The spring portion of the season will come to an end this weekend, with round #5 of the Super Series taking to the Grande configuration, one of the more storied tracks in the CalSpeed repertoire. The weather is starting to heat up, much like the point battles throughout the standings, as each category sees things becoming closer and closer.
Round #5 is also the start of the mid-season stretch, a series of races that many times looks like a Jekyll and Hyde; the fact that the Sport Kart Grands happens in the middle of the season tends to change the status quo a bit. Drivers almost always come out of the Grands better than before, with the results post-June proving this fact. For others looking to have a strong run at the Grands, the next two rounds will act as a momentum builder, helping them set the stage for a strong National event.
This weekend will be an exciting one, as we also have the IronMan and Sprint Series competing the next day, making for a full weekend, and a great way to bring in the Summer months…
Smitty’s Spotlight: A closer look at some notable entries, and absences…
Now that we have a few races in the books, it is a bit easier to see who the bigger players are, or at least who is normally going to be at the sharp end fighting for strong points. This makes it pretty obvious when said drivers are absent from a round, and such is the case this weekend. Topping the list of absentee’s is none other than Darren Mercer, currently ninth in points, having just scored a podium at the previous round. This will eliminate at least one of the big names that drivers regularly have to fight with to score a win, and will certainly have front-runners breathing a collective sigh of relief. Also absent at the time of this writing are #20 Alex Herndon, #25 Tyler Bryant, and #31 Michael Wojdat, all of whom have not only challenged for heat race wins, but have been regular A-Main drivers. This means at least four regular A-Main drivers will not be in this round, potentially freeing up spots in the coveted ‘big show’.
And those spots could be filled by a few of our wildcard entries; drivers not running for the whole year, but that could put up big numbers just the same. Leading this group is regular front-runner in both the Super Series, and IronMan events Charles Eichlin, who is forced to miss races this year. Not going for the points means ‘Chuck’ will be aiming for the top solely for the win, and can afford to make moves, or take risks a title contender might not make. There is also the east coast pair of Andrew Wood and Mathew Anderson in town for the weekend, the duo actually running all three of the events on offer. For his part, Wood raised eyebrows in his Sport Kart Grands debut last year, picking up a pair of round wins en route to a Super Final berth. It will be interesting to see how the duo does on their return to racing at CalSpeed…
Round #4: Grande; a veterans playground…
Round #5 on the Grande layout will complete the string of running a different track every round for the first five rounds, as the halfway point will see us take to the Super Speedway once again, Nuovo. Grande itself is also a fairly high-speed venue, with the single exception being the Hairpin, one of, if not the slowest corners on any of the eight layouts on the schedule. This combination of rhythm, speed, and technicality makes Grande a driver favorite, and with a large number of Super Series races having taken part on the configuration, we see that veterans of the series usually have a strangle hold on the results.
This isn’t to say that a driver can’t score his first win on the layout, as we saw Bill Krieg grab the win the last time we were on Grande, back in round #7 last year. Kreig did have a good amount of experience when he scored that win however, actually finish second on the same layout in the spring, further supporting that experience pays dividends here on Grande. I took a moment to chat with our most recent winner leading up to this weekend, a driver that will be looking to bounce back after be absent the previous round.
Mike Smith: Last year you scored your first career win on the Grande layout during the summer event, but actually also finished second in the spring installment. What is it about this track that seems to agree with you?
Bill Kreig: I think this track being one of the more technical configurations suits my driving style. Its has some low speed technical sections and has a couple of good passing opportunities which I seem to do well with.
MS: What are some of the keys do doing well on the Grande configuration? What are some of the challenges that this layout provides?
BK: There are a couple keys to doing well on this track. One is being able to adapt to the track and the kart. Although this is a technical configuration, there are multiple ways to approach some of the corners and being able to adapt your line to suit the kart is key. I would have to say the challenging parts of this track are the Scandi/Hairpin complex and the Carousel. These areas are technical but also offer the opportunity to run different lines depending on the kart, the track, or the pack you are running with.
MS: After missing round #4, you have to be eager to get back in the seat, and secure some strong championship points. Does it make a difference coming back to a track that you have done well at, or is the approach the same regardless of venue?
BK: That’s a good one. I am definitely eager and looking forward to getting back in the seat. The approach is still the same, which is to drive fast, stay out of trouble, and get some solid results, if anything I need to tell myself to stick to the plan and not let my eagerness influence bad decisions. It’s a long season, so for me the focus is on consistently solid results.
MS: Team IKM-Granstand took a hit in the standings this past round with your absence, and a difficult round for Kennedy; Currently sitting second, what is the approach at the team standings? Are the points something that just take care of themselves, or will the team look to alter strategy to play the points, more than going for a potential win?
BK: Tell me about it, I guess that’s what happens when I don’t show up… At this point the strategy is to drive smart and for us to all get some solid results. If we can successfully do that, the points will take care of themselves.
Pat Britain weighs in on Grande…
I also spoke with our resident expert Patrick Britain, who is actually the most successful driver on the Grande layout, amassing 3 wins, 4 podiums, 15 heat wins, a pole and 4 fastest laps during his career. Here is what he had to say about what to expect, and how to tackle the Grande layout:
“Grande is the best mixture of a track that requires outright speed and racecraft that we visit all season. It doesn’t create the large pack style racing that we see on Nuovo, nor does it have the strung out breakaways that we see on Classico or Tecnico. Instead, you just have to be fast enough to be a part of the lead group, but then have the racecraft to beat those three or four other drivers to the stripe.”
“Grande requires a driver to ‘get up on the wheel’ more than every other track that we run on. Through the tight Grande section, you have to really whip the kart around quickly, without sliding, in order to get it in optimum position. Getting on the gas early and carrying maximum speed out of the Grande hairpin is super critical to getting up the back straight quickly. This also allows a driver to use the entry to Carousel as a passing opportunity. It all begins as you head down the hill out of turn four, get that section right and you can really take someone off guard as you head back up the hill.
Last lap, last corner moves are a way of life on Grande so you had better have the confidence in your skill to control your position, even if it isn’t in P1. If you are someone who just likes to lead as much as you can, you could very easily find yourself finish off the podium on Saturday even though you were leading as the race wound down.
Top 5 Best Returning Grande Drivers
|8 Heat Wins
|15 T 3’s
|6 Heat Wins
|11 T 3’s
|5 Heat Wins
|14 T 3’s
|5 Heat Wins
|13 T 3’s
|7 Heat Wins
|13 T 3’s
As we head into Round 5, the 2015 season begins the second third of the season. This is the time of year that drivers begin to typically settle in and in some drivers cases, this is when they begin to points race.
Maybe you’re sitting towards the top of the points standings right now and on Saturday you find yourself sitting 3rd in a heat race and think, “good points day, I don’t need to get after those top two unless they hand me an opportunity.”
Let me tell you from experience, don’t points race!
I can tell you with 100% certainty that “good points days” are a key reason that I did not win the Super Series championship last year. Rather than going out in every race and accepting nothing short of a win, I began to accept top 5s as a solid day.
While it is true that a top 5 is nothing to look down on, when you are trying to beat guys like Jon Kimbrell, Sergio Bravo and Darren Mercer, you must win. And that holds true for drivers that have their own personal battles as well. Top 10 in points, top 25, top 50, top 100, Rookie, Masters, Heavy, or whatever your personal goal is. Do not let yourself sink into a rhythm in this middle part of the season, keep chasing it, keep improving, keep doing whatever it is that has lead you towards your goal.
It sounds obvious, but trust me, being comfortable is the biggest enemy of creativity, it is the biggest enemy of invention and it is the biggest enemy of improvement.
The Overall Championship: The standings can be deceiving…
With throw outs coming into play after four rounds in the books, the point standings can take on a bit of a skew, as only two rounds are used in the rankings. Looking down the order, the glaring example being #10 Chris Huerta and #15 Diego Morales, each of whom have missed two rounds and have nothing to fall back on. While both strong drivers, not having any points whatsoever to lean on means you keep everything you earn, which is not always the best news.
On the other end of the spectrum you have drivers who have been extremely consistent, drivers like #2 Logan Calvin, #3 Wes Dent, #6 Adam Nagao, #8 Taylor Hays, #9 Darren Mercer, and #12 Justin Tolman. Save for Nagao, each one of these guys has kept there point totals inside the 300+ mark, giving them a strong base just in case something bad happens. For Nagao, while one of his two throw outs is a sub-300 day, the other is a very strong 375, which means he can stay at the sharp end even with a strike-out round.
Having a good set of throw outs will come into play this weekend, as Mercer will be forced to keep one of his stout 338’s, as his absence will replace it with a goose egg in the throw out column. Believe it or not, that number is strong enough where he could actually pick up a couple of spots if a few guys in front have a rough time of things. As we get to the halfway point these strong foundations will become even more important, and we’ll start to see the number of contenders dwindle, a few succumbing to consistency woes…
Top 15 Overall Standings
|Sergio Bravo [M]
|David Kelmenson [M]
|Jose da Silva [M]
|Diego Morales [M]
The Masters Championship: Bravo leads, but it is still all up for grabs…
With a pair of 375+ days, Sergio Bravo leads the way in the Master’s category, but is by no means in a comfortable position. David Kelmenson ahs returned to stride to move up into second, and Jose da Silva has been strong all year, showing he can contend with the status quo on multiple occasions thus far. With the impressive return to the series by Diego Morales immediately seeing him atop the podium, and inside the top four, he also has to be seen as a threat. Morales may not have any points to fall back on, but he could shrink the gap even more this weekend, as he was the winner at the Spring Grande event last year. With how unpredictable the season has been thus far in the Masters category, any of the top four look like they could lay claim to the title come years end, and will certainly be putting the pressure on every round.
This isn’t to say drivers like Ben Blank are out of it, but the pressure is certainly on to start making inroads to the front, and the time to make that happen is now. Never mind he is also fending off a very hungry group of drivers looking to get inside the top five; Blank is in the center of the battle that is far from over.
Top 5 Masters Standings
|Jose da Silva
The Grand Masters Championship: Top 2 unchanged, Lewis moves into 3rd… Dave Messimer’s strangle hold on the top spot only can only be compared by Dennis’ on second, as both drivers don’t seem to be showing any signs of relinquishing the top two spots. The question there is whether or not Kimbrell, last year’s champ, can find a little more to start chipping away at Messi’s lead. He’s looked like he is at least equal to him in pace on multiple occasions, but just hasn’t found the big gains he needs to reel him in.
In this class, the fight for the final podium spot is the really exciting thing to watch. Ed Lewis claimed the spot after showing very well in April, starting with a career best 5th place finish in the IronMan, then carrying that momentum to a career best 212 point day in round #4. This is the first 200+ point day of anyone in the hunt that isn’t named Kimbrell or Messimer, and may have showed that Lewis could be the one to beat for that 3rd and final podium spot. There are plenty of drivers still in the hunt, as most of the top 10 have shown that they have the pace to make it happen, but Lewis’ most recent performance raised the bar on what it will take.
Top 10 Grand Masters Standings
The Rookie Championship: ‘Go time’ if anyone is going to challenge Spicer…
Up to this point it has been all Kyle Spicer, going home the top scorer in class in each of the four rounds thus far. This gives him a strong set of throw outs compared to his fellow rookie contenders, and it is unlikely we will see him bumped from the top spot in the first half of the season.
This basically means it is Go Time for the rest of the top five in this category, with the closest driver of #2 Brent Curran still nearly 90 points astern. The rest of the group needs to start finishing in front of where Spicer does on a regular basis, and this weekend may be their best chance: Spicer hasn’t been on Grande before. This at least evens the playing field a bit, as up to this point, Spicer’s experience gap has been fairly apparent. One driver who is position to shine in this group is Luis Calderon, who is actually the only driver that has recent laps on the layout, having run in the Sprint Series event on the same track a couple weeks ago. This is his best chance to close the 145-point gap to the lead, and he needs to strike this weekend to get his title chance back on track.
Top 5 Rookie Standings
The Heavy Class: Bryant’s authority unmatched; Lewen’s chance to move up…
Rodney Bryant has showed he is the one to beat in this class, consistently out-scoring the competition, much like last year’s champ; hence calling his performance doing the ‘Jasinski’. If he keeps it up, it may be referred to as ‘the Bryant’ from now on…
Behind him is an epic mano-e-mano battle for the rest of the podium, with Mike Collins holding down the second spot, and Doug Lewen a close second. This weekend Lewen can move into second, but will need to have a career day (138+) to do it, because as of this writing, Mike Collin will be absent. There isn’t much between the two class stalwarts, and this will tighten the battle up for sure. The spotlight is on Lewen this weekend for sure…
Top 5 Heavy Class Standings
The Team Championship: Important weekend for the top 5 teams…
Eyes will be on the pair of IKM squads this weekend, as S3 will not have Tom Kwasniak present and look to take a hit at least in the throw out column, while Granstand will be trying to bounce back from a tough round #4. If either squad falters, they could struggle to stay inside the top 5, as there are several teams right on the outside looking to pounce.
Of all the teams in the top 5, CRD has the strongest foundation; owning a throw out total of 1512 points, clear of any other team by 100+ points. This cushion, combined with an already tendency for scoring strong point totals has them looking good for the long haul, and they’ll need it to take the fight to the leaders.
At over 100+ points clear of second, and 200+ clear of 3rd, RNA-Imola is the team to beat right now. Lead by defending Series champion and current point leader Jon Kimbrell, it may be the recent strength shown by teammates Sean Fite and Hasller Ortega that really gives them the advantage. Recently battling each other for the Sprint Series win, the RNA teammates have recent experience on the Grande layout, and could be on the cusp of breakout performances in the Super Series this weekend…
Top 5 Team Standings
|RNA – Imola
|IKM – GranStand
|Calvin Racing Development
|IKM – S3
|CRD – Gold
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