The penultimate round in the 2017 CalSpeed IronMan Championship would go down as one of the most hard-fought 60 minutes in series history, with the event looking more like a sprint race than an endurance event. Two drivers entered with a chance at their second series title, and the result was one of the most exciting IronMan races to date…
Up and coming sport karting driver Scott Milne would lead the field of thirty away from the green, but it would be title contender Taylor Hays snatching away the top spot by the finish of the first lap. Hays had thrown some strategy at the previous round to help make sure he had a front row start to this event, and he was full tilt trying to make the most of it. His primary rival for this race was the defending champ and point leader Adam Nagao, fresh off a win last month and looking to seal the deal on his 2017 campaign. Nagao starting in the 11th position would give the immediate advantage to Hays, but the former was determined to make it to the front.
For the opening handful of circuits it was Hays, Milne and then Steve Spring leading the way, but another driver was making quick work to get to the front and make his presence known. Enter Sean Fite; last season’s runner-up, Fite was again looking to snag a piece of hardware this year, and was going to need a big round to help make that happen. By lap five he had caught the lead trio from the seventh starting spot, and on lap six he had slotted into the second and in prime position to steal away the lead. By lap 10 that is exactly where he was, but Hays wasn’t just going to play the pusher this time around…
Those first ten laps saw a lot of infighting and jostling for position; throw in a bit of lapped traffic drama early in the race, and it was certainly an unpredictable start to the event. With all of the battling going on, the leaders were not able to get away and stay ahead like in some previous races, making it an eight kart train that Fite took the lead of on lap ten. Seven of the eight drivers were racing for the win; only Nagao had his sights squarely set on Hays, who was now just a couple spots in front of him. When Hays re-took the lead from Fite on lap 14, Nagao knew he had to keep charging to the front, dispatching Spring with Alyssa Yauney following suit -who had been running with Nagao since the drop of the green. That same lap the leaders would have to contend with lapped traffic for the second time, and it was the duo of Nagao and Yauney that hit the afterburners right after to close the gap back to the lead duo. Those laps cut by them would be the fastest of the race; not only keeping them in touch, but making it a smaller four-driver break away at the front while the rest collected themselves after the traffic. It wasn’t enough to break them however, and in a few short laps the lead group was again counted eight; Steve Spring having lead the second group across the divide.
Just before the halfway point Fite took his opportunity to take back the lead from Hays -having come under fire for second a few laps prior from an antsy Nagao- and would lead all but one of the next 22 laps. And once Fite was the leader the complexity of the race changed; with Nagao now fighting for position with Hays, it was the spark needed to fire up the first pit stops from the leaders, with Yauney the first to blink just before the group caught traffic. This would turn out to be a pivotal decision in the outcome, as she and Scott Milne -who pit one lap after- linked up to cut quick and clean laps while the leaders negotiated obstacles. Between the lapped traffic and the squabble amongst the title contenders, Fite was about to sail off to a large lead, with the next pit stops not happening for several laps after Yauney’s first. The first to make that move was Hays, pitting out of fourth to exit the pits just behind Yauney, who had been able to work through traffic quicker than Milne to now be alone. Again with a drafting partner in clean air, this new duo cut laps faster than the lead group at the time, with their advantage becoming clearer with ever driver that exited the pits behind them. Lap after lap the chipped away at the time difference, with Yauney the first to make her second stop on lap 47. Hays would follow suit the very next lap, with Fite and Nagao pitting out of 1st and second for their first trip down pit road around the same time.
When Fite made his second and final stop on lap 50 the advantage was still his, but now just under a second and a half -and without any help for the next four laps. It only took two laps for Yauney and Hays to reel in the long-time leader, the trio now well clear of any other challengers. Coming to the white they were separated by less than two tenths, with Yauney making the move into Short Beach; the counter move came in Contino with both Fite and Hays making their way by. Fite would defend a committed Hays going into hairpin, the duo losing a bit of time to Yauney who was able to take the quick line with no pressure from behind. Now back in the game, Yauney was in position for a last chance shot into bypass…
Going into the corner it was Fite going defensive and Hays going even further inside to make the move; the move was good, but the exit speed was not. Able to take the quickest line through the final complex, Yauney carried the speed onto the straight to first over under Fite, and then drag race Hays to the line… winning by .018 seconds. It was Yauney’s third win of the season, and fifth podium in a row. Hays would settle for second, while Fite brought home third after leading the most laps.
Further back it was a dogfight for the spot just off the podium, as Adam Nagao battled with Alexander Bermudez and Jose da Silva to score the most points possible. Bermudez would find his way by on the penultimate lap, with da Silva also making his way before the checkers; Nagao would finish in 6th. Like last year at this place, it was his worst finish of the year, but it was still enough to clinch his second IronMan Series title in a row. He was noticeably happy with the result when recapping the race afterwards, and is looking forward to the season finale in a months time:
“I knew I had to get to Taylor (Hays) to at least be a pest. I made it a point to be a nuisance to him in hopes that others would take the advantage make their way around us. Over and over we were going back and forth, exactly what I needed to make sure he couldn’t make it to the front. After all that, Taylor still had an AMAZING drive and was fighting for the win on the last lap. I did my best to slow him as much as I could, but nothing would get in his head and he kept pushing on with an amazing drive. I watched the entire last lap, and almost going off track from not paying attention; I watched the leaders cross the line side by side, and hugged Alyssa when I realized she kept Taylor behind her. I realized I won. By snagging the overall, a huge burden has been lifted. I’m ready to head into the last round to turn some laps and have fun. I’ve always found that I drive my best when I’m having fun. Cool and calm will be my approach to grabbing the trifecta!”
IronMan Series Round #9 Top 10
|5)||Jose da Silva|