2016 marks the 8th running of the Classico Grand Prix, the once a year contest on the original, and at one time only track configuration at the Fontana, CA facility. In the previous seven races only one driver has been able to win it more than once, with no driver finding the podium more than twice. The tightest of all the CalSpeed layouts, things get even closer around this .625 circuit for the GP, as the walls are brought in to the edge of the circuit, emulating a temporary street course in many ways. Akin to the Monaco Grand Prix for Formula One, the CalSpeed Super Series’ crown jewel event rewards the driver that can squeeze everything of themselves and their equipment, pushing to limit to get the most out of every lap. Around here mistakes can cost you more than just a position; it could put you out of the race, so to find the top step means you truly are one of the best. It means you get to add your name to the short list of drivers who have won before; Jon Kimbrell, Miles Calvin, Dave Messimer, KC Cook, Taylor Hays, and last year’s winner Sergio Bravo.
Tomorrow it is time to take on the toughest challenge all year. Tomorrow it is time to make history. Tomorrow, it is time for the 2016 Classico Grand Prix.
Flashback: The 2015 Classico Grand Prix and Sergio Bravo
After scoring a win and a second in his heat races, Sergio Bravo would start in the off-pole position for the 2015 Classico GP’s A-Main, but would fall back to fourth at the start. He would immediately begin to pick his way through traffic lap after lap, and eventually, he got himself back into contention. In front of Bravo, Charles Eichlin moved his way past pole sitter Miles Calvin and up into the lead, with Eichlin continuing to lead for the next several laps as everyone behind him tried to find a way through. As the A Main began to wind down, the driver to get up to and pass Eichlin would be Sergio Bravo.
Bravo and Eichlin fought back and forth for the closing laps, both proving themselves to be the class of the field. Behind them, Calvin, Jon Kimbrell, Taylor Hays and others all tried to find a way around the top two drivers, but all any of them could do was hang onto their draft and hope for a mistake. That mistake never came, and Eichlin and Bravo would be able to settle it out amongst themselves, essentially one on one. With just three laps to go Bravo made his move, fighting his way past Eichlin, and then proceed to hold on as the latter kept the pressure on. The field came to the checkered flag after 15 hard fought laps, and it would be Sergio Bravo taking his first Classico Grand Prix victory, with Charles Eichlin settling for second, and former winner Taylor Hays scoring third.
MS: Sergio, first up congrats on your win at round #7 of the Super Series, your first win of the year, and first on Sportivo. Does that give you a little extra something going into defending your win at the Classico GP from last year?
SB: Thanks Mike. It was great being on top of the podium again. I don’t really think it helps me much for Classico. It’s just a different track, and different style of racing to Sportivo. I treat every race individually and as let the race develop not worrying to much about what track I’m on.
MS: Last year you asked me after the presentation of the event poster, “How do I get one of those?” and I said, “You gotta win”. Well you did just that, and were able to take one home along with the unique Classico trophy. This year you are now on the poster; do you want to win more now then you did then?
SB: Do I want to win more because of the poster? Not really. I want to win because I want 2 wins in a row, I want to win because I want to add overall wins, I want to win because winning is fun, but, a poster with my image doesn’t hurt either.
MS: You have won on every layout here except Grande CCW and Tecnico; with 8 wins to your name, what makes your Classico GP win stand out to you?
SB: As I mentioned before I treat most tracks the same. However, Classico does clearly stand out because of the Esses. The quick right, left, right means you have to be fully concentrated on hitting your line every lap.
MS: Do you have any advice for drivers making there first attempt at Classico? Any tips or tricks for getting around this place a little better?
SB: Sure. Don’t over drive the Esses, especially the entry. Passing is very hard through the Esses and if you can’t make it stick you’ll end losing way more than what you gain. Also, because of the Esses, people maybe don’t put as much importance on the Scandi/middle hairpin combo, which I think it deserves. Relax, stay calm, let the track and the race come to you.
Thanks for the interview Mike. I would also like to take this opportunity to announce my retirement from the Super Series at year end. I’ve had an incredible time these last 6+ years but I’m ready to do some new things – possibly back to downhill mountain bike racing.
Classico: I talk with two of Classico’s best…
When you look at the stats for the Classico GP, the two names at the top are Jon Kimbrell, and Taylor Hays. Kimby is the only driver to win more than once, while Hays is arguably ‘Mr Classico’ with the best stats of any driver outside of overall wins. I got a chance to ask these two Classico Greats a few questions ahead of tomorrows race, and here’s what they had to say:
MS: Jon, you are the only driver to win the Classico Grand Prix more than once, winning the inaugural event in 2010, and again in 2014. What has changed over the years, and which win do you think was tougher?
JK: Classico has always been one of my favorite layouts over the years, and I can definitely agree that it has changed a lot since the Super Series first started. The biggest change has been the competition. While it definitely wasn’t an easy win back in 2010, the competition pales in comparison to nowadays, so I would have to say that my more recent win was probably more difficult. Another thing that has changed since then is the track itself. There used to be a lot more space through the esses and other parts of the track. There also used to be a very unique way of driving over the Classico curb that could really make or break your laptime. Over time, it’s been tightened up through that corner, making it so you cant do so anymore. Either way, a win on classico will be difficult for anyone to achieve this coming weekend.
MS: Last year we put the walls right up on the edge of the track, making it even more about hitting your marks spot on. From your point of view, did this change at all how you approached the course?
JK: Putting the walls right up onto the edge of the track has definitely changed the way I approach the corners. My preferred racing line falls in the same place as where the barriers exist today, making things a little more challenging. I also think it will make passing a little more difficult, so qualifying is going to be important. Knowing how competitive it is nowadays, precision and consistency are going to be key, as there is no room for mistakes if you want a good result.
MS: Qualifying is obviously important around here, but you have been able to make things happen from further back in the field. What are some of the keys to passing on a course this tight?
JK: As I’ve said before, passing is going to be tough. Especially at the front of the field. A lot of it is going to rely on your level of patience. If I find myself in a situation where I don’t have the kart to pass on a track like this, instead of forcing a pass, I wait for the opportunity to capitalize on someone else’s failed pass attempt. A lot of the time when I’m in the back of the field, most of my passes are made this way. If you find yourself in a situation where the guys in front of you are playing nice, and you have to move forward, you might have to drive a little more aggressive if you want that position. Just know not to drive over your head. Not only because of the possibility of a penalty, but if you don’t pull off the pass, there is a possibility to lose positions.
MS: Taylor, your name has been synonymous with Classico over the years, and the stats speak to it, as you have a record 3 poles here, and more heat wins than any other driver. What are some of the keys to qualifying, and is there a secret to cutting that fast lap?
TH: To me, the key to success in qualifying, especially on Classico, is to bank a good first lap. I want to get a decent time on the board so I can push the second lap. With a good lap in the books, even if I push too hard on lap 2, you will have a good time to fall back on.
MS: As I asked Jon, what if anything did you change last year when the walls were put up on the blue line?
TH: I never really used the unpaved portion on the entry to the esses, so nothing really changed to me. I was a bit disappointed to see that wall missing for the IronMan, but I’m happy to hear it will be back for the Classico GP.
MS: Obviously this is the only time we see the infamous Esses in this direction all year, but the rest of the course is the same as a lot of other layouts. What makes this place so challenging, and what is it about this place that sees certain drivers excel here?
TH: This is a track that requires a great amount of rhythm. With the track being so short, you have to start thinking as a full lap, rather than by sector. It has a mix of patience and aggression, and awards consistency more than any other track, since the draft is so minimal. The most challenging thing about Classico is the requirement of putting a full day together. Passing is at such a premium, so qualifying becomes just that much more important. The two biggest passing zones of Horseshoe and Long Beach, are also removed, leaving only Grande, and Turn 4 if you’re brave.
Top Drivers on Classico:
- Jon Kimbrell- 2 wins (’10, ’14), 2 podiums, 5 heat wins, 10 Heat T3’s, 5 Fast Laps
- Taylor Hays- 1 win (’13) 2 podiums, 8 heat wins, 11 Heat T3’s, 3 poles, 2 Fast Laps
- Miles Calvin- 1 win (’11), 2 podiums, 7 heat wins, 11 Heat T3’s, 1 Fast Lap
- Sergio Bravo- 1 win (’15), 2 podiums, 3 heat wins, 8 Heat T3’s, 2 Fast Laps
- Dave Messimer- 1 win (’12), 1 podium, 4 heat wins, 5 Heat T3’s, 1 pole
- KC Cook- 1 win (’13), 1 podium, 4 heat wins, 5 heat top 3’s, 2 Fast Laps
CalSpeed Driver Focus: Charles Eichlin…
Charles made his debut here at CalSpeed during the second round of 2013 season, finishing 27th overall and 5th in one of the deepest rookie title fights we have had in the Series. He followed that up with a 10th overall in his sophomore season, and then switched to the Ironman Series for his full time run in 2015, making occasional races in the Super Series that year. With his work schedule allowing him to do the full season, 2016 has been a career year for him so far. I got a chance to catch up with him ahead of this weekends race, where he finished 2nd last year. This month’s Driver Focus, Charles Eichlin:
Mike Smith: Congrats so far on your season Charles; this is by far you best year to date. What is different about this season, then years past, aside from actually running the whole calendar?
Charles Eichlin: Thanks Mike. The thing for me that makes this year different from my past seasons has got to be the confidence and mindset I have in my driving. During past years I was so focused on things that were out of my control that it was affecting my driving. This year I am focusing on things that I can control on track and I feel that is really helping my driving. Also making passes on track that I wouldn’t have made last year with confidence is really helping out.
MS: Take me back to when it all started. How did you first get into karting, and how did you find out about CalSpeed?
CE: I really didn’t start karting regularly until about 2010 when I started working at K1 Speed. It was just a second job for me but I found that I really liked to go in, just run laps and improve my times. Then in 2012 I was able to participate in the Red Bull Kart Fight USA finals and that exposed me to gas powered outdoor karts for the first time. While I lacked the experience at that event and I finished in the back, I knew that it was something that I wanted to keep doing. I remembered that KC Cook had been taking part in an outdoor karting series and I asked him about it. That’s when I first heard about CalSpeed. So as you know, I made my first Super series appearance in 2013 and while I wasn’t very good, I managed to win the D-Main. After that I knew this is the kind of competition that I was looking for. The rest is history as some would say.
MS: Having come from indoor electric karts, what were some of the initial challenges you faced when first going outdoors?
CE: The transition from indoor electric karts to outdoor gas powered karts took a while to get used to. The power differences, entry and exit lines, and just the way to drive the karts is different. The general idea is still there but you have to have a different mindset about how you drive the karts. While at K1, you can get away with diving in, braking at the last second and powering out of the turn thanks to the torque the electric motors have. With the gas karts however, it’s all about maintaining as much speed as possible. Adjusting to that was one of the biggest challenges that I faced early on.
MS: What are some of your favorite things about Sport Karting and racing at CalSpeed? Do you do any other forms of motorsports or competition?
CE: As of right now I do not compete in other other forms of Motorsports or competitions, but hopefully that changes in the future. Probably the best thing I like of Sport Karting and CalSpeed has got to the level of competition. I have never met another group of drivers that push me to my limits while on track. It has made me a far better driver over the past few years. Also the level passion from the staff is just outstanding. You just don’t see that at other karting facilities much anymore. Big shoutout to the entire CalSpeed staff.
MS: Going back to the championship, you are looking good for an overall podium. Currently sitting in 4th, do you think about the points while on track, and what you need to do to beat the guys around you?
CE: This goes back to what I said earlier. If I think about points while on track, I start to lose focus. So I focus on each race one at a time. I’m focusing on beating the guy in front of me. Doing that takes away distractions and allows me to focus on driving. If I drive better, then I finish better and the points will speak for themselves.
MS: The Classico Grand Prix; last year saw you come in second, and this year you have been better than ever. What is it going to take for you to find the top step on Saturday?
CE: Classico last year was such a confidence booster for me. Looking at this year, I feel that my driving is where I need it to be to have a shot at the top step. What I need is to be patient on track and make smart decisions. If I’m able to do that, I have a very good shot at coming away with a win instead of a 2nd place. Still looking for that first win and I feel Classico is the track to do.
MS: You raced in the IronMan race on Classico a couple weeks ago, and had a strong run up from basically last. While it won’t be quite as hot, how do you think that event helped prepare you for this weekend?
CE: Running the Ironman helped me with my confidence on this layout. It allowed me the solidify my racing line and really work out any kinks that were holding me back. I feel very strong about my driving going into Saturday’s race.
MS: What are going to be some of the keys to doing well on Saturday? What makes this race tougher than the other races on the calendar?
CE: Classico is such a unique track in that the barriers are much tighter compared to other layouts. One slip up and you could find yourself in the tires and out of the race. Being patient and knowing when to attack and when not to will be the key to winning come Saturday.
MS: Thanks for your time Chuck, and good luck this weekend!
CE: Thanks Mike. Really looking to do well this Saturday. Bring on Classico!
The Overall Championship: Top 10 could see a shake up at Classico…
Of all the points battles heading into the weekend, the overall championship and top 10 fight could see the biggest shake up. #3 driver Aaron Scott will be absent for the first time all season, and #8 pilot Adam Nagao will also not be in attendance, the duo using their 333 and 304 throw outs respectively. Just outside the top 10 will see a lot of movement as well, with five drivers from 11th to 20th slated to miss this round, further putting a wrench into what is essentially the stage setter for the final four races of the season.
But going back to the top 10 and the fight for the podium, only about 100 points separate 4th from 10th, with 3rd inevitably getting closer after this round as well. With hardware given out to the top 5 spots, there is a lot to play for in this group, and no clear favorite, although there are a few drivers carry some extra momentum right now. Current 5th place runner Henry Morse is coming off a pair of strong rounds, one of which he won, but right behind him he has Sergio Bravo and Andres Prieto, the duo finishing 1-2 last round. Bravo is very good on Classico, and has a lot of momentum, but Andres Prieto never looked better than he did one month ago. Easily the best finish for the transplant from Colombia, Prieto came up just short of his first win last round, capping off a methodical and tactful day of racing. An indoor karting ace, Classico is the closest thing to that realm, and we could once again see him shine this weekend, and with it climb the ranks in the points.
And then you have the Championship itself; with Scott absent this round, it all but solidifies the Calvin VS Calvin mano-e-mano battle that has been brewing all year, and that we got our first glimpses of on Sportivo last round. The brothers will still drive smart, but when the chips are down, expect them to not pull any punches…
Top 10 Overall Standings
The Masters Championship: Jose da Silva takes over 3rd spot
With Diego Morales now officially out of the game, it has definitively become two different fights in the Masters Championship: Bravo VS Connell for the title, and a slew of drivers looking to bring home the final podium spot…
Much like the fight for the overall championship, the top two guys can really just worry about beating each other, their 250+ point lead over third place giving quite the cushion over any threat. 5-time Masters Champ Sergio Bravo is certainly the favorite in this title fight, especially coming off his 8th career win in the series, and heading into the Classico Grand Prix as the defending winner. Mark Connell proved that he is up to the challenge this past round however, staying in touch with Bravo on his best day, losing minimal points in the championship hunt. Connell has also been the more consistent driver of the two, and if things do come down to the throw outs in the final five races, he has the advantage.
In the battle for the 3rd spot it is last year’s #3 Jose da Silva no in position to defend, moving up to the final hardware spot after another solid run in round #7, capitalizing on Morales’ absence. He does have a 90-point gap to the long list of challengers behind him, and has been one of the most consistent of the group as well, owning the second highest throw out score of the group. Still the list of challengers numbers five, with every last one of them coming on strong as of late. Case in point is Steve Spring, who although has the most points to eat up coming from 8th in the class, is fresh off an IronMan win two weeks ago, and will be one to watch.
Top 10 Masters Standings
|3)||Jose da Silva||1486||(460)|
The Grand Masters Championship: Kimbrell puts up best run of the year; extends lead…
I haven’t put much in print about Dennis Kimbrell this season, and that is mainly because he has just steadily been at the sharp end, with everyone else in the division giving chase. It has actually been a bit of a hot/cold season for the two-time champ though, putting up a 291 day in round #4, but then wasn’t able to break 178 the next two after that. Well he came back strong in July, doing what we know he can do when everything lines up, finding the A-Main once again and with it, a 324 point day; nearly equaling his career best of 327 from the same round one year ago. Kimbrell is the de-facto #1 in this class, and last round he proved why.
Behind Kimbrell however things are phenomenally close; 2nd through 5th are separated by just 89 points, and with all four of the drivers putting up similar numbers from round to round, it has stayed a pretty close fight from the get go. 2nd place Brian Starr has had a small advantage over the rest, having been able to find the mid-200’s, but his lack of throw-outs mean he’ll be forced to keep whatever he earns. And just 39 points outside the top 5 is Tom Zevin, who fresh off a career best run last round, is still within striking distance and can make some noise before this one is over.
Top 5 Grand Masters Standings
The Rookie Championship: Rousseau shows new form; can he challenge for podium?
At the time of this writing just two of the top five in the standings were on the entry list, but I did get verbals from the other three, and with the next three in the standings also already signed up, all of the top rookie talent should be in attendance. And of all these guys, the driver I am going to be keeping an eye on is Tyler Rousseau. Since running the Grands in June, Tyler has made a huge leap forward in his development, and last Super Series put up the highest score of any rookie driver not named Bermudez. Coming into the season late, he has been chipping away at the deficit to the front, and now sits 200 points back from 2nd, and 130 from third place and some hardware.
Like Rousseau, both Tony Wika (4th) and Brenden Delorto (3rd) have looked good as of late, and I expect to see them continue to improve; especially Wika, who looked his absolute best during the Sprint Series race a couple of weeks ago. For second place runner Schuoler, this will be his return round after missing the past two, having been focused on his LO206 run at the Tri-C club. It will be interesting to see what he can bring to the table after a couple months out of the sport kart seat.
Top 5 Rookie Standings
The Team Championship: Classico brings a chance for challengers to close in…
The team championship tightened up a bit last round after the Midvale drivers had some of their worst runs of the season, two of which actually become throw out rounds. But while the second place RNA squad did gain around 75 points on the leaders, it could have been more, but Sean Fite also had an uncharacteristic sub-300 point day. A tick over 30 markers behind them is the CRD squad, inching even closer to the front after a season best run out of Cody Calvin. The fourth and what I think is the last team that may have a shot at this team championship is Fast And Furious, especially if they can replicate their monster performance from last round that saw season best finishes from two of their three drivers.
And when it comes to closing the gap to the lead, all the trailing teams will have another shot at it, as Midvale’s #1 driver and 3rd overall title contender Aaron Scott will be absent from this round forced to use his highest drop, a 333. That is still a strong day though, so the pressure will be on each of the challenging team’s #1 drivers to capitalize, and score higher than that and make some gains.
Solidifying the fact that this is a four horse race at best is the absence from both Marcin Balazy and Matt Hart from the 5th place Witcher team, which will only widen the gap to the front, and most likely see them fall outside the top 5.
Top 5 Team Standings
|1)||T4 - Midvale||4394||(1335)|
|2)||RNA - C McD 2||4218||(1369)|
|4)||Fast and Furious||4141||(1288)|
|5)||T4 - Witcher||4033||(712)|