Now a quarter of the way into the 2015 Super Series season, the various title chases are starting to take shape, with drivers establishing themselves as either contenders or favorites in their respective classes. At the sharp end of the overall standings we have all past champions, with the most accomplished in the Series leading over a very hungry group of challengers.
The three layouts thus far have been some of the most diverse, and the challenges coming from the track configurations will only continue this weekend on the tough Grande Counter Clockwise circuit. As one of the toughest tracks on the schedule, this weekend could either cement drivers in the road to the top, or it could be the turning point to attack other personal goals. Both throw outs will come into play after this round in the standings, and we will definitely know who the players are after this weekend…
Smitty’s Spotlight: Storylines to shake up the standings…
Round #4 will see numerous different storylines spotlighted over the course of the race day, ranging from which drivers are absent, to those returning, and even to some drivers making their debut that could shake things up. There are also several that are carrying a bit of momentum after strong performances elsewhere, and it will be interesting to see if they can carry that momentum tomorrow.
First lets take a look at a few guys that have missed rounds this year, and need a big run this weekend, starting with Chris Huerta. Huerta put together a stout opening round, but was forced to miss the past two, using up both throw-outs early. He looked really good on Nuovo in January, and Grande CCW shares that high speed nature, so he may have a good shot at a repeat performance.
Regular front runner Aaron Scott is also looking for a bit of a rebound after missing the previous round, and has become a regular challenger inside the top five. After a strong pair of opening races, I expect to see him right back at the front this weekend as well.
Two drivers who will be looking to carry on some recently earned momentum are Aaron Downs and Vladimir Orlov, each scoring victory recently in the IronMan and Sprint Series respectively. In Downs we have an established driver, who while hasn’t had a bad year so far, that was the first instance of him hitting his marks. Currently 15th in the standings, could we see him flip the switch this weekend? For Orlov we have a driver that has shown great potential, but has struggled to put together a complete, dram free run. He scored the Sprint Series win after an aggressive move, showing that he has what it takes to get to the front, he just needs to do it smoother to be a more total package.
Lastly we have a few of accomplished competition karters coming out this weekend, with Darren Elliott and Rob Logan headlining the list. I actually had a chance to get on track with Logan on Wednesday, and as expected he was immediately on pace. The bigger question will be how they adapt to this type of racing, which has been the biggest challenge for competition karters in the past when running in a sport kart series.
Round #4: Grande Counter-Clockwise, a personal favorite…
Grande CCW was my first experience driving here at CalSpeed and it immediately proved to be a challenge, with it’s mixture of corners, and variety of requirements of a driver to excel here, it was great fun. Since then we have added the new right hand final corner, and now use ‘Short Beach’, both of which only enhancing the challenge that is Grande CCW.
Not only is it a great place to drive, but it is a really fun place to race on, host more than one off camber or decreasing radius corner that allows for various lines throughout the course. While there may not be just one way to be fast, or win on Grande CCW, there are a few things to keep in mind, which is why I got the most successful driver on the layout to give us a glimpse at what it takes; Jon Kimbrell:
Jon Kimbrell: “Grande counter clockwise is a phenomenal track. Its technical qualities and multiple passing zones make for some truly great racing. Over the years I’ve been racing at CalSpeed, I can say that it is my favorite layout. It’s always been a good fight on this track. But whether it’s your favorite track, or you’re not very keen of it, the one thing that’s for certain is that you really have to be on your game to find success here.
The keys to doing well here are hugely dependant your driving lines. The decreasing radius corners have proven to be tricky in the past for many drivers. To be fast, a lot of the times you have to open up the inside of a corner quite a bit. The problem there is that if someone is behind you, they can easily throw it in and make a pass. Forceful or not, it’s slowing you down. And to top it off, if a driver starts to defend, that defensive line is a lot slower. So there’s always a lot of pressure if someone’s behind you. The key to success is to find the median between a fast line and a defensive line. If a driver can hold someone off while driving a fast line, he/she is only going forward. A simple and obvious concept, but especially true on Grande CCW.
For me, the biggest challenge on this track is leading. Like I said earlier, this track can be difficult to keep people behind you, and when you add no draft in front of you to the equation, it’s a whole different story. Other than that, I’ve personally had consistency issues on the last two corners before the straight away. Since it’s off of the normal racing asphalt, there’s a significant amount less grip. It requires a lot more finesse and in my opinion makes it a little more difficult.
From the amount of experience I have on this layout, what I’ve seen in the past is a lot of battling. The track has plentiful passing zones, which is great, but that can also be the reasoning for the demise of your race. Drivers need to be careful to not battle too hard. Too many times have I seen large gaps between groups of drivers, solely due to fighting too hard or aggressive driving. Working with someone is definitely beneficial. Either way, at the end of the day, you’re going to end up battling with whoever is near you on track. Which is why I’ve always had only positive things to say about this layout.; It never sells short of an exciting race.”
Top 5 Best Returning Grande CCW Drivers
Jon Kimbrell: 3 Wins, 4 Podiums, 5 Heat Wins, 12 Top 3’s, 4 F.L.
Logan Calvin: 1 Win, 2 Podiums, 6 Heat Wins, 13 Top 3’s, 4 F.L., 3 poles
Darren Mercer: 1 Win, 2 Podiums, 4 Heat Wins, 8 Top 3’s, 3 F.L., 1 pole
Aaron Downs: 1 Win, 3 Podiums, 2 Heat Wins, 8 Top 3’s
Sergio Bravo: 1 Podium, 6 Heat Wins, 13 Top 3’s 3 F.L.
Grande CCW is arguably the most polarizing track on our calendar; some drivers love the complete mental loop that comes with going in the wrong direction, while some drivers can never seem to get a good grasp on seeing everything in reverse.
What shows the separation in the two mindsets is a look at the record book, and it shows that Grande CCW is a driver’s track.
Race craft is always important at CalSpeed, regardless of the track configuration, but it is always a balance. If a track like Nuovo is 40% speed and 60% race craft, then Grande CCW must be 80% speed and 20% race craft. To put it another way, you have to be really friggin’ good to win on Grande CCW.
The record book backs that fact up; the winningest driver on Grande CCW is the winningest driver in Super Series history, Jon Kimbrell. In addition to that, he is the only driver to have won more than one A Main on this layout, taking three so far. Behind him with one win each is a ton of talented drivers: Logan Calvin, Sergio Bravo, Darren Mercer, Aaron Downs, and Adam Kellerman. Then, if we dig deeper into the stats we get another great indicator of who to watch tomorrow when we look at the heat race wins. Specifically, Logan Calvin and Sergio Bravo have each won 6 heats out of 14 tries and each have finished in the top 3 13 times out of 14 tries. Those are incredible numbers and really give us three guys to keep an eye on tomorrow, Kimbrell, Calvin and Bravo. Unfortunately for everyone else, they are also the top three in points.
Oh, and one last little thing to put just a bit more pressure on the drivers. The track is still very green after being a parking lot for NASCAR two weekends ago. There is virtually zero grip off of the racing line and in fact there is very little grip on the racing line. In kart testing, lap times were significantly off of the traditional times.
So, to recap, in order to win on Grande CCW you just have to be an excellent driver. Easy enough, right?
The Overall Championship: The beauty of a throw out, or false security?
Jon Kimbrell is back on top, and Sergio Bravo in 3rd after strong rebounds (2nd and 4th respectively) in round #3; The question is, are they out of danger with one more throw out, or do they need to push even harder? Other drivers inside the top fifteen are showing very good consistency, but just haven’t had the big numbers of some of the top guys yet. One big round from will catapult a driver into higher standing, especially if they have a strong throw out to fall back on. The big name inside the top 20 to be absent is last year’s #5 driver Bill Kreig, who is also a member of the current leaders in the team category, and sits 13th in the standings. His absence will mean a chance for others around him to move up the ranks, including that of recent IronMan winner Aaron Downs, who is currently 15th. Also just outside the top ten and showing quite well lately is Alyssa Yauney, who, after the opener has been a regular at the sharp end of these races.
We could see quite a bit of shuffling once the second throw out comes into play, especially on such a tricky track as Grande CCW being the catalyst…
Top 15 Overall Standings
|10||Jose da Silva [M]||683||(274)|
The Masters Championship: Top 5 puts Bravo back on top…
Bravo’s top five, as well as a tougher round for Jose da Silva allowed him to re-take the point lead, however da Silva did have an impressive run to win the B and work deep into the A to salvage an equal “off day” to Bravo. The rest of the top ten is very close with Ben Blank leading the ‘best of the rest’ with Kelmenson in fourth after a struggling for results in the first 3 rounds. Then you have Diego Morales, winner form the previous round, but now cemented into a full season ride, albeit certainly a guy who can shake things up in this category.
Bad news in this category is the absence of #7 Jeff Carson and #8 Jeremy Aldridge, who both were on their way forward in the class before this weekend. Round #5 will see them bounce back, they question is from how far down the order…
Top 10 Masters Standings
|2||Jose da Silva||683||(274)|
The Grand Masters Championship: Contenders set? Podium fight thickens…
It’s looking like the big story here is for third, with an epic battle between 3rd-9th; Steve Frame leads this group after moving up from 5th last round. Things are so even amongst this group from everything including best and worst rounds, to where they are on track, and even pace. For me, the excitement here rivals that of the overall standings in terms of how many drivers truly have a part to play.
One guy who certainly carries some momentum into this race will be Ed Lewis, who after getting crashed out of the IronMan opener on lap one, started on pole for the most recent round, leading nearly the entire race in the process. His strong top five in that race will have his spirits bolstered this weekend, and we could see a breakout Super Series performance form the Arkham driver tomorrow.
Top 10 Masters Standings
The Rookie Championship: Spicer leads; front group pulling away…
Top few starting to distance themselves from the rest; Spicer has the advantage followed Curran, Zeller, and Serrano; go time for Calderon (5th) on back…
Top 10 Rookie Standings
|Don Diego Veloria||228||(0)|
The Heavy Class: Can Collins and Lewen challenge Bryant?
Right now all eyes are on Mike Collins and Doug Lewen to see if they can find a little more, and bring the fight to Rodney Bryan on a consistent basis. Whether they can or not, those too are certainly in a close battle of their own, and the lineup of the podium is far from sorted.
This weekend will be telling if this season will be a resemblance of 2014 or not, and the time to make things happen is definitely now…
Top 5 Heavy Class Standings
The Team Championship: IKM; CRD take 4 of the top 5 spots. RNA 3rd…
There are now two IKM teams in the top 5, and the second CRD team has also entered the top group. RNA Imola once again leads the RNA contingent and is only the third outfit inside the top five… However, Kreig will be missing this round for the lead squad, which could shake things up; never mind the fact several other teams deeper in the standings are starting to hit their strides.
Outside the top five things are very close; housing the entirety of the T4 and once top 5 Arkham groups, and with some of the improvements coming in these camps, we could see them all start to make a steady march up the ladder. Given the way this season has started, we could very well see a startk change in results from one half of the season to the other, but it will still be a case of damage control here in the early part of the season.
Top 5 Team Standings
|1||IKM – GranStand||1846||(748)|
|2||Calvin Racing Development||1765||(739)|
|3||RNA – Imola||1760||(635)|
|4||IKM – S3||1668||(605)|
|5||CRD – Gold||1654||(559)|