It’s time to play chess: Nuovo 2.0

This Saturday will mark the 5th round of the 2014 Super Series season, but only the 4th round run after the third round was postponed to November. Because of that, this round will be a true tell of who is in the hunt right now for the respective championships up for grabs, and who will have to dig out of a hole and claw back into contention. With two possible rounds dropped, this weekend will be go time to keep yourself in the hunt, especially if you have already had a pair of rough rounds up to this point.

And what better way to do it then on one of the most unpredictable layouts on the circuit, none other than Nuovo. This will be the second go-round this year for the Super Series drivers, having started the season on the same layout back in January. So what, if anything, has changed for Nuovo 2.0?

Well the big thing will be the ‘holding lane’ enforcement which began, rather successfully I think, last round with the on track action cleaning up a lot from the previous rounds. While this doesn’t necessarily change how people drive, everyone will need to be much more mindful of this rule when attempting passes or going side by side, especially through the fast Nuovo corner this weekend.

Also, the last time we took to this track it was a clean slate; everyone came in tied for the point lead. Now a bit of a pecking order has been established, and there is a rank amongst the drivers, which certainly affects things when the chess match starts. And it starts in practice. If there is one layout on the schedule where not making the wrong moves is more important than making the right ones, it is this place. Patience. Think ahead. Planning. Positioning. And then at the right time, striking for the win. Like chess? Then you like Nuovo.

RD’s Spotlight: The spotlight is on the spoilers…

There are a few drivers that just excel here on Nuovo; an anomaly akin to that of “plate drivers” in NASCAR that just seem to have the pack racing mentality and flow of Daytona and Talladega well in hand. Sometimes we see one-off runs from these type of drivers, especially in the Daytona 500, where ‘ringers’ come out for yet one more shot at glory. This weekend we have some ringers of our own, and while Nuovo isn’t the only course they excel at, the fact that the do excel here AND they aren’t going for points will make the spotlight shine brightly on them this weekend. For Jay Schreiber, Tony Severson, and Logan Calvin, this weekend will be the first time back in the sport kart seat here at CalSpeed in quite some time, and it will be very interesting to see if they pick up where they left off. I caught up with each of them with a quick question on their approach to the weekend:

Jay Schreiber-

RD: Jay, you mentioned to me before that running this weekend was really a big ‘itch scratcher’, having been out of the seat for a bit now. Heading into a weekend where points don’t matter, and on a track you’re a big fan of, what’s the goal overall?

JS: I think the main goal is to see if I can still be competitive after a bit of a layoff. I will be aiming to be fastest in each session and first in each heat and main. Lofty aspirations so we will see how it plays out. I’m really looking forward to being back in the seat and seeing all my racing friends.

Tony Severson-
RD: While this is obviously going to pay dividends in your preparation for the Grands, this is also one of the seemingly rare chances you get to race in a competitive environment like this. With no places close by to get practice in for you, how important is this weekend to your Grands prep, and what is your goal heading in?

TS: My plan is to get in a kart approximately five to six times from April to June in preparation. That being said this event will provide more value than the other four or five times I get in the seat combined. Calspeed, and the Grands specifically are all about race craft much more than speed. The style and the conditions cant be duplicated in any way, at any track within driving distance of me. My goal is to get seat time, and hopefully build some confidence on what is a good track configuration for me. Outside of that I hope to make the A Main and move forward in it wherever I start. Finishing top ten or fifteen would be a great accomplishment and provide a big boost to my training and confidence.

Logan Calvin-

RD: It sure is strange not having a Calvin at the track on a regular basis, and it will be great having you back out this weekend. Having had your racing plans cut short a bit this year, how do you approach this weekend? Is it all about the win, prep for Grands, or is it simply just to have some fun?

LC: Yeah it’s been quite unfortunate not being able to race these last few months but I’m excited to finally get back in the seat this weekend. My approach to this race is actually all three that you mention. Going into a race I’m always looking for the win, but not being in the points championship takes a lot of the stress away. The main reason for racing this weekend is actually for the Grands. I’m really excited for the Grands this year, and I’m ready to reclaim my title. With SKGN just around the corner, this Super Series is going to be a great warm-up. I’m excited to see all my competitors and hopefully stir up the points.

From Spoiler to Contender, I catch up with Round #4 winner, Diego Morales:

RD: After that long hiatus, did you think a win was in the cards?

DM: No, I was pleasantly surprised, the talent is so strong it was a thrill to do it.

RD: Having only missed two rounds this season, you are still in it for the overall and masters championships, albeit with no drops to play with. Is a championship run in the cards?

DM: Always! You never race unless you want to win. The strategic side of making a real bid to win a big championship starts months ahead of round one so no I am here for fun and make it interesting for those that do have a real bid.

RD: The fact that you came back without losing a step has to feel good, and bodes well for not only the rest of the year, but you have to also feel good about your chances at the Grands in a couple of months. What are your goals for the rest of the 2014 racing season?

DM: I love the Grands, it’s a who’s who gathering and you always learn something important that makes you a more complete racer. I am glad that in my life I am able financially and time wise to race again, hang out with my racing family. I plan on doing as many races as possible, maybe the oval, maybe an ironman. At least for now, that is my intent. In the best of outcomes I could see myself going to Brazil to contend the masters division at this years KWC….but the chances of that happening for me is like winning the lottery.

RD: Thanks for your time, and good luck not only this weekend, but in the rest of your 2014 campaign!

The Overall Championship: Expect a lot of movement in the top 25…
Here are the heavy hitters so far: Britain, Kimbrell, Mercer, Kreig, and Hays. Each with over 1080 points, they are average 360 points or better so far, with Britain and Mercer the only two to actually stay above 360 minimum all three races. Kimbrell and Hays each have a win, with Britain scoring 400 point days twice this season. Interesting fact too on that: The A-Main winner has been out scored all three rounds. So far these have been the most consistent of the drivers at the front, which makes it doubly hard to catch them; yes the score high, problem is they don’t score very low when they do finally make a mistake.

Most of the top ten has accrued 1000+ points thus far, exceptions being #5 Diego Morales, and #9 Rene Hourian. Morales will need to be at 100% all season long to stay towards the sharp end in the rankings, as to zero’s in the point column puts him behind the 8-ball. For Hourian, he will need to get back to the form shown in round #2, where he put together a career day and found himself on the podium at its end, otherwise he could see his top 10 spot in the points fade away after this round.

From 10th on back we should see a pretty big shake up in the standings, as some drivers are leaning heavily on a single strong run, which has kept them a bit higher in these, the after throw out standings. Unless more strong runs start to happen, and happen in spades I might add, the time towards the top of the standings will be done. Three drivers that will most likely slip down the standings in this group will be #10 Jonathon Vitolo, #13 Alex Herndon, and #23 Cameron Rose, as all three drivers will be absent for this weekends event. This opens a door for people to walk through, the question is who?

A few guys deeper in the standings are sure to move up after this weekend too, as while they have been a bit more consistent then their peers, they just don’t have the single high-scoring round to boost there rankings. Drivers like Aaron Scott, David Kelmenson, Bruce Allen, and Adam Nagao all have totals in the 900+ range, and could all be fight for one of the aforementioned top 10 openings that could come available.

Regardless of where one sits in the standings now, they need to remember, this is with the throw outs factored in. If the value in the parentheses (total points) isn’t as high as the drivers around them, then they have the tougher job. Remember, positions on track are points in the bank, and this thing is awarded to who’s best over the course of a season. Championships aren’t won and lost in the final race of the year, but instead every moment on track is the one that could win it or lose it. It’s go time.

Overall Top 25 After Throw Outs (Total Points)

1Patrick Britain400(1162)
2Jon Kimbrell-0(1139)
3Bill Kreig-5(1094)
4Taylor Hays-10(1083)
5Diego Morales-15(385)
6Darren Mercer-20(1114)
7Sergio Bravo-25(1023)
8Kirk Feldkamp-25(1007)
9Rene Hourian-25(929)
10Jonathon Vitolo-35(1002)
11David Kelmenson-35(971)
12Aaron Downs-44(892)
13Alex Herndon-49(690)
14Bruce Allen-55(933)
15Aaron Scott-58(980)
16Michael Wojdat-62(765)
17Ben Blank-68(891)
18Jerott King-69(879)
19Ian Enz-71(854)
20Andrew Lemons-77(754)
21Justin Tolman-79(782)
22Adam Nagao-81(917)
23Cameron Rose-82(885)
24Derek Esquibel-82(602)
25Jose da Silva-82(593)

The Rookie Championship: What was three, is now 6. Or more?

The rookie chase is starting to form now, with a few drivers who have shown well consistently meeting up with some that are starting to get things figured out. There more still that have shown strong potential, but don’t have the numbers to back it up. The back of the rookie top 10 will get shook up quite a bit this weekend, as positions 8-10 will be absent, and the resulted goose eggs they will earn will open the door for at least two drivers waiting in the wings. Tied for 11th right now are Alyssa Yauney and Riley Dugan, only a single point out of tenth, and fresh off some strong runs.

At the front of this pack it has been Wes Dent Ashley Arnott and Roman Alekseenkov each of the three rounds, putting up consistent numbers, and showing strong pace. Lately however, three more drivers have crept there way towards the front, and are looking to make this a 6+ driver fight for the title. Patrick O’Keefe, Mark Connell, and Moises Lizama have each stepped up the pace, and are right on the heels of the top three in that avenue, they just need a little bit more to make it a real fight. This weekend will be telling for these three drivers.

Jin Bai is the dark horse in this group however. Sitting 7th after an incident in round #2, and missing round #3, Bai is leaning on what was a strong run in round #1. He hasn’t been out of the seat however, showing quite well in the Senior ranks of the LAKC, and could surprise a lot of drivers here in round #5…

Rookie Top 10 After Throw Outs (Total Points)

1Wes Dent297(786)
2Ashley Arnott-12(730)
3Patrick O’Keefe-19(517)
4Roman Alekseenkov-43(724)
5Moises Lizama-67(558)
6Mark Connell-74(637)
7Jin Bai-77(288)
8Danny Downey-84(380)
9Jeffrey Merrill-84(359)
10Alfredo Anguiano-96(201)

The Masters Championship: Morales at the point, but is he there to stay?

With only 1 out of three rounds counting in the current standings shown, Diego Morales has assumed the lead over Sergio Bravo after his huge win in the last round. That said, he has a pair of zeros for drops, and will have to be all but perfect to stay there, especially given who his competition is. That said, if there is anyone that can take the fight to Bravo, it is this guy.

Round #4 is not what Bravo wanted for points, but it wasn’t because of lack of pace; in fact he salvaged what could have been a disastrous point haul, but still took a fairly big hit. These things are anomalies for the 3 time Masters champ, and he still is the one setting the bar in this class. With the inclusion of Morales, and the consistent improvement from the other Masters drivers around him though, he won’t get too many more of these before they start to put real pressure on his reign.

The only other driver to outscore Bravo in the class, Kelmenson will need to take one from his rivals book, and turn up the patience a notch to stay in the hunt. Not lacking for pace, David’s biggest issue has been not being able to go forward, or getting shuffled quickly when in the pack. A strong driver here on Nuovo, this will be a important round for the perennial Masters front runner.

Ben Blank and Jose da Silva are the only other Masters drivers to score 300+ days, but will need to do this on a more consistent basis to start fight for a podium spot this season. Pace is not the issues with either of these drivers, and if they start fine tuning their craft, they could be real contenders in this thing.

Masters Top 5 After Throw Outs (Total Points)

1Diego Morales385(385)
2Sergio Bravo-10(1023)
3David Kelmenson-20(971)
4Ben Blank-53(891)
5Jose da Silva-67(593)

The Grand Masters Championship: Starr VS Latimer VS Kimbrell

By all accounts this looks to be a three horse race at the moment, with Brian Starr leading the standings from the drop of the green in January, and Dennis Kimbrell and Jeff Latimer staying right with him ever since. Each one has scored the “highest ranking Grand Master” honor once already, so this round could see who the more dominant of the three is, and with virtually nothing separating this group, its anyone’s guess who will come out on top.

Further back there is a host of drivers that are improving steadily, and could make the some noise and surprise people, and that list starts with 4th place driver Peter Kusdillion. Having shown pace before, it is very likely that we could see strong point out of Peter this weekend, and if we do, it may turn into a 4-way battle for the championship. It will have to happen this weekend to get the ball rolling for him, and anyone else looking to challenge, as the gap will continue to grow too quickly if they don’t strike back fast.

Grand Masters Top 5 After Throw Outs (Total Points)

1Brian Starr291(787)
2Jeff Latimer-6(759)
3Dennis Kimbrell-14(731)
4Peter Kusdillion-65(373)
5Steve Hansen-69(222)

The Heavy Championship: Jasinski sets the bar, epic fight from 2nd on back…

Steve Jasinski has picked up where he left off last season, and has put his stamp on this class, setting the bar that all other drivers in the class reach for. Things are going his way thus far, and with a fairly healthy lead, the spotlight in this class turns to the fight for second behind him.

Less than 20 points separates 2nd to 6th, with Greg Reinhardt leading over Mike Collins, Mike Arnold, and Marc Salvador, who will automatically bump in front of the absent Max Hilleret this weekend. Each one of these drivers has found the triple digits at least once this season, and it is not uncommon to see them battling in the very same main at the end of the day either. In this class more than any other, each position is everything, with the margins so close between the top drivers.

And in this fight for second, not a single driver will forget the come behind championship win the Jasinski pulled off last year. It isn’t over yet…

Heavy Class Top 5 After Throw Outs (Total Points)

1Steve Jasinski162(454)
2Greg Reinhardt-44(263)
3Mike Collins-46(290)
4Mike Arnold-47(221)
5Max Hilleret-59(195)

The Team Championship: Throw outs VS Total Points…

Team S3 / GranStand 3 took over the top spot this past round when you take into account throw outs, but if there was ever a championship to focus on the total points column, it’s the Team Championship. Looking at the total point mark shows what all three of the drivers have put up this year, and shows how much development has been done thus far with the “#3 drivers” on the squad. Scoring big points I what is expected of the team leaders, but what is needed even more, is the leaders to help their less experienced teammates to score more points. THAT is how this championship will be won.

So far Arkham 3 has the highest total point number, but if I were to find a team that is probably doing the best in development, I think I’d have to point out T4 Eagle. Yes they are led by overall point leader Patrick Britain, but his teammates Chris Carter and Jeff Carson have definitely driven beyond the expectations thus far, and it is exciting to see them towards the front.

This championship could see more ebb and flow than any other this season, and it will be very fun to see how it turns out.

Team Championship Top 5 After Throw Outs (Total Points)

1S3 / GranStand 3959(2298)
2Arkham 3-14(2505)
3T4 Eagle-38(2324)
4RNA Motorsports-41(2285)
5T4 Onyx-63(2347)