Super Series Round #8 Preview
Grande CCW for the first time in 2014…
This round begins the second half of the season, and will start to set the stage for the points battles as we approached the later stages of the championship. With six more available point paying rounds, and two throw outs available to each driver, time is running out for those on the outside looking in. This weekend will be a final chance for competitors to get within striking distance, and if they don’t, help them shape their goal for the rest of the year. Whether it is the overall championship or podium, a top 10, or top 20, or a class championship; the stage will be set as the sun sets on round #8.
And with the rainout in March, this will actually be the first time the Super Series visits the ‘reverse’ layout at CalSpeed, a favorite amongst many drivers in the paddock. The ability to make passes, as well as counter attack on this layout makes for some of the best racing you’ll see on any layout. The introduction of the Short beach corner last year did nothing to dim this reality, and this weekend marks the Super Series debut of yet another corner to the layout. The new corner will be familiar to those that ran either at the Grands, during the Sport Kart Clinic or IronMan Series round a couple weeks ago, and has changed the way drivers come onto the main straightaway in this direction.
This weekend has the makings of one of the most exciting rounds this season; you won’t want to miss it…
RD’s Spotlight: I talk to a pair of drivers flying under the radar this season…
This has been a really cool season thus far, one of many firsts, and a lot of new faces edging up the ranks. There are also some that have been here all along, quietly scoring big points, staying in the hunt without making a lot of noise in the process. I got a chance to chat with a couple of these drivers for this round’s Race Director’s spotlight, round #7 and first time winner Bill Kreig, and #3 in the standings, Darren Mercer.
RD: I don’t think anyone embodies ‘flying under the radar’ like you do. You are consistently at the front, but without making a lot of noise. Well you made some noise last round; congrats on your first win! How’s it feel heading into this round an A-Main winner?
BK: Thanks for the congrats; not gonna lie, it feels pretty good to finally win one. Looks like all the hours of practice on the GranStand and our team’s secret, speed cheese, have finally paid off.
RD: Does scoring a win change your outlook on the Super Series? Does it change the goals for this season?
BK: No, it doesn’t change a thing for me. I am just going to keep on doing what I do and that is try to drive fast and stay out of trouble.
RD: Having not been on the layout since last august, and having not done the Grands this year, you have zero experience on the new corner. Tell us how you will be approaching this weekend’s race, specifically your thought on the configuration, and how to get the most out of the morning sessions?
BK: There’s a new corner? I didn’t realize that, so that’s good to know. So yeah that makes the morning practice even more important. I’ll definitely be trying to learn as much as possible in the morning practice and throughout the day, so that when the mains come around I hopefully have everything figured out by then. That and putting even more time on the GranStand simulator leading up to the race weekend is how I’ll be approaching this weekend. Hopefully my team and I will come away with a good result.
RD: While not typically an ‘under the radar’ type of guy, this season has actually been a lot like that. Your last win actually came in this race last year, and aside from your podium run this past round, you have only one other top 5 A-Main finish this season. That said, you also sit 3rd in the points, with only two out of over eighty full time drivers having scored more points then you thus far. Would you consider yourself under the radar given these stats?
DM: Thanks for blowing my cover. (Laughs) Yeah not exactly the run I had planned in my head, so you can say that I’ve been flying under the radar. With all the hype on Jon and Patrick this season, it’s hard to see anyone else and I kinda like it that way. ‘Darren who?’
RD: In a past Sport Kart Race Clinic that you guest instructed at, you talked about the importance of the mental side of the game. Do you find a season like this tougher to navigate mentally, versus one like your first full season where you scored multiple wins, and were regularly challenging for the overall win?
DM: I really enjoy working with you in the Sport Kart Clinics and teaching a few things that has helped me on, and off track. I would say that I’ve had ups and downs this year. Focus is something that iv been lacking, with purchasing a new house, working on a pony stock car to go do some oval racing, and making a few runs in Redline time attack series, my mind is all over the place… And that’s just the racing side of my life. I know that I have a lot more races this season and can make big improvements in my mental preparation for each race. I just hope I can put it all together now. ‘Preparation is the separation’.
RD: Obviously winning A-Main’s is not the only way to stay at the sharp end of the standings, so what would you say has been the key to doing so? Arguably one of the best drivers in the series, what is it going to take to not only maintain a top three, bump up a couple spots in the standings?
DM: Having runs like last month! Staying consistent all day with minimal mistakes. Qualifying is the key for starting a good day, get in the top three and collect a few bonus points, next is heat races, I look at every heat race like I’m going to win it, or staying in the top three helps with a good starting position in the A-mains. Now the mind set and luck come into play, A-mains! Making the “show” is one thing here, but winning the A-main is hard to do! If I’m going to move up a few spots in the standings I’m going to need a little Lady Luck on my side going into the last few round here at super series.
The Overall Championship: List of contenders starting to shrink…
Instead of talking about the championship fight, lets take a look at the podium, and who is on the verge of losing a shot at it. Right now 5th in the standings is held by Bill Kreig, who is 88 points out of first, and still in the hunt overall. Drop back almost 200 points and you have 15th in the standings, Adam Nagao, who is probably right on the outside in the realm of top 5 possibility.
I say this because at 200 points astern, you need to gain an average of 33 points PER ROUND to tie that one driver, never mind all the others in between. The further up the charts you get, the harder it is to make these kind of gains, which is why I think this round will become the goal setter for everyone up and down the field.
So, for the top 5, I think mathematically it is really going to be made up of someone in the top 10 already, however, given the throw outs in play already, and some of the names just on the outside looking in, and I think that can be expanded on back to the reigning National Champ, Aaron Downs. Time will tell, and it will fun to see how things shake up in the points after this weekend…
Overall Top 20 After Throw Outs (Total Points)
The Rookie Championship: Alekseenkov the clear leader, Lizama impresses
Last round Roman Alekseenkov proved his performance pre-Grands was no fluke, and once again put up big numbers to stretch his advantage to 110 points over second place, Wes Dent. Clear by nearly 100 points to third, Dent is the clear #1 challenger for the title right now, and has shown exceptional consistency throughout the year. Behind the top two however is a very close fight for third, and all of them could be right on the cusp of finding the same kind of pace as the leaders. Case in point, Moises Lizama.
Lizama has been on a steady rise in his performance, culminating in a 300+ day in round #7, the only other rookie besides the point leader to achieve that. This boosted him up to 4th in the standings, solidifying his spot among regular rookie contenders Mark Connell (3rd), Ashley Arnott (5th), and Patrick O’Keefe (6th). Many other rookies are showing strong right now further down the charts, rebounding from tough season beginnings, and while I don’t see much changing at the sharp end, the rookie class still has a lot of excitement on tap for this season.
Rookie Top 5 After Throw Outs (Total Points)
The Masters Championship: Fight for third heats up while Bravo pulls away
The fight for third is getting more exciting, as several more Masters drivers are stepping up their game this season, and new Masters are showing well out of the box. Ben Blank still has a decent lead over his challengers, but the gap is closing…
Steve Spring, last years Rookie of the year champion, has show well as of late, and looks like he has found a little something extra. Jeff Carson’s breakout year continues to impress, and is now in the 5th spot in the standings, while perennial Masters front runner Jose da Silva will be looking to bounce back after being forced to miss last round.
At the front it is a mano-e-mano fight for the championship, with the advantage to Bravo. While Kelmenson has shown he has what it takes to beat the reigning champ in outright speed, and point hauls, he has not been able to do it consistently as of yet, which is the sole reason Bravo continues to inch away. He isn’t out of reach yet though, and Kelmenson is fresh off a podium run at the last IronMan round, which ran on the same layout as this weekend…
Masters Top 5 After Throw Outs (Total Points)
The Grand Masters Championship: Latimer and Kimbrell strike back…
Aside from the Overall Championship, this class has the best title fight of any individual sub class. With three drivers inside almost 100 points, every round could be the difference between the first step, or the last step on the podium. Brian Starr has been setting the bar in this class for overall point hauls, but the consistency shown by Latimer and Kimbrell has seen them chip away at his lead nearly every round. Things could get even tighter too after this round, as Kimbrell heads into it as the winner from the last IronMan round, showing he has this layout figured out.
One side not to add is the emergence of rookie Kevin Taylor. Have found the A-Main in his rookie season, and after missing the first two rounds, we could see some big things out of him before season’s end. I think he is too far back to attack the top three, but it will be fun to see how close he may get…
Grand Masters Top 5 After Throw Outs (Total Points)
The Heavy Championship: Arnold, Reinhardt primary contenders for podium
At only 23 points between them, the fight between Mike Arnold and Greg Reinhardt for second is one of the closest that can be found in the Super Series. Last year Reinhardt was the de-facto #3 driver, but his game has stepped up, and is readily fighting with Arnold, the #2 driver from 2013. These two regularly find each other on track, and it is one of the only podium fights where the contenders are actually fighting one another directly every race. And even though they are fighting with each other, they are also inching their way from the rest of the competition, and in a class that only gains 10-20 points on one another max per round, a near 60-point lead on 4th is hefty.
So on race day if you want to watch a fun on track battle, that has huge hardware implications, look at the Main that includes these two; it’ll be a fun one to watch.
Heavy Class Top 5 After Throw Outs (Total Points)
The Team Championship: Halfway there, I sit down with our leaders: T4 Eagle
With half of the season in the books, I sat down with the Team Championship leaders; team T4 Eagle’s Patrick Britain, Chris Carter, and Jeff Carson, as well as T4 Team Principal, Taylor Hays.
RD: Taylor, as the team principal, what were your thoughts when the new team format was announced during the off-season, and how did you go about forming your team?
TH: I was extremely happy about the reformation of the team championship, regardless of how the rules would be packaged. Once the rules were posted, Chris Huerta and I formed a spreadsheet to make different lineup possibilities, which resulted in the acquisition of High Five Racing.
RD: Of the five teams in your stable, did you expect T4 Eagle to be setting the bar after the halfway point?
TH: Going in to the season, a few different strategies were in play for our teams to see which would net the most success, ensuring that at least a couple teams would be fighting at the sharp end. T4 Eagle setting the bar does not surprise me in any way, as they were certainly pegged at the beginning of the season as front runners.
RD: What would you say is the key to building a team that could win the championship in the 2014 format?
TH: The key as it turns out isn’t relying on each team’s number one driver, but rather the two and three drivers stepping up their game. This has shown greatly in both of T4’s top teams, Eagle and Hesketh. With the performances that Carson and Carter have been putting in for Eagle, and the rapid improvement of Tom Zevin for T4 Hesketh, it is no surprise that both teams have risen to the sharp end with a shot at the overall championship at the end of the year.
RD: Patrick, you are obviously having a very strong season; has the focus solely been on the individual championship, or did you have an eye on the Team prize from the get go?
PB: The focus for me as soon as my helmet goes on has always been on the individual championship. I figure that if I go out and put big numbers on the board, everything else will get sorted out. Off track, I have made a point to offer advice and feedback without holding anything back, not only to my Eagle teammates, but also T4 as a whole.
RD: Chris, you have always been a consistent driver from race to race, but this year you have been earning nearly forty more points each round than last year. Would you attribute this to being on a team, and if so how?
CC: Thanks. I’ve really tried to focus on improving and maintaining that consistency throughout the season. For sure I have increased the physical and mental training away from the track, but still much of the positive mindset comes from being around very strong teammates. I’ve been on teams with good drivers in past seasons, but the level of commitment at T4 is an obvious and definite change. Taylor makes sure each individual is getting the most out of the karts and conditions, and constantly improving. That’s what makes him stand out as a leading team principal and the reason Eagle is getting down to business.
RD: Jeff, you are having a breakout here to be sure. Your best ever point haul was 219 points last year, with an average point day of 167. This year, you have won a heat race, made the A-Main where you scored a new best of 339 points, and have been scoring 250 points on average over the 5 rounds you have run. Where did all this come from?
JC: For me the team championship was the real motivator for this season. When Taylor Hays contacted me and told me I was on a team with Patrick Britain and Chris Carter, I knew as the third driver, with nothing to lose, if I stepped up my game to being a consistent A main driver by the end of the season we could have a good chance of winning the team championship. So I decided to put 100% of my effort into this cart season and do everything I could to elevate the team points. So I get in the cart a lot more outside the super series. I’ve had some game changing coaching, had a lot of questions, and a lot more good advice and a lot of seat time to practice everything I’m learning. Basic stuff…it’s fun to learn and get better at things you love to do.
For all three of you a two part final question: what are your thoughts on this team championship format, and do you think you guys have what it takes to hold the lead, and win the team championship?
PB: The team championship format is great in my opinion. It gives a lot if new faces something to shoot for, rather than just seeing a super team at the top. I know we have what it takes to close the deal; we just have to keep doing what we have been.
CC: Not only does this season’s format help to create more driver synergy and improve paddock relations, the teams also want to take the challenge to the other squads within each team, which only improves the action on the track.
The season got off to a slow start with weather and race rescheduling. As a result, I feel as though T4 Eagle is just now starting to find its stride. There are many races remaining on the schedule and it will be an exciting finish down to the wire, but our best races are ahead of us.
JC: And as far as the team championship format goes I love it this year. Because it’s allowed me a platform to grow as much as I wanted to work for, and to be heavily rewarded by being on a team with such a points earning driver like Patrick Britain, it’s very motivating. We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing and I think we can take T4 Eagle to the championship
Team Championship Top 5 After Throw Outs (Total Points)
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