first full season at CalSpeed. Sport karting veteran and current Sportsman Class point leader in the Super Series Rodney Bryant also showed well, and it is expected for him to again be at the sharp end as he looks to duplicate that performance in this series.

Joining the bunch for the first round in the Summer Series will also be 2016 third place overall and three-time Sprint Series winner Luis Calderon, joining Veloria as a [2R] favorite, making for a pair of possible spoilers in the first summer contest. And let’s not forget the return of Diego Alvarado to the mix; the regular front-runner and former Sprint Series winner is back for the duration and aiming for a Summer Series title. This championship within a championship is wide open with five rounds to decide it, and this weekend is sure to be a great start to the series with Classico!