Continuing our special coverage of the 50th SCCA National Runoffs, the staff of SportsCar magazine makes its fearless predictions about who will emerge triumphant in the Sept. 16-22 National Championships at Road America. First of four parts.
The 2013 SCCA National Championship Runoffs marks a significant milestone, as the Sports Car Club of America celebrates the 50th running of its pinnacle amateur road racing event. For those not in the know, the Runoffs is an iconic, winner-take-all championship for SCCA’s Club racers, and is open to any of the Club’s competition drivers who qualified for the event. This year’s title bout takes place on Sept. 16-22, at Road America.
The first Runoffs took place in 1964 at Riverside Raceway in Riverside, Calif. Throughout the decades, the event has moved to several racetracks (six in total), with the 50th running taking place at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. This year’s Runoffs also marks the fifth and final year for the event at Road America before it starts a three-year rotation between Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Daytona International Raceway, and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
On-track action kicks off on Monday, Sept. 16, with practice sessions, and then at 8 a.m. Tuesday morning, the track goes hot for qualifying. Racing starts on Friday, Sept. 20, at 8:45 a.m., with Super Touring Under, and closes on Sunday, Sept. 22, with the Grand Touring Lite championship race at 5 p.m.
What follows is a list of drivers we feel have what it takes to stand on the Runoffs podium, as well those who will do everything they can to claim that space for themselves. We’ve broken the event down into four digestible chunks, with each containing seven of the 28 total races. The next preview will be published here tomorrow.
For more information on the SCCA Runoffs, check out www.SCCA.com/Runoffs. Also, catch the action streaming live online at http://www.SpeedcastTV.com/SCCA on the date and time listed for each race (times are for the Central time zone).
Super Touring Under Ray Huffmaster (Dennis Wood photo)
Super Touring Under
Friday, Sept. 20
1. Ray Huffmaster, Pontiac Solstice
2. Marc Hoover, Mazda Miata
3. Joel Weinberger, Audi A4
Marc Hoover has what is likely the fastest Miata in Club Racing. With a turbocharger and a big carbon fiber wing, the STU Miata from Hooverspeed simply flies. But that may not be enough to take home the STU crown for the veteran racer, who has been on the podium for the last two years and is looking to stand on the top step this year. He’s been there before in 2001 in D Sports Racer so he knows how to get there.
“I might have something over Joel Weinberger and his Audi, but I don’t know about the Solstice. They didn’t do anything to rein in the Solstice, so I don’t know what to think,” Hoover says.
Ray Huffmaster, father of Rob Huffmaster, will be driving the potent Solstice that Rob piloted to a dominating STU win in 2012. In 2012, Ray proved he has skills behind the wheel as he battled for the win in the then-supplemental STL class.
That said, last year’s runner-up, Joel Weinberger, is planning to be there to run for the win regardless of who is piloting the Solstice.
“I’ll race my Audi A4 again,” Weinberger says. “We got more turbo restriction, but so did everyone. It should be a good battle, and I should be competitive at least.”
Additional contenders could include Jim Taggart in his Lotus Exige, and “Irish Mike” Flynn in his BMW 325. Both ran well last year, with Flynn finishing in fourth position and Taggart in sixth. Taggart won the hard charger award last year after making a brave charge through the field from the back row of the grid, so it remains to be seen what he can do with a good starting position. Eric Heinrich will also be back with a vengeance in his E30 M3 after a motor failure sidelined him prior to the race at the 2012 Runoffs, we feel he has some unfinished business to take care of.
Friday, Sept. 20
1. Brandon Dixon, Citation
2. Brian Novak, Nova-Piper
3. Lawrence Loshak, JDR
After last year’s dominating performance, any racing prognosticator would hope that Brandon Dixon would run the 2013 season and return with a solid version of his winning car. However, Dixon decided to not make it easy for us. He sold his winning Citation and hasn’t turned a wheel all season. At the Runoffs, he’ll be driving the 2010 winning car. He’s our pick to win, but others will be looking to capitalize should his plan not completely come together.
Brian Novak has seen the podium before, with a championship of his own in 2011 and a F500 championship in 2007. “The FB competition is going to be pretty heavy this year,” says Novak. “J.R. Osborne is now running Brandon Dixon’s old car, which is a dangerous combo. Lawrence Loshak is doing excellent in the JDR so far and I’m sure Jeremy Hill and Glen Cooper will be right at the front as always. The two Astra cars on the West Coast seem pretty impressive as well.”
Loshak has two championships to his name EP in 2006 and DSR in 2010. Loshak has proven he can race a similar vehicle to the FB at Road America, so expect a close contest between him and Novak. Glenn Cooper may also be in the hunt, after coming close to the podium in 2010 and 2011.
A dark horse might be Lucian Pancea out of the Northwest Region. Pancea finished third last year after qualifying sixth, so he’s got some race craft to bring to the table.
But this could turn into the Davis/Novak show. “I think we have a great chance to win this year,” says Novak. “We did a lot of development during the offseason and the car is much more developed and improved from when we won in 2011.” Meanwhile, Davis assures us he wouldn’t be going if he didn’t think he could win.
Friday, Sept. 20
1. Pete Peterson, Toyota Celica
2. Trent Hindman, Porsche GT3 Cup
3. Tom Wickersham, Porsche GT3 Cup
The battle between the traditional tube-frame GT-2 cars and the production-based tub cars continues to heat up. The Porsche GT3 Cup has become the workhorse of the class, as it not only puts down fast laps, but also has reliability on its side. Tube-frame drivers like Pete Peterson and Jim Goughary have been able to often better the tub-based Porsche camp, but their comparatively temperamental cars need everything to fall into place to take the win.
The 2013 season saw a number of adjustments to integrate the ex-Super Touring Over cars with the existing GT-2 cars. The STO cars are predominately big horsepower cars great for the straights at Road America, where the typical GT-2 car makes its lap time with handling. While the raw STO power seems like a concern, with past STO winners Scott Tucker and David Pintaric not returning, it seems less likely an STO car will upset the status quo.
When Peterson rolled out his Toyota Celica in 2011, it was fast, but in need of further development. At the 2012 event it looked as though Peterson had the car dialed in, and he had the field covered right up until a camshaft let go. This year, if the car stays together, Peterson should be able to collect his eighth Runoffs title.
There is a lot of buzz about Trent Hindman, who is piloting a Fall-Line Porsche. Hindman comes in with relatively little closed-wheel-racing experience, but has shown speed and maturity beyond his years, setting the track ablaze nearly everywhere he has competed. That combination of talent and top-flight car prep should land Hindman on the podium.
It’s likely no one saw Tom Wickersham coming in 2012 when he put his car second on the grid and won the race, but with more seat time he is certain to be a contender for a podium finish this year.
Right behind these three is a long list of drivers who are capable of finishing up front. We know Goughary will represent the tube cars well, while the tub camp has Mark Boden, Erich Joiner, and John Kachadurian. The STO camp will look to Russ Snow, Jerry Onks, and Joe Koenig, although they’ll need something to happen up front in order to get on the podium. The real dark horse is Jason Lee in the Audi R8 LMS we will see if he can get it up to speed come September.
GT3 Mike Henderson (Mark Weber photo)
Friday, Sept. 20
1. Mike Henderson, Mazda RX-7
2. Rob Warkocki, Mazda RX-7
3. James Hargrove, Honda Civic
You always want to wait until after the Chicago Region June Sprints to write the Who Will Win articles. Obviously, you need to know who did well at the track that will host the Runoffs, but there’s always the possibility of a game-changing event. That event happened in GT-3 this year, when two-time Champion Michael Cyphert crashed in his Toyota Celica. Cyphert is always fast, and the crash will definitely affect the outcome of the Runoffs.
“I may be able to get it fixed in time for the Runoffs,” Cyphert says. “If fixed, I’ll go.”
But with Cyphert’s Toyota and the Nissan 350Z of reigning Champion John Black in the question mark column, who else could win this class?
The answer is Mike Henderson the Mazda RX-7 pilot has been ripping up National racing and the U.S. Majors Tour this year, and he’s always fast, finishing second in 2009 and 2010. Then again, 2010 Champion Rob Warkocki is another RX-7 jockey who could take the top step this year.
Another potential podium finisher is James Hargrove. Hargrove campaigns Hondas in both GT-3 and GT-Lite, last year finishing on the podium in the Lite class and finishing fourth in GT-3. “The car’s fast in a straight line, and that should be good at Road America,” Hargrove points out. “I know we have a car that can go the distance I think we have a shot.”
Wolfgang Maike could also make a play. His Toyota Paseo is fast and he’s a keen competitor. Last year’s third-place finisher Paul Young will also run fast in his Ford Probe, so don’t be surprised if you see him in the mix.
Spec Miata Craig Berry (Inna Bouzenkova photo)
Friday, Sept. 20
1. Craig Berry
2. Jim Drago
3. Elivan Goulart
In most classes, picking the winner gets easier every year. In Spec Miata, it gets harder. It’s harder every year because Spec Miata has never had a repeat champion. So, each year, the front of the field is filled with more returning champions all of them excellent Miata pilots. All of them are capable of winning again and breaking the streak.
Chief among those is last year’s Champion Jim Drago, who always brings a top-notch game. “I think I can win again, but so can several others,” Drago says. “I think there’s an equal shot between myself, Craig Berry, and Elivan Goulart.”
Craig Berry has certainly paid his dues and earned his place at the front of the pack. Asked who he thinks will run with him, more names appear: “Elivan Goulart, Patrick Sandlin, and Andrew Von Charbonneau, with maybe a surprise from Erik Stearns, who appears to be coming on strong,” Berry says.
As always, the June Sprints are instructive. Danny Steyn may prove to be a dark horse challenger. “At the June Sprints, I had pole in Q1 and Q2, and then led several laps before getting knocked off the track,” he says. “I re-entered in eighth place and drove back to the lead on the last lap before being taken out with three corners to go.” Can you say unfinished business?
So, they won’t let me finish this without making a pick. I’m going to respect the Spec Miata streak and pick Craig Berry for the win because he hasn’t won before. But no one will be surprised if this is the year the streak falls and Drago or Goulart become the first repeat champions.
F. Atlantic – Jason Byers (Philip Royle photo)
Friday, Sept. 20
1. Jason Byers, Swift .014a
2. Keith Grant, Swift .014a
3. Michael Mallinen, Swift .014a
For six of the past seven years, the winner of Formula Atlantic has driven a car prepped by Mirl Swan. With that history, it’s hard to go against a Swan Racing entry. So we won’t. Jason Byers is the defending champion, and although he has had a late start to this season, he should be in top form and ready to defend this September. The June Sprints did not go well, but history has shown that the Swan cars peak at the Runoffs.
Keith Grant very much wants to win after bad luck at the past few Runoffs. He has won the June Sprints plus four others as of the end of June and is primed for the gold. Why is he not our favorite to win? Simply put, he told us at the Sprints, “Whatever you do, don’t pick me!” Based on his recent Runoffs luck, we thought we’d to what we could to help out plus, Byers really is fast enough to finish ahead.
Michael Mallinen won two years ago and almost won last year. He is in a Swan Swift and will be in the fight to the end. Should either Byers or Grant make even the slightest bobble, Mallinen will be through for the win.
The wild card is Sedat Yelkin, who has five wins in his Swift. Yelkin has been very fast this season and could finish on the podium. Others to be considered include Jacek Mucha, who year in, year out is a constant threat, and Jeff Kowalik. Jean-Luc Liverato has converted his CSR Swift back to FA specs and is always a threat, while Tyler Hunter is in the third Swan Swift and we all know what that means.
Friday, Sept. 20
1. Andy McDermid, Ford Mustang
2. Tom Sloe, Ford Mustang
3. John Heinricy, Pontiac Firebird
Racing Luck. Perhaps no other class depends on it more. Let’s look at last year. Tom Sloe had built up a 23-second margin over the rest of the field before little gremlins invaded his motor. Andy McDermid recounted, “Who knows how it’s going to go? I was on the pole by 1.5sec last year and the car broke on the first lap.”
2009 Champ Tom Sloe agrees, “I’ve led a lot of laps at the Runoffs but, unfortunately, not the last one all the way to the flag. I’m hoping this is the year my luck turns around. I’m testing two cars: the older one and the one I built two years ago. I’ve got Hutter Racing Engines building my motors again. They’ve taken the likes of Dale Earnhart Jr. to back-to-back NASCAR championships.”
Sloe is hoping they will do the same for him, and we have no doubt he’ll be in the lead pack.
Our pick for third is John Heinricy. Heinricy had his day end early last year after a first-lap tangle with Tom West, but as a former champion an invite is automatic. You can always count on excitement with these three, and it’s hard to bet against any of them. This talented trio has 18 National Championships between them these guys know how to race.
That’s not to say someone else could not end up in the medals or stand atop the podium. We think Jeff Werth has the best shot to write his own name in the AS record book. He has six wins in U.S. Majors Tour competition. Daniel Richardson and Dane Smith, also in Camaros, and Michael Lavigne and David Venhaus (Mustangs) have all had some good finishes and are also a good threat for a podium.
Aaron Bailey, in his fuel-injected Pontiac, has had some great results in Majors competition in the Western Conference, and after his last-lap crash at the 2012 Runoffs, we’re betting he’s got something to prove this year. In the Mid-States Conference, Jim Wheeler has put his Trans-Am on the top step a number of times. Dane Smith’s name pops up again in Majors results in the Mid-States with all top five finishes, and Tom Smith and Boyd Lear in Camaros and Chris Pederson in a Mustang all having logged podiums. With the rollercoaster last year’s race turned into, this class could really be wide open. But one thing we can guarantee, it will be a great race these boys never disappoint!
This preview was originally published in SportsCar magazine, the official member magazine of the Sports Car Club of America. http://www.scca.com.
For detailed coverage of the 50th SCCA National Runoffs, go to scca.com/runoffs.