With a five-week break between rounds, the 2015 Season Opener seems almost forever ago, and certainly the 120 drivers entered for round two are eager to get back on track. That first round saw champions lead the way, with Logan Calvin, Jon Kimbrell, and Sergio Bravo owning the podium, the second time in the series history the past champions made the top-3 sweep.
It was Calvin’s third win in as many starts, all coming several months apart, as he only ran select rounds in 2014. And although he came across the line second, Kimbrell started the defense of his 3rd series title off right, and leads the point standings via his pole position that day. In fact, Jon not only scored the pole, but he won both of his heat races en route to a front row start in the A-Main. Unfortunately, in the drag race to the finish line he would come just .020 shy of the win, and making series history for the first ever “perfect day”.
Pretty exciting way to kick off the season…
For our second installment in the 2015 story, we’ll have the debut of a brand new track on the series schedule; a combination of technical corners and rhythm that will require drivers to use every ounce of skill to find the front, and stay there. Basically the other end of the spectrum from the ‘Super Speedway’ that is Nuovo, round #2 will show how many drivers had a show of true pace, and who perhaps were one-hit wonders.
Now with one in the books, the leader boards, targets, and goals have been set; with each individual’s focus sharpened to the task at hand. Some will look to carry on their momentum; others will look to rebound; and some still will be making their first start of the season. There are storylines a-plenty, so lets take a look at what to watch for around the paddock in Round #2, Tecnico…
One of the fun things about a new season is the clean slate that it brings; everyone starts the year tied for first. There are no deficits to make up, no bad rounds to overcome, and conversely, no advantages to lean on. This sometimes also means the assumptions, and pre-conceived notions of what a driver is capable of can be re-set, and that certainly looks to be the case with several names thus far. Further, we have some familiar names back in the series we haven’t seen in awhile, and they all looked to hit the ground running in their return to the series.
Lets start with Vince Burke; coming off his best season to date, Burke is picking up where he left off, building on his 35th in the standings in 2014. Running in not only the Super Series, but making a run at the Sprint Series as well, he has entered 2015 as one of the most focused drivers in the paddock. Scoring a 7th and a 5th in his two heat races convincingly earned him a berth in the A-Main, and with a strong showing at the Sprint Series opener, he is in a good place to back that up tomorrow.
Next I want to highlight a driver fairly new to the series, and looking to run his first full season here in 2015. Coming from the indoor ranks at K1 Ontario, Sean Fite has made the move to CalSpeed and has already gained a reputation as a fast, and clean racer. Running a handful of events last year, Fite has started his 2015 campaign en force, scoring a pair of 6th place finishes in his heat races, and then ran inside the top 20 during the A-Main. He then backed up this performance in the IronMan opener, qualifying on the outside pole, and finished 7th after running in the top five much of the race. Already starting strong, he is also teamed up with the current top team led by Jon Kimbrell; we can only assume this is the first of many strong performances from Fite.
And then there is Adam Nagao. Nagao finished his first full season last year raising eyebrows not only from his teammates and fellow drivers, but of this writer as well. Making every A-Main in 2014, albeit a few of which through the B-Main, showed that Nagao had what it took to get to the big show, even if it was the hard way. In the Season opener, he showed what it would be like if he started towards the front instead of the back in the A-Main, and finished at the head of the pack that chased three passed champions. I got a chance to catch up with Adam for this preview, and asked him a little more about how he feels about the start of the year.
Mike Smith: The season opener on Nuovo has been good to you the past couple years; first career pole in 2014, and best ever finish with 4th this year. Is it Nuovo; or a clean slate? Just what exactly clicks with you and the month of January?
Adam Nagao: I attribute my success in the beginning of the year all down to my most favorite race of the season, the Machismo 12 hour. It gives me a chance to run with some really talented teammates, such as Taylor Hays, Chris Huerta, and Steve Spring. Which under their mentoring I am able to focus on the task, relax, and have fun. I’ve found that “The 12” reminds me about the fundamentals in order to go fast. It forces you to always be fast all day long with such a competitive field, as well as changing karts, conditions, and circumstances.
MS: With that strong finish in the opener, you sit inside the top five to kick off the year. Should we now see Adam Nagao as a podium threat? What will it take to stay on the podium for eleven more rounds?
AN: I know now that I have the pace to run at the front, but the challenge I face will be the race craft, especially with the last lap race craft. Luckily I don’t have Patrick Britain to deal with at the front, but there are plenty of other strong names at the front that make it very difficult to come across the line first.
MS: You showed quite well at the recent Sprint Series opener as well, truly setting the bar that the rest of the field measured to. With that extra practice on a course many have either never seen before, or haven’t seen since Grands, do you feel you have an advantage going into Round #2?
AN: Through working with teammates, especially Jon Kimbrell who has been mentoring me, I feel like I have discovered some of the secrets about the Tecnico track. The track is amazing fun when you get it right. I just hope that I am up at the front having fun with the big names and we leave the rest behind.
Round #1: Tecnico, The Debut
Tecnico makes it’s Super Series debut in tomorrows race, the first of two weekends on the configuration for 2015, as it will also host round #10 in October. Only the second of the new track layouts to get graduated up from the Sport Kart Grand Nationals, Tecnico was one of two ‘new’ layouts at the 2014 event, and was an immediate driver favorite. As the name suggests, the configuration is quite technical, pairing several corners and sections together that provide a hefty challenge for anyone to master.
A lap around Tecnico…
Heading in the counter-clockwise direction, the run down the hill that is the front straight ends with the quick entry into the Classico Esses, and continues through the Contino Carousel. Passing through this section is certainly possible, but with the fast entry, we have also seen many drivers defend against the pass by holding the outside.
Upon exciting the Carousel, drivers will start to move to their right to get set up for the slowest part of the track, the hairpin. A deceiving corner that sometimes baits drivers into going in too quick, we’ll see a good amount of passing in this corner tomorrow.
From there it is a full throttle run through the ‘infield sweeper’, and into one of my personal favorite sections at CalSpeed, the fast right hand kink, and tighter left hand run to start the run up the hill to turn 4. This section is a blast because you are at full throttle through the right hander, and like the hairpin, the left begs you to throw it in deep; and any loss of momentum here via the tiniest slide and you get killed all the way up the hill. This was the site of the extremely exciting start of the last lap side-by-side battle between Adam Nagao, Riley Dugan, and Kevin Taylor during the Sprint Series, a fight that continued all the way to the finish line.
How you get through that complex will many times determine how you approach turn 4 ‘Kornakurva’, as a bad run will ask you to be a little more defensive in your approach. Either way, the decreasing radius turn 4 sets this up nicely for the final complex in the ‘new corner’ (yet to be named) and onto the straight, which now hosts the last chance attempt for any reverse direction track.
The new corner owns a love/hate relationship with drivers, as it is equal parts challenge, and enjoyment when you get it right. A non-paved and off camber right-hander, the setup for it happens well before the turn in, and it bites you hard when you enter in too quick. If the back end of the kart hangs out too much here, you can either find the tire wall with your left side, or drivers passing you down the straight from the loss of momentum.
One of the most fun, and toughest tracks on the calendar, get ready for an exciting day of racing on Tecnico!
Top 5 Best Tecnico Drivers (’14 Grands)
Jon Kimbrell: 2 Wins, 4 top 3’s, 4 top 5’s
Jerott King: 1 Win, 2 top 3’s, 4 top 5’s
Darren Mercer: 1 Win, 1 top 3, 4 top 5’s
Jose da Silva: 1 Win, 1 top 3, 3 top 5’s
Aaron Downs: 4 top 3’s, 4 top 5’s
We’re only one round into the 2015 and we already have a ton of stories to watch in Round #2.
For the first time ever, we are running a Super Series on Tecnico. Some drivers will already have experienced this layout via racing at the 2014 Grand Nationals (2015 registration is now open by the way) or by racing in the season opener of the IronMan or Sprint Series. For many drivers, however, this will be their first taste of the tricky new layout.
So, it all boils down to the same question that every driver has before every race, “What does it take to win?” Easy. You just have to be fast and smart.
Okay. I’ll expand on that.
In order to be fast, you must adapt well. That means you can’t approach this round like it is Grande and go on autopilot until the racing starts. You must actively do your homework and make sure you are on top of your game. There are a ton of videos from Grands last year and from the IronMan and Sprint Series races a couple of weekends ago. Watch them. Learn from the drivers who have done it. You can’t look at a track layout, graph out a racing line and expect that to work; Tecnico will reach out and bite you if you don’t fully understand the ins and outs. Think of it as our version of Spa or Darlington.
All of that aside, we have to talk about how Logan and Jon utterly dominated Round 1. Jon specifically had the best day of his career, point wise, and came just under 1 tenth of a second short of becoming the first driver ever to sweep the day. Even still, an overall pole, two heat wins and a 2nd in the A Main is an absolutely stunning day. Logan, meanwhile, did what he did best. Sat at the sharp end of the field all day long and got to the lead when it matted, getting himself his 6th career A Main win and tying himself for 2nd all time on the wins list. The biggest story of Round 2 is that we are already watching the championship fight. Could it be a one-on-one battle between Jon and Logan? Or, will someone else jump in and mix it up? We’ll have a better idea in just more than 24 hours.
Now for the fun part; picking a driver that I think will be one to watch tomorrow. For me, I’m going with the driver that has the most momentum right now and that is Adam Nagao. Adam finished a career best 4th in Round 1 and followed that up with another 4th in the IronMan opener and a 2nd in the Sprint Series. (IronMan and Sprint Series races were both on Tecnico, I might add.) With two 4ths and a 2nd in three races, Adam Nagao is my pick to run well in Round 2.
The Overall Championship: Calvin Wins, but Kimbrell Leads…
The Perfect Game.
In baseball it is a no-hitter; at the Super Series it is netting the maximum points available on the day by scoring pole position, winning both heat races, and then the A-Main. No driver has ever done it before, but in round #1, Jon Kimbrell came within 20 thousandths of a second of being the first, nipped at the line by Logan Calvin. Ironically, it was Calvin who had been closest to the mark before, and who Jon is now tied with for the most points in one day: 410.
The battle that race was for the win though, not for records and not for points; the latter two a by-product of earning the top step of the podium. These two drivers will be talking points throughout the entire season, and along with Sergio Bravo who completed the podium in round one, will be three of the primary contenders for the title.
There are also a few drivers accustomed to being at the sharp end that finished further back than they would have liked in round one, and not necessarily from their own doing. Case in point is perennial front-runner Darren Mercer, who was caught up in another drivers mistake to fall down the charts in the A-Main. Mercer will no doubt be back out front this weekend, and I expect him to be joined by other front-end regulars that had rough openers like Bill Kreig, and Miles Calvin.
I also want to talk about Taylor Hays for a second; he put together another solid day of racing at the event he won last year, and currently sits 6th in the standings. He then showed up to the IronMan opener and found the podium, grabbing a second place to his teammate Steve Spring. Hays comes into tomorrows race with everything he needs to back up his solid start to the season, and will be a strong contender for the podium. A pair of strong runs could be enough to spring board his title hopes, and put him in the mix early.
There were several other drivers that made some noise in the opening round that will have the spotlight on them this weekend. Drivers like Adam Nagao, Jose da Silva, Riley Dugan, and Justin Tolman; all of whom saw time at the front of the main pack in January. What will be interesting is if these guys will be able to prove it was not just ‘because Nuovo’, and more because they have improved from last year. All save Tolman were present for either the IronMan or the Sprint Series, and showed that they have Tecnico figured out. Now they need to do it in the confines of the ‘Big Show’.
Going back to our round one winner, I talked with Logan Calvin about his start to the year, and his thoughts heading into Saturday. As a guy who has won his past three races out here, and finished 2nd in the one prior to that, he definitely looks like he is at the top of his game. Here’s what he had to say…
Mike Smith: Logan, congrats on scoring the win in the opener, and starting off the season on a strong note. How would you say the opener effects the rest of the season? Does a driver’s approach to round two and beyond change because of how the opener goes?
Logan Calvin: Thanks Mike. Yeah, couldn’t complain how the season started. As far as the win effecting the season I personally don’t believe it does. Every race I show up to I’ll be going for the win, no matter if I’m the points leader or just showing up randomly like in 2014. As the season progresses and the points championship is nearing an end, then Ill have some people to target if you will. As of now its just about getting the most points you can on the day. It’s a long season; its important to get a good start and having some room for a bad race/drop.
MS: You scored the win, but it is Jon Kimbrell that owns the point lead, matching your record for most points in a single round with 410. Of course you knew Jon was going to be a contender out of gate, but after a year off, what is your take on the rest of the talent pool?
LC: Jon put an incredible round together and it’s going to be a fight to the end. As far as the rest of the field goes, there are definitely some new faces in the mix. It’s awesome for the sport as drivers are improving and new drivers are joining the mix.
MS: There are several of the usual suspects at the sharp end to start the season, but there are also a few new faces inside the top ten. Do you suspect these new names are here to stay, or do you think we’ll see them fade over the twelve round season?
LC: I think as the season continues the top ten can have some new faces in it. But as far as the top five goes, I personally believe it will be the same faces we have seen in years past. It’s a funny thing when the A-Main rolls around and its all about being smart and working together. Drivers that typically haven’t always been at the front don’t normally get as much help as the ‘veterans’ do. It 100% helps having friends in the A-Main, as opposed to being the seal surrounded by sharks.
MS: Round two sees the debut of the Tecnico track for the Super Series. You raced on this layout during the Grands, and brought home a pair of top 3’s. Having not been on the track since then, what are your thoughts heading into Saturday?
LC: Luckily I got some practice last week on this layout in a Rotax, and I think it will give me a little edge on the competition. This track is not Nuovo by any means, and racing will be at a premium. The Tecnico layout opens the door for passing with hard braking corners and hairpins. Passing into the new hairpin after the carousel will be the best passing opportunity on this track. I’m really excited for the race Saturday, as race craft will be necessary to have a good result.
Top 15 Overall Standings
|3||Sergio Bravo [M]||390|
|7||Jose da Silva [M]||342|
|8||David Kelmenson [M]||339|
The Masters Championship: Bravo Podiums; Not too many surprises…
If there was anything that might be considered a surprise in the opener, it was Jose da Silva going as well as he was; although those that have watched him lately knew it was a matter of when, not if. Da Silva is a driver on the rise right now, having finally translated his pace and patience in the IronMan Series into a strong showing at the Super Series, picking up a heat win, and then running up front in the A-Main. It looks like this will continue into tomorrow as well, as from this writer’s point of view, he was the driver to beat at the IronMan opener on the same track. A small hiccup took him out of contention, but his rebound to a top 10 run was impressive.
Last year’s #2 David Kelmenson doesn’t look like he’s lost a step in the off-season either, but he also looked like he hadn’t gained one yet at the opener. Kelmenson needs to find a little bit more to take the fight to Sergio, and it may actually come from following, more than leading. A dose of patience for the Masters driver could give him what he needs to out score Bravo more often, which is really the only thing he needs to do. Pace is definitely not his problem.
Behind these two guys is a host of drivers we expected to see fighting for the top five, and they did not disappoint. Last year’s #3 Ben Blank, and #5 Mark Connell round out the rest of the top 5 in the current Masters standings, and look to once again be challengers for the podium here in 2015. Both drivers’ days could have been better too if not for a couple incidents, so their point totals aren’t necessarily indicative of where they could be.
The one driver in this category that certainly had a round to forget was Steve Spring, who is hoping to throw the round away and start fresh tomorrow. He is in good position to do so too, scoring his maiden CalSpeed win in the IronMan season opener on the same layout just two weeks ago. It is rebound time for Spring if he is going to make a podium charge, and thankfully he knows his way around the joint pretty damn well.
But the guy they are all chasing is still the one and only, Sergio Bravo. Bravo is the stick all others are measured against, and a podium in round one doesn’t make it easy. The challengers will need to start making things happen straight away if they are going to have any kind of shot at the title, and not just a great fight for second. And Bravo knows it too; confidence is a dangerous thing, and this champion has it in spades…
Mike Smith: A podium in the opener is a fine way to begin your defense of the Masters title, and the start of your ‘drive for five’. You are also obviously a contender for the overall as well; how does an experienced Super Series racer such as yourself approach the season? Do you push for race wins; go for points; focus on the Overall or Masters?
Sergio Bravo: I’m always looking toward the front of the field, one race at a time. A-Main podiums are always the goal but recovering from bad qualys and heats is vital to the overall season points too. It’s fairly obvious that if I focus on the Overall that Masters will take care of itself.
MS: Although you were able to kick things off with an almost fifty point advantage in round one, the talent pool behind you is perhaps deeper than ever before in Masters. Taking a look at the Masters’ field, what drivers catch your eye as ones to watch?
SB: Well, I certainly can’t ignore the guy who finished second to me last year, Dave Kelmenson. He’s really found some speed this last year and I expect that to continue. Mark Connell has made some very good progress too. If those guys expect to challenge for Masters they need to be up front, cause that’s where I plan to be.
MS: We saw all of your class rivals at the track to get time in on the new Tecnico layout, either in the clinic, IronMan, or the Sprint Series. With no recent practice on the configuration, do you feel you may enter Saturday at any disadvantage, seeing as the last time you ran on it was at Grands?
SB: I don’t think so. I’ll have the regular practice and I feel one of my strengths is adapting rather quickly to the track and conditions, but race craft is what gets you to the front no matter what track. I usually don’t even focus on what track we’re running until I get there. I don’t believe in saying “I’m good on this track, or bad on that track” – if you go in thinking it’s not “your track” you’re already starting on the wrong foot.
Top 10 Masters Standings
|2||Jose da Silva||342|
The Grand Masters Championship: Messimer stamps authority on title bid…
This class hasn’t shown it’s true colors yet, as although returning Super Series star Dave Messimer came out of the box strong, not everything else was yet in place. Defending champion Dennis Kimbrell’s charge to the front met a few roadblocks through the day, even though he showed the same pace as Messimer. Kevin Taylor sits 2nd in the standings, but is not actually running for the duration of the season, much to the dismay of this writer. It would have been great to see what his sophomore effort could have put in…
Jeff Latimer, last year’s #3, also had a round to forget in the opener, and the fact he is outside the top five in points is not something that will last very long. Like others in the field, he’ll be looking to bounce back strong tomorrow, and set his sights back on the sharp end of the standings.
Brain Starr, last year’s #2 driver in this class was actually absent from the opener, and will be making his 2015 debut this weekend. Starr worked out the kinks during the clinic and Sprint Series though, and should be able to hit the ground running tomorrow.
Rounding out the top five are Steve Frame and Ed Lewis, two drivers who both looked like they had found another step during round #1. They’ll need to keep up this improvement to fight for the podium, but the groundwork looks to have been laid for personal best seasons from each driver.
But when talking about the Grand Masters championship hunt, it does look like all roads will go through former Masters National champion Dave Messimer. As a driver that has gone toe-to-toe with Bravo for the Masters fight before, he certainly has what it takes to put up big points, and more importantly, do it consistently. Having been out of the seat for a while, I caught up with Dave ahead of tomorrows race for a quick ‘Q & A’ session.
MS: Round one was a very strong start to the season after a two-year hiatus from sport karts Dave Messimer; how was the first race back from your perspective?
DM: It’s really been only one year Mike, but still seams long ago. I was anxious to get back in a kart, but a little concerned on my endurance level from being away for so long. After the race I felt I still had the speed but ran out of energy too quickly. I’ll have to work on that. Overall I think I did OK on my return and happy with my results.
MS: You lead the GM standings by a healthy sixty-point margin after the season opener; what were your goals coming into the season, and is the Grand Masters title one of those goals?
DM: Number one goal is to run the whole season, and then maybe I have a good chance at the Grand Master title. After winning the Club Kart Series in 2013 that was the best feeling ever in my karting career and even though it wasn’t as competitive as the SS it was awesome just the same. This weekend will mark my 33 Super Series start and I would like to continual my streak of 32 A Main finishes. It’s getting a lot tougher with the increase in talent, thanks partly to your race clinic and other programs, so it’s just a matter of time before I can watch the A Main from the other side of the fence.
MS: Saturday you’ll see a brand new track, with no prior experience. Tell us a little bit about how to learn a new track quickly; how do you prepare for the event in just a single practice session?
DM: Make a plan before getting on the track. Don’t rush the corners and get lost and try not to get in any battles with other drivers. For me it’s about location and traction. Where I want to be for braking, turn in, apex, and exit. And how much traction is available. If I can get the line right and on the edge of traction, speed will be my friend.
Top 5 Grand Masters Standings
The Rookie Championship: Spicer leads, Curran top finisher…
Personally I am not terribly surprised at the top two names in the rookies standings, as Kyle Spicer and Drew Zeller have put in a bit more time than the rest of the name son the list. That said, each definitely have more in the tank, and we could see them outperform their round numbers pretty handedly this weekend. I was very impressed with NorCal driver Brent Curran, who although got off to a bit of a slow start, improved with every session, eventually actually finishing as highest rookie. These three drivers definitely started the year off as the three to beat, and it will be interesting to see if they can back it up here in round #2.
The two guys that complete the top five I also thing will be stronger this weekend, as Sergio Serrano and Luis Calderon both have been focused on the rookie fight from the get go. Like Curran, Serrano is an out of towner (Phoenix) and will need to come to grips with the new track without the benefit of a clinic or event, while Calderon took advantage of said events two weeks ago. Calderon did look to make some strides during the Sprint Series too, so I am excited to see what round #2 brings.
The cool thing about round #2 is that 9 out of the top 10 rookies will be in attendance, so the rookie fight is still very deep, and we’ll get a chance to see how the group improves from last month. The driver leading them all is Kyle Spicer, who I had a chance to interview for this preview. Here’s what he had to say…
Mike Smith: Kyle, coming out of the opener with the point lead is definitely how you wanted to start the season, even with two rookies ahead of you in the B-Main. How was the day from your perspective?
Kyle Spicer: Well coming out of round one with the points lead is definitely where I wanted to be, but there is always room for improvement, especially with my teammate only a few points behind. The day went pretty well in terms of racing, but I did run into a few problems in the main, which sent me back further than I had hoped for. Honestly I can’t wait until this Saturday on a more technical layout.
MS: Now with one round in the books, what are your thoughts on the rookie field? Who do you see yourself fighting with for the next eleven rounds?
KS: The next eleven rounds are definitely going to be interesting in terms of the rookie field. Everyone is only going to get faster and make this championship battle even tighter. I definitely see Drew Zeller as a very tough competitor and wouldn’t doubt if we swapped up positions a few times. Also, like you mentioned in the video preview there are a few guys such as (Luis) Calderon who have been putting in the time, and are definitely going to play a factor this season. Round one isn’t the place to count anyone out of this at all.
MS: This weekend is the debut of the Tecnico track for the Super Series, and will also be your first time seeing the layout. This of course is something echoed by many other drivers, and perhaps even on our more established layouts. As a rookie though, how do prepare for a track you have never been on? How do you not only find the best way around, but also find passing zones to achieve the best result?
KS: I was actually able to squeeze in a few laps during last years SKGN practices in hopes that this track would come around for 2015. It wasn’t easy the first time around and it’s not going to be any easier the second time around. Being able to adjust quickly is what it’s going to take. As far as passing zones go, playing it smart is going to be a key role, but still having the confidence that you are able to make passes in hairpins or long sweeping corners has to be there. I’ve already got a few spots in mind just from looking at the layout that are going to be interesting come race day. Also having two of the best coaches in the business, Logan and Miles Calvin, helps out big time when it comes to race craft on tracks such as Tecnico.
Top 10 Rookie Standings
The Heavy Class: Bryant the new man to beat…
From second on back this class looks to be very close, and with nearly every driver in the class returning for round #2, we will get a better look at who the protagonists will be moving forward. Doug Lewen used experience to his favor, narrowly missing a transfer to the C-Main, and I think could be one of the strongest of the group. Just behind him is Dan Gefis, whose occasional entries into the series prepped him for the opener, and I think has plenty more left in the tank. Mike Collins on the other hand I think could definitely be higher in the class, and with a wealth of experience could be one to watch on the more technical layouts. Rounding out the top five is rookie James Lieser, who I think there is a lot of potential, especially as he continues to come out to the clinics with his son Jetson. Time will tell how much he’ll improve, but he is certainly putting the time in.
The top three from 2014 have moved out of the Heavy Class, so we know we will have new class champion this year, and after round #1 it looks like Rodney Bryant is the man to beat. Outscoring his opponents by more than half, Bryant looked very good in the opener, and it will be interesting to see if he carries it into round #2. I asked the new point leader a few questions ahead of this weekend’s race, which he enters with a realistic outlook.
MS: Rodney Bryant, in one fell swoop you put your stamp on this class as the man to beat. Albeit a late commitment to the class, it looks to have been a good choice. What are your goals for the 2015 season?
RB: Ultimately my goal is to win the Heavy Class championship. Anything short of that would be disappointing for me. Another goal is to maximize my point total for my team, Arkham Off Axis.
MS: As a driver new to the class, can you explain what some of the differences are in the seat when the twenty-five pounds is added? Does the kart react differently, and if so, what do you do to adapt to it?
RB: I’m new to the class but not really the weight. When I first came to CalSpeed I was running above 230 in gear. For my first year at Grands I dropped down to 200. Since, I’ve put quite a bit of that back on topping out at 223 for Machismo. In round one I only had to carry pounds of ballast. Absolutely the kart behaves differently; exit speed off corners is so critical. Being able to put power down as quickly as possible to gain RPM at the heavier weight is extremely important.
MS: As one of the drivers heading into Saturday without recent practice, will time on the track back during Grands be sufficient to kick things off ‘on pace’?
RB: Well I can only hope. I think the experience from Grands will help. As will having run some of the same corners at Machismo. Honestly, I’ve tempered my expectations for this event, and for the season until Grands, when I’m running on equal terms at 200 pounds. I’m working hard to reach that weight in gear for the event.
Top 5 Heavy Class Standings
The Team Championship: RNA the new Team Powerhouse?
If you compare last year’s team standings to the top five after round #1, you’ll see one glaring difference: No T4 Autosport. Holding the top two spots in the standings in 2014, the T4 umbrella did not have the start to the year they would have liked, with their highest effort coming from T4 La Panda in 6th place. The rest of the squad sees its teams outside the top 10, sitting 11th, and 14th-16th. This of course is a surprise, but I don’t think will be the beginning of a trend, especially given the organizations track record.
Arkham is once again inside the top 5, as their Arkham FFS squad holds down 5th in the standings, which is a good start towards improving their third spot in standings last year. Just 9 points in front of them and in 4th is a team I know many penciled as one to beat this year, and that is Calvin Racing Development, a new team for 2015. Like Arkham, GranStand is back inside the top 5, and has started a little better than where they left off in 2014, sitting 3rd in the team standings. GranStand, CRD, and Arkham are not at all surprises for the top five, and I think it is expected they will be in the hunt to the end.
The top two teams however are fairly new names to the Team Championship conversation, as the RNA group has brought home the top two spots in the standings after round #1. While they did finish 5th in the standings in 2014, they were not fighting for the top spot throughout the year, and instead were constantly improving, and moving up from deeper in the standings. That has obviously all changed this year, as acquisitions and shuffling of personnel has them looking very good to start things off. I sat down with one of the lead guys for the RNA Squad, Rene Hourian, and got his view of how the Team Championship looks so far…
Defending 1-2 stable T4 outside the top 5 (6th), but Arkham and Granstand back inside the top 5. CRD the new kid on the block, but projected to do well. RNA 1-2 with very sold start. Interview Rene Hourian on RNA success: RNA 1-2 to open things up; did you expect such a strong start, what is it going to take to keep RNA at the front and earn their first Team Title? Would you have expected to see no T4 teams in the top 5 to start things off; who look to be the strong teams after one round, What team had a rough start but you expect o bounce back hard
MS: First up congratulations not only on RNA’s 1-2 start to the season, but also your own personal run at the season opener, picking up that third in the first heat, and capping it off with fifteenth in the A-Main. How was the day for you, and your group as a whole?
RH: Thanks, even if it is the first round, feels good to see our hard work of putting these wonderful people together paying off, and their respective individual work paying off. As for me I had a pretty good round I guess, but I can’t help saying it could have gone better. I just got caught up by an incident in my second heat, and as a result I had to play catch up from the back of “The A” to get up to 15th; but it sure was a blast doing so. Felt good to show I still have a trick or two up my sleeve even after getting knocked down, or at least that I no longer do “B-Main **** bro” as the wise young philosopher known as Jonathan Vitolo once told me. [Laughs] Maybe it’s Adam’s old suit giving me some inspirational juju’s as he insists on telling me; or maybe it’s the beard, as Huerta insists on telling me. Who knows?
MS: As one of the driving forces behind RNA, did you expect such a strong start, and what is it going to take to keep RNA at the top, and earn their first team title?
RH: All joking aside, if I were to say the group surprised me, I would be lying. I have had full confidence in my team since it’s grouping, and I’m glad we’re throwing punches out the gate. Getting the ball rolling and the momentum started early is certainly good, especially with the competition we’re up against. They’ve all been driving brilliantly and seeing them in the first round of Sprint Series and Ironman just reconfirmed that for me. On top of that the chemistry in the team is just there; I see it every day. Everyone wants to grow and move forward as a team and it’s just an awesome feeling. Honestly, I think it’s pretty simple in regards to knowing what it takes to keep a team at the top, what is hard is execution of said knowledge. Being consistent while still developing and punching above your weight, sounds simple enough right? [Laughs] We had the latter, but not the former last year; but this year, as I said before, I have full confidence in this group.
MS: Looking at the Team Standings right now, who look to be the strongest teams, and do you think we’ll see the top five back up their round one performances on the new track?
RH: Being realistic, we only have one round complete. I’m not one for prediction that early on. I know some our own teams had drivers that self admittedly didn’t hook up days that were representative of their real performance. Some of which showed what pace they have on this new layout in the Ironman/Sprint Series. I simply must assume others are in the same boat and as a result didn’t get into the top five. I’ll wait a few rounds to make final judgments, but when simply looking at the line-ups in the top five, all the teams are looking strong, and will surely keep us honest. It does undoubtedly help having a head start though.
MS: Lastly, what are some of the teams that are a little further down the charts, that you expect to bounce back strong in round two? Not seeing the defending champions T4 Autosport in the top five has to be a surprise?
RH: No doubt teams will bounce back, even some of our own teams will bounce back. RNA Brands Hatch for example was a team full of drivers who had uncharacteristic points finishes and they’re all ready to prove that was a fluke on round two. To count out T4 Autosport, or for that matter some of the other teams, based on one round would a foolish thing to do. If we’re talking T4, chiefly T4 Masters and Talon I feel didn’t have a very representative days. With Talon missing a driver who will be running round two, and both teams having drivers not hooking up the type of days we’ve come accustomed to them doing normally, they’ll both turn it around. On the back foot sure, but they’ll be there. Being a sister team, we surely wish them all good luck. A close fight is fun for everyone.
Top 5 Team Standings
|1||RNA - Imola||890|
|2||RNA – Targa Florio||809|
|3||IKM - GranStand||804|
|4||Calvin Racing Development||769|