The race to the championship enters its final stages… Sportivo.
The final four rounds of a Super Series season have typically been the beginning of the short stretch to the championship, with the end players decided, and the final stage set. It is much like the final lap of a race; drivers have put themselves in position over the first several laps, and now the chess match begins to cross the finish line first. It is at this part of the race that what you did on lap one doesn’t matter anymore. It doesn’t matter that you started on pole, or that you led the most laps, only that you are the one standing on the top step, once it is all said and done.
This season’s race has seen several lap leaders, and many drivers show that they have what it takes to fight for that championship lead. As we start the ‘final lap’ of the season, a lead pack has broken away from the rest, and the list of contenders has shrunk. As we continue through this final stage of the season, it will be interesting to watch and see: will it be the return of a king, or the establishment of a new reign?
A Look Back: Round #1, February 2nd 2013…
The season opener: Everyone enters as the point leader; everyone enters with feeling like they have a chance. Then comes practice, which is quickly followed by qualifying, where the first test in the hierarchy begins. The clean slate of the off-season is gone, quickly filled with the scribbling of moments of jubilance, and the pains of defeat…
For perennial front-runner and returning overall podium finisher Miles Calvin, the beginning of the season was filled with the former. Coming off a strong qualifying run, Miles worked into the lead of his first heat race, eventually earning the win after a mano-e-mano fight with Sergio Bravo to the finish line. Heat two would see him once again locked in combat with the reigning Master’s champ, and while he would fend off the assault for a second time, it would be a nail biter to the end, winning by a mere .002 at the line.
He wasn’t the only one to find success in the opening heat races of the year, as the reigning champ Logan Calvin would mirror his brother’s performance, scoring a pair of wins, each by just a few inches. This would make it an all Calvin front row for the start of the A-Main, continuing where the brothers had left off at the conclusion of 2012. In the end however, it would be the challenger, not the champ who would come out on top, as Miles Calvin scored his first A-Main victory in over a year to claim the overall point lead.
Top Drivers from the Spring Sportivo Race
|Miles Calvin||3 wins|
|Logan Calvin||2 wins||1 T3’s|
|Aaron Downs||1 win||1 T3, 1 T5|
|Darren Mercer||1 win||1 T3|
|Jon Kimbrell||1 win|
|Matt Widner||1 win||pole|
|Sergio Bravo||2 T3’s|
|Jay Schrieber||2 T3’s|
|Taylor Hays||2 T3’s|
|KC Cook||2 T3’s|
|Mike Kai||2 T3’s|
|Rene Hourian||2 T3’s|
RD’ Spotlight: Who to watch for in Round #8
The bigger question I think may be who we are NOT watching this weekend…
Spring winner, and current fourth place man in the points Miles Calvin, is slated to miss this weekend’s race, forcing him to keep his 345 point score from round #5, his worst run of the season so far. This obviously makes things extremely tough for the elder Calvin, but he’s known about his short season (he also missed round #2) from the very beginning. The spotlight will really be on him next round…
Another title contender is expected to miss this weekend’s round, and that is rookie title front-runner Michael Wodjat, currently sitting 2nd in the rookie standings. Wodjat has been a staple at the sharp end of the standings for several rounds now, and will unfortunately definitely take a hit in the points, as he will now have to take home his opening round of 137 points.
For these two contenders, the questions isn’t if they will lose points, it is how many, and to whom.
A couple of guys I think will be putting up strong points are that of point leader KC Cook and fifth place overall Darren Mercer, both of whom will be on the rebound train come Saturday. These two guys have a knack for bouncing back from tough rounds, and that is exactly what they need to do in round #8. Cook is fresh off his second worst round of the season, and with him missing round #3, he had to keep his 345 point score. For his part, Mercer was forced to miss the last round, stopping the momentum from his round #6 win cold, while putting a 341 point day in his keeper column. Watch for strong performances from both of these guys, as they try to right the wrongs from August, and strengthen their positions heading into the Fall chase…
And at the fear of sounding like a broken record, I still like the guys I picked last round, especially Justin Tolman. This kid looked his absolute best yet during the IronMan Series finale, bringing home his first podium performance.
Right there with him was Nicholas Haye, who although under the radar most of the year, is enjoying a very strong first season in the series. Although a little under the weather and not on the entry list at the time of this writing, ole Nick Haye could back up his podium run during the IronMan with a strong A-Main run here in round #8.
Oh and one more thing: Rebounds? How about Logan Calvin for a rebounder…
Remember round #2 when he when he went out in a turn #1 crash? He is coming off a similarly bad point round, and last time he had to rebound, he put up a podium run. That’d be a really nice way to enter the final three rounds, wouldn’t it Logan?
The Overall Championship: And then there were 10- Episode 2…
If you look at the points with only 4 rounds remaining, it is hard to think that the entirety of top ten still has a shot at the podium (remember, the top 5 are awarded), but you have to keep in mind that nearly every driver closed in on the point leader this past round. Round #7 saw Sergio Bravo took the checkers first and with it, the second spot in the standings after gaining 35 points on the leader. A 35-point gain in each of the next 4 rounds? Unlikely, but hey, anything is possible…
That said, the margins favor the top 6 right now, as 55 points is far from a healthy advantage, especially since every single driver can lose that many in a single round (given their throw out races thus far). And while Jon Kimbrell gained over 25 points via his P2 run last month, he is still sits about 100 astern which kind of puts things in perspective for the back half of the top 10: Round #8 is do or die time. When we get to only 3 rounds remaining, a driver in the top 10 facing a margin higher than 60 points will not only need some incredibly great fortune on their side, but also lady luck to all but dismiss their rivals in the final months.
Taking a closer look at the stats, a few drivers enter the final race of the summer with a few advantages, albeit small ones. KC Cook has the obvious advantage of being the point leader, but when you look at his earned stats, you’ll see he also has the highest average point haul (373 point avg) of any driver. Right there with him is Miles Calvin (370), who after missing this weekend will be relying on that heavily to stay in the title hunt. Cook and the aforementioned Calvin both also have some of the highest available throw-outs on tap, with Miles ranked #2 and cook #4, however Miles will be using his this weekend.
This brings me to Taylor Hays, who although sees himself 55 points back and in 6th overall, has been the most consistent of the top 10, and has a 355 point throw out to his credit. While having high throw outs doesn’t necessarily do anything for the current point totals, they could become important when we get to the final round, as it will limit the amount of points one could possibly lose in an event.
Overall Top 10 Heading Into Round #8
The Masters Championship: Advantage Bravo…
Sergio Bravo’s win in the 7th round of the championship is exactly what he needed to alleviate any pressure, and build up some breathing room, which now sits at 100 points strong. While not an insurmountable lead, it is large enough now that he can race a little more ‘big picture’, and not have to take as many risks. Question is, will he dial it down at all? As the first multi-time winner this season, and the first Master to win more than one A-Main in their career, I don’t see that happening…
This of course puts the pressure on Jay Schreiber to respond to the win, as he needs to immediately start eating the gap to the lead. While Jay and Sergio are almost identical in their average point hauls this year (Jay is slightly higher) it is Jay who has a small advantage in the throw out category. As it was said in the Overall breakdown, this round will definitely be do or die time for the national champ, if he is to wrestle the Super Series Masters crown away from Bravo.
Now 200+ points astern from the dynamic duo leading the category, the fight for the final podium spot (top 3 only) is now truly a three horse race with Dave Messimer leading the way. His advantage shrunk this past round during his surprising absence, as David Kelmenson closed in within 10 points via a 6thplace run in the A-Main. This was his best round of the year, and was a great way to bounce back from missing round #6. And on the heels of both of them is Ben Blank, who has been driving at his best the past 4 rounds, scoring three of his best point hauls in the past four months.
Messimer still has the highest average point haul per round of the three of them, but with the momentum the other two share, the fight is certainly on for the final Masters podium spot, and is one of the most exciting battles to watch as we near the end of the season.
Masters Top 5
The Rookie Championship: A resurgent Spring takes the top spot…
In last round’s preview I mentioned the unpredictability of a rookie season, and how we still had several drivers in the hunt. Then we saw a 111 swing in the favor of Steve Spring, who now sees himself on top of the standings, in nearly the same spot held by Michael Wojdat heading into that very round.
To further complicate things for Wojdat, he will miss this round, and will be forced to take a 137-point day from round #1. This will most likely see him plummet down the standings, and will make his chance at the rookie title very tough, provided the drivers around him indeed put up the results this weekend.
Which brings us to the probable contenders, which obviously includes our current point leader, Steve Spring. Spring is riding a strong momentum train right now, fresh off securing 2nd overall in the IronMan Series, as well as nearly equaling his season-high score at the last Super Series round. Spring is peaking at the right time, and is looking to put an end to his hot/cold run that has held true thus far this season.
With Wojdat missing this round, the door is wide open for Justin Tolman to again put up strong numbers and become the de-facto challenger (or even more) in this rookie title fight. Last round didn’t go to plan for Tolman, but the potential is there, and he has shone through more than once lately. Carrying a good bit of momentum from his podium in the IronMan finale, Tolman should be at pace straight away with practice on Saturday, and we should see another strong qualy performance follow.
The last driver in immediate striking range is Ian Enz, who is fresh off a breakout in August where he kicked things off as the #1 rookie qualifier (8th overall), and then capped the day off with his first A-Main appearance. Sitting nearly 200 points out is still a daunting task to reel in the title, but with the way he was driving last round, the potential is there. A top 3 looks like a strong possibility, but I know this kid has his sights square on the top spot…
After Enz we have a large group of rookies that have shown moments of brilliants, and if they can repeat those, we could see them shoot up the standings. There is very little difference in this pack of drivers, but there are a couple that I think may be able to pull a rabbit out of the proverbial hat by seasons end.
Leading this pack of wildcards is Andrew Lemons, the only one of the group to have found the A-Main and 300-point days on more than one occasion. The kid has immense outright speed, but he has only put together a complete round twice, which is why he sits 7th in the rookie standings. Still the speed is there, and if the consistency improves, he’ll find himself in the hunt by the final round. That starts now however…
Rookie Top 10
Is The Heavy Class Decided: Jasinski doesn’t think so…
Like we saw in the Rookie title chase last round, the Heavy Class was turned on its head as well, with a massive swing in momentum happening. Mike Arnold has shown the way all season, slowly pulling away from the rest of the pack, until even this writer thought he had it all wrapped up.
Insert foot in mouth.
Steve Jasinski put together the best run of his career, not only scoring an A-Main appearance, but he nearly scored a heat win in the process. At the end of the day, he had turned the tables and brought the point gap down to only 111 points with 4 rounds remaining. It was the culmination of a lot of time spent, and improvement from the Super Series regular, who has been driving at his best as of late.
It will now be up to Mike Arnold to regain the momentum he had around mid season, where he was in the A-Main fight himself, and again put up some big points to stave of the challenge posted by Jasinski. This has just returned to one of the best fights to watch, and I am excited to see how this round turns out.
Wildcards and Spoilers: A look deeper in the standings…
Next round I am going to start looking deeper into the standings, and start highlighting some of the other battles that litter the near 300 competitors this season, as well as highlight the fight to get inside the coveted top 20 in points. It isn’t just about championships and hardware, simple bragging rights are all the motivation many are looking for, and I’ll try and put some of these on display.
For this round I want to highlight Kirk Feldkamp’s push to make it inside the top 10, something that he has been on verge of for several rounds. Having sat in the 11th place in points for several rounds, it looks like he will emerge on the other side after round #8, as Jerott King (10th) will be missing this round. Kirk has put up consistently strong numbers all season, needing to dig out of a hole that started with the opening round. Flying under the radar most of the season, I want to give this guy a pat on the back, and am looking forward to see how high he could make it up the standings by season’s end. Nice Job Kirk, keep it up!