Now in its sixth season, the CalSpeed Super Series has evolved into the pinnacle arrive and drive series here in the United States, and with it, the prestige of finding the top step of the podium has grown. And as with all championships, there are certain races that mean just a little bit more than the others; NASCAR has the Daytona 500, IndyCar has the Indy 500, and F1 has Monaco…
Dubbed, “The Classico Grand Prix”, the Super Series’ once a year contest on the original CalSpeed layout has itself grown into a special triumph for those who can best it. To win on Classico one must strive to be perfect; every braking point; every turn in; every lap must be a pursuit of that perfection. To win on Classico is to make no mistakes; and on a track that pushes you to make them. The infamous Esses beg you to find that little bit more, and then happily chew you up and spit you out when you push too far. Winning here is to make history, and join the short list of drivers that make up some of the sports greatest talents; and be forever known as a Classico Grand Prix Champion.
The History of The Classico Grand Prix
2010: The Inaugural Event…
Sept 4th, round 3 of 5 – 37 entries
The now popular monthly arrive and drive championship known as the CalSpeed Super Series got its start as a fledgling series with only around 30-40 drivers in mid 2010. The third round of that season would see the first trip to the Classico layout, and with it, the beginning of the Classico GP history…
Patrick Britain would bring home the honors for the first pole position by the narrowest of margins over Jon Kimbrell, nipping him by just .008 sec, but once the racing started in the heats, a few others found the point. Miles Calvin brought home the first heat win on the layout by a healthy margin, while Jon Kimbrell picked up the win in heat 1b after fighting off Dromo 1 ace Mike Kai to the stripe. Calvin would score another win in the second set of heats, while 4-cycle tuning extraordinaire Terry Nash brought home the win in heat 2b. Once the green flag flew on the first ever Classico GP A Main however, things would shake up, and it would once again be Kimbrell and Kai battling it out at the front, with Calvin slipping deeper in the top 5. In the end, it was Kimbrell beating Kai out in a drag race to the line to win by just .018 to bring home the first GP win, with Grand-Am pilot Craig Stanton bringing it home 3rd for a memorable podium celebration.
2011: Event doubles in size in year two…
Oct 1st, round 8 of 9 – 70 entries
Year two of the Super Series saw it grow in size throughout the year, and by the time the Classico GP came around on the schedule, the event had grown to nearly double its size from the previous year. This would also be the beginning of Taylor Hays’ affinity for the twisty layout, scoring his first pole and with it a new track record at 50.697. He would back this up with a win in his first heat race, and then it would be a list of current and future who’s-who of Classico GP talent taking it to the point, with Miles Calvin, Jon Kimbrell, and Dave Messimer all scoring double heat wins, while 2010 runner-up Mike Kai also found a win in heat 2a. Although there was a lot of momentum heading into the A-Main, it was Miles Calvin who would do what he couldn’t do the year before, scoring the win over Diego Morales and Sam Brumley.
2012: New tire brings fastest ever laptimes…
Sept 1st, round 9 of 12 – 84 entries
2012 brought the debut of the Decuzzi tire to the series, and with it the fastest lap times seen on the .6+ mile circuit; several drivers beat the previous track record in qualifying, with Taylors Hays scoring his second pole in a row, eclipsing his previous record with a 49.876. And like the year before, Hays backed up his qualy pace with a win in his first heat race, but unlike the previous year, he would be the only driver to sweep his heats. Instead, a host of drivers would score success with one-off wins in their heat races, including Darren Mercer, Bill Kreig, Sam Zian, Isabella Busalacchi, Steve Hansen, and strong 2011 runner Dave Messimer. The twists didn’t end on course however, and it would be the one-off winners that found the front, with Dave Messimer sealing the deal in the A-Main over Darren Mercer, and Logan Calvin, with Taylor Hays forced to settle with 4th.
2013: New spec carb brings fields even closer…
June 1st, round 5 of 11 – 96 entries
With the series growing to meet the 100 driver mark, CalSpeed worked even harder to keep the program at a high level to meet the heightened interest. 2013 saw the closest fields up to that point, much ado from a new carb size that helped out in tuning, albeit at the cost of some lap time. This began the ‘modern’ era for the karts.
Striking first in this new package was 2012 winner Dave Messimer, clocking the pole by the closest margin in history with a 51.302, as the top 6 in qualy were within a single tenth; P2 qualifier Sergio Bravo was in fact just .002 behind. Messimer would continue the trend of pole sitters scoring wins in their first heat race, and like the previous event, several drivers found the stripe first throughout the heats, including Jay Schreiber, Andrew Lemons, Jonathon Vitolo, as well as regular Classico front runners Hays and Mercer. But this event was really a story of two drivers regularly meeting each other on track; #3 qualifier KC Cook would be the sole driver to sweep his heat races, but to do it he had to best Bill Kreig each time, with the closest margin just .090 at the line. In the A-Main it would be more of the same, as Bill Kreig hounded the young Cook lap after lap, coming up just short at the line, with Cook taking the win by just .402, and Jerott King taking the final podium spot.
2013: Unique schedule sees two races in one season…
Nov 2nd, Round 10 of 11 – 98 entries
For the first time in series history, Classico would find the schedule for a second time, and would slot in as the penultimate round of what was a very close championship. Jerott King would follow up his podium performance from the earlier edition by scoring pole position by just .016 over the June winner KC Cook. In the heat races, it was like a who’s who of Super Series talent leading the way, with the aforementioned Cook scoring a pair of wins, with single wins going to Logan Calvin, Taylor Hays, Darren Mercer, Miles Calvin, Jon Kimbrell, and Sergio Bravo. All save Bravo had either won the Classico GP, or been on the podium, and the A-Main was a Battle Royale for who would come out on top. In the end it was Hays scoring his long awaited first career Super Series win, over 2011 winner Miles Calvin, and first time podium finisher Sergio Bravo.
2014: Kimbrell scores his second…
Sept 6th, round 9 of 12 – 113 entries
Back in its traditional area on the calendar, the 6th edition of The Classico Grand Prix served up one for the ages, it once again playing host to the absolute best in the business, coming down to the top three in the standings at the time. But the first to hit gold would be newly crowned National Champ Aaron Downs, scoring his first pole position on the tight and twisty track. In the heat races it was former podium finisher Mercer and defending race winner Taylor Hays scoring the double, while 2010 winner Jon Kimbrell, podium finishers Sergio Bravo and Jerott King, and Patrick Britain all scoring wins.
Bad luck would keep Hays from going for his second Classico GP win, but Darren Mercer rode his momentum from the heats to lead early in the A-Main, with Jon Kimbrell in tow, and Patrick Britain quickly moving into 3rd. Five laps in, Kimbrell would make his move for the lead, knocking Mercer down to second, but not out, as the trio continued to run in station and attempt to pull away from the rest of the field. Kimbrell would hold off not just Mercer and Britain, but also a late charge from Andres Prieto to score his second career Classico GP win, with Britain pouncing with a last lap move to steal second, with Mercer settling for 3rd.
Smitty’s Spotlight: What’s new for the ‘GP’…
New for 2015, the Classico Grand Prix is getting a bit of a throw-back treatment, with several barriers being pushed right up to the tracks edge, eliminating some of the ‘leniency’ that CalSpeed layouts of grown to provide. This is most noticeable in the infamous ‘Esses’ section that leads onto the main straight, but they are also visibly close through the Grande Hairpin, as well as the outside of Silk.
Things are pretty normal through Scandi (turn #7), but the entrance of the Grande Hairpin now has a barrier in place where there used to be a curb, ensuring that the right side tires are indeed on the black stuff at turn in. Exiting the Hairpin is not typically at risk of going off track when hotlapping, but there are times while side-by-side that drivers have run wide and either over, or around the curb. With barriers and tires right on the edge, racers will need to have heightened awareness when battling through the slowest corner on the track.
The very next corner has received a similar treatment, as the runoff room enjoyed on the exit of Silk (turn #9) has now been eliminated, requiring drivers to halt their exit form crossing the blue line. As with the Hairpin, this is not that big of an issue when just cutting laps, but once racing begins, one will need to be more conscious of their surroundings. It does also effect some of the exit speed if a driver is too shallow for the entry of Silk, so we could see it being a bigger setup opportunity for a pass down the back straight…
…Which could be the final opportunity on the lap, especially with how tight things are now in the Esses; barriers are now right up on the proper track limits on both entry and exit. The apexes are also now reinforced with more weight to make it harder for the apex’s to ‘move’ during the session. Plainly, this requires drivers to be more precise in hitting their marks, and eliminates the tendency for drivers to use the off track areas of the section which was available before.
With a full day of racing in the books last weekend, we got a chance to see how things would be affected for the first time via the Clinic, IronMan, and Sprint Series. I had a chance to catch up with 2013 Classico GP winner and all around Classico ace Taylor Hays after his 2nd Place IronMan run, and here’s what he had to say about the layout’s new digs:
Mike Smith: Taylor, you scored an emotional first career win on Classico in 2013, but were always one of the best on the layout, especially in qualifying. In general, what makes this track more challenging than other courses we race here at CalSpeed?
Taylor Hays: The biggest challenge of running well on Classico is the requirement to put an entire day together. No eventual A-Main winner has started the day lower than 12th in qualifying. With the difficulty in passing and physicality of the track, you just don’t see the big drives through the field that you do on tracks like Sportivo or Nuovo.
MS: You had a chance to put in a full hour on the new ‘nostalgic’ Classico configuration during the IronMan race one weekend ago. For those drivers that haven’t had a chance to run on it yet, what was different from your point of view?
TH: Without giving too much away, everything just feels tighter. Barriers are closer to the track and it gives off a bit of a street course vibe.
MS: You had mentioned to me after your second place in the IronMan race that you actually weren’t affected by the location of the walls, as your line keeps you on the ‘traditional’ circuit anyway. How might it affect some drivers that may want to take a different line through the esses, and do you think it could be a difficult change to make?
TH: The biggest corner that I could see there being difficulty with having a driver’s traditional line taken away would be in the entry in the esses. For drivers that take a wider arc on entry, it could definitely be seen as challenging as they will have less space to get their turn-in done.
MS: As you say, the walls didn’t necessarily affect how the track was driven, but do you think that it could affect the racing in some way? Certainly it seems that the close quarters will force better awareness form drivers at the very least…
TH: As it’s already been said, Classico is the most difficult track to pass on. Being smart on where to make passes and where to stick a nose are key. There is little margin for error, and sticking the nose on the outside of Grande or Silk could end in tears.
MS: After a second place run from deep in the field in the IronMan, you have to be pretty charged up about this weekend, never mind your previous success here. For you, what would a win on Classico for the second time mean?
TH: Winning Classico is a really cool deal. With the extra hype it’s getting, the 2015 running should be the best yet. It’s the one track that you can really win with little help and like I said, it means putting together an entire day, not necessarily having just a good main. As with my previous win on the layout, putting up big numbers is very important to any title hope left. That said, based on my history on the layout, I feel there are always a few more eyes on me.
Making History: A conversation with Classico’s best: Jon Kimbrell
I had a chance to catch up with defending Classico GP winner Jon Kimbrell ahead of this weekend’s event, who was fresh off a plane from Italy, and the Kart World Championship. As the winner of both the most recent, and inaugural event, Jon Kimbrell is the only driver to win the Classico GP twice, and with the year he is having so far, could make it three this weekend. But it isn’t just about the win, as he also has one eye on scoring strong points; here’s what the three time Super Series champ had to say:
Mike Smith: Jon, you are not only the winning-est driver in Super Series history, but the only driver to win the Classico GP more than once: the inaugural event in 2010, and again last year in 2014. Can you still remember both of those wins, and if so did they feel different?
Jon Kimbrell: My first win on Classico was one of my most memorable wins. If I’m not mistaken, it was my first win. I remember racing against Mike Kai, a great driver that I raced against at Dromo 1 back in the day. He and I gapped the field and had a spectacular last lap battle. We were able to go through the carousel and esses, side by side on the last lap, and I barely beat him by less than a tenth of a second! That race was one I’ll never forget! The race last year in 2014, I don’t remember the details, but I remember Patrick Britain on the podium with me.
MS: If you can, take us through a lap around Classico. What are some of the tricky parts, and challenging aspects of this, the original CalSpeed circuit?
JK: Classico is one of my top three favorite tracks. It’s one of the more technical tracks and I feel the veterans have an upper hand. But what truly makes this track difficult is the classico esses. That section is very tight and has a very unique curb that has to be approached with caution. Even the best drivers don’t hit it right one hundred percent of the time. The rest of the track is essentially Grande, so I don’t feel the need to explain what to do there. As far as the esses go, without explaining what exactly to do, just know that there is a way to go full throttle through both corners without losing any traction. The key through there is to keep traction; if you slide your kart through the esses, it kills your straightaway speed, which results in a slow lap time. If a driver can figure out classico on their own, they can figure out any track.
MS: The Classico GP typically sees veteran drivers with a strangle hold on the front of the pack; what is it about this place that makes experience such an important asset?
JK: What makes the veterans excel on this track is simply just more seat time. In my opinion, the Classico esses are the most difficult corners to do correctly. To do well, a driver also needs to know the karts well, not just the track. Every kart will drive a little differently, which means one kart might suit your driving style through the esses, while another kart asks for a completely different approach. The driver’s with more seat time know the karts a little bit better and can adapt to the different karts more quickly than the rookies.
MS: You haven’t had a chance to run on the course yet with the walls adjusted in on the track edge, having been overseas the past couple weeks for the Kart World Championship. Coming into morning practice this Saturday, how will you approach the day, and do you think it will be a bigger challenge with a slightly different track, and needing to get used to the karts again?
JK: After running on a tight track at the World Championships, I think my adaption back to these karts will be okay. Morning practice will be interesting, and it might take a few laps, but I’ve had enough seat time to get the hang of it relatively quickly. As far as the track change being more challenging, yes I definitely think it will be. A tighter track means it’s easier to go over the edge (or into a wall). It might be a little slower on the lap times, but will require more precision and patience. I’m happy to hear about the track changes and cannot wait!!
MS: With nine victories to your name, including two at this event, what would scoring your tenth career, and third Classico GP win all in one weekend mean to you?
JK: Scoring that elusive tenth win would mean the world to me! Now that I think about it, it’s been awhile since I’ve won, but at the end of the day, what’s more important to me are the points. I’m sitting second in the standings, and with Logan (Calvin) missing this race, I have to capitalize. So I’m after a good points haul, and if I get a win along the way, ill take that too!
Top 5 Classico Drivers
Jon Kimbrell: 2 Wins, 2 podiums, 3 overall top 5’s, 5 Heat Wins, 9 T 3’s, 4 F.L.
Taylor Hays: 1 Win, 1 podium, 3 overall top 5’s, 7 Heat Wins, 9 T 3’s, 2 F.L., 2 poles
Miles Calvin: 1 Win, 2 podiums, 4 overall top 5’s, 5 Heat Wins, 9 T 3’s, 1 F.L.
Dave Messimer: 1 Win, 1 podium, 4 Heat Wins, 5 T 3’s, 1 pole
KC Cook: 1 win, 1 podium, 4 Heat Wins, 5 T 3’s, 2 F.L.
What is it that makes Classico so special?
We’ve talked at length all month about it being the original CalSpeed track layout. Tecnico came from Sportivo, Sportivo came from Nuovo, Nuovo came from Grande, and Grande came from Classico. There is a clear and obvious path that has been traveled on for these past 10 years, and it all began with the tricky 2800 foot long track that the Super Series will tackle tomorrow.
One might compare Classico to the more well known originals such as Monaco and Darlington, and those are very good comparisons to make, but not quite for the reasons you might be expecting.
Monaco harkens back to the pre-war era of Formula 1. Back when it was simply called the “World Championship.” Monaco has existed far longer than Formula 1 as we now know it, and it is the last remaining idol of those early days of motor racing. Formula 1 has outgrown Monaco; the track no longer comes close to meeting any of the current safety standards. Yet, for tradition and for sport, Monaco still remains.
Darlington is a reminder of what used to be in NASCAR. Back when the strictly stock cars took to the track, many of which probably raced at a half mile dirt track the night before. Darlington was the transition of two eras, splicing together the good ol’ boys that were hanging on to their spots, and the soon to come million dollar sponsorships and multi-car teams. Darlington, much like Monaco, reminds drivers, teams and fans of where they came from. Darlington was never intended to be driven on the way it is now. The banked section of the track was originally designed for safety. Drivers were supposed to run on the bottom, flat part of the track. But drivers quickly learned that the top was the place to be, and what started as a super wide, and very safe track, became “The Lady In Black.” Gone are the dirt tracks and unique layouts of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, but that egg shaped track in South Carolina called Darlington still remains.
Classico is our version of each. Sport Karting is what we do, and for many of us, all we ever will do behind the wheel. So, while it might seem vain to the outsider for us to compare our track to those other crown jewels; we all know that this is the one that matters.
While Monaco and Darlington remind us of days gone by, so too does Classico. The days of indoor racing, Dromo 1, the IKWC and the USIKC; Classico is the closest that we come to the indoor era of Sport Karting. Days when drivers like Jordan Pembleton, Truman Godfrey and Mike Smith would converge at Dromo 1 each January for the 12 hour event to take on the locals such as Mike Kai, Todd Lewis and Jon Kimbrell for endurance racing supremacy. It was also the days of Victory Lane Karting vs Smith Racing Development vs Dromo 1 each Summer at the United States Indoor Karting Championship, or those teams going head to head against the world’s best at the Indoor Karting World Championship. Back when we thought that going to F1 Race Factory in Arizona in the Summer was a good idea.
The USIKC has been replaced by the Sport Kart Grand Nationals, the IKWC has become the KWC and the 12 Hours of Dromo has been replaced by the Machismo, but what still remains is the spirit, the drive, and the fun of a forgotten era.
What still remains is Classico.
The Overall Championship: Logan Calvin absent; challengers must capitalize…
There is only one story in the overall championship, and that is the need to capitalize on point leader Logan Calvin’s absence tomorrow. Already a three time winner this season, and the new National Champion, Calvin also just scored a top ten at the Kart Word Championship, and is surely going to come back in September with a head of steam.
For this weekend however, he will be forced to take a drop, which to him means 326 points, and is a possible 89-point gain if a challenger can go perfect in the Classico GP. Anyway you slice it; this is a big weekend for anyone trying to mount a challenge for the 2015 title.
Top 10 Overall Standings
- Logan Calvin 1960 (323/326)
- Jon Kimbrell 1940 (219/268)
- Sergio Bravo [M] 1866 (274/322)
- Adam Nagao 1839 (257/313)
- Wes Dent 1839 (0/308)
- Taylor Hays 1830 (320/325)
- Darren Mercer 1814 (0/338)
- Miles Calvin 1788 (0/255)
- Chris Huerta 1742 (0/0)
- Jose da Silva [M] 1688 (268/274)
The Masters Championship: Title is Bravo’s to lose; story is battle for second…
The story here is simply who is going to fill in the podium; Jose da Silva is having a career season, and while he has the second spot, he has one of the best Masters drivers right on his heels. Da Silva has been pretty damn consistent, but he hasn’t been able to challenge for the overall win yet, something Diego Morales has already secured before, including once this season. Morales has no throw outs though, so da Silva’s consistency could pay off in the end.
Top 5 Masters Standings
- Sergio Bravo 1866 (274/322)
- Jose da Silva 1688 (268/274)
- Diego Morales 1657 (0/0)
- David Kelmenson 1563 (114/216)
- Ben Blank 1544 (242/272)
The Grand Masters Championship: Focus is the fight for third here.
Ed Lewis re-took the third spot at round #7, but is in no way clear of his challengers, although the number has gone down. Once 10 drivers were vying for a top three, and now it looks like that has gone down to just four, with Latimer, Lawson, and Starr still in the hunt. Classico is the final ‘unique’ layout on the schedule, so any advantage gained here could indeed be carried through the more familiar circuits that follow…
Top 10 Grand Masters Standings
- Dave Messimer 1483 (220/263)
- Dennis Kimbrell 1286 (166/192)
- Ed Lewis 910 (116/136)
- Jeff Latimer 896 (115/148)
- Duane Lawson 878 (120/132)
- Brian Starr 854 (0/0)
- Joe Sabella 789 (83/96)
- Steve Frame 788 (108/134)
- Greg Reinhardt 605 (92/102)
- Doug Lewen 556 (68/69)
The Rookie Championship: Hosting the best sub-title fight in the series…
Hands down the best fight we have in the sub-championships, Sergio Serrano has come alive during Kyle Spicer’s absence the past two rounds, putting up back-to-back 300+ point days, taking over the point lead in the process. The de-facto leader through round #5, Spicer was forced to miss the past two rounds, and with it his large point lead and cushion over his competitors. That said, he did race at the Grands, and looked quite good, even picking up a pair of wins during the event.
Both are looking their best, and neither has been on the Classico layout, so it will be interesting to see how they attack this tricky course. To make things a bit more interesting, current third place runner Drew Zeller HAS been on the course before, and is also looking the best he has all season. His 130-point deficit to Spicer does seem a bit much to make up, but the rookie fight has been known for some big swings in the past.
For Brent Curran in 4th, this is looking more and more like a fight to steal away a top three, but a big weekend could turn things around for the Nor-Cal driver, and he needs it after missing this past round. He is currently just shy of 70 points behind Zeller, something that is not insurmountable, given how the two have matched up all year.
Top 5 Rookie Standings
- Sergio Serrano 1258 (144/163)
- Kyle Spicer 1237 (0/0)
- Drew Zeller 1107 (179/187)
- Brent Curran 1038 (0/147)
- Luis Calderon 930 (122/132)
The Heavy Class: Buh-bye Bryant; but who’s gonna get second?
We are pretty sure who the champ will be, and who all is going to get trophies come season’s end, they question is which between two drivers will get the second and third place cups. Doug Lewen currently has the 2nd place spot, but Mike Collins has outscored him in 4 out of the 5 rounds where both drivers have been present. Collins missed two rounds in a row, which gave the advantage to Lewen, but then came back with a stronger finish last month. This mano-e-mano fight could, and will probably go all the way to the end, and may be one of the most fun to watch if both guys show up.
Top 3 Heavy Class Standings
- Rodney Bryant 794 (125/133)
- Doug Lewen 556 (68/69)
- Mike Collins 519 (0/0)
The Team Championship: GranStand gained, but are they out of time?
The GranStand team has looked strong all season, and they cemented what they are capable of last round with a record point haul of over 1000 points. What has been their issue since the start of the season however, has been hitting their potential on a regular basis; something the team they are chasing has not had an issue with.
With a strong day of their own, current leaders RNA Imola retained their point lead in the standings following round #7, and actually distanced themselves even more from all challengers save GranStand. Their consistently strong performances have effectively made it a two horse race, one in which they have a hefty head start.
This past weekend saw strength from both squads during the IronMan and Sprint Series, and with each team getting a head start on their Classico GP prep, we could see the beginning of an epic final run to the championship tomorrow…
Top 5 Team Standings
- RNA – Imola 4740 (1365)
- IKM – GranStand 4573 (873)
- Calvin Racing Development 4304 (1015)
- CRD – Gold 4133 (850)
- IKM – S3 4101 (1024)