Bart Wolf is our pick for the person most likely to take the Sports 2000 SCCA National Championship. (Photo by Dennis Wood)
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.
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. and closes on Sunday, Sept. 22, with the final race at 5 p.m.
What follows is a the second set 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 third preview will be published here tomorrow.
For more information on the SCCA Runoffs, check out http://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).
Friday, Sept. 20
1. Lawrence Loshak, Honda CRX
2. Chris Albin, VW Golf
3. Greg Gauper, Honda Civic
First, let’s assume that a couple past champions won’t be competing at the Runoffs this year but if Tom Feller (four championships) or Mike Moser (one title) show up, all that is written here might be moot.
Lawrence Loshak is planning to compete in two very different classes this year: FB, and HP. He has won in DSR and EP, so he certainly knows how to drive. He has two races on Friday, the second of which is HP. Assuming his week has gone well, he can certainly win in HP. This assumption is for Chris Albin and 2011 HP Champion Greg Gauper to disprove, and they certainly have the ability to do so. Loshak should qualify well and lead when it counts, but Albin and Gauper are likely to lead as well.
The next group won’t be far behind, is a great mix of car brands, and will actually include some open-top cars. Ron Bartell hasn’t had the best luck at Road America in his MG Midget, but he can be fast, as is proven by his two championship titles. Matt Brannon continues to make progress with his Fiat X1/9 and could be running near the front. Jason Isley will return in his Toyota Yaris, a car that has proven quite capable in the past. Finally, Tim Pitts has shown that he can make his VW Golf go well, and he could certainly be in position for a podium, and FP frontrunner Kevin Ruck will be there in a Honda Civic.
Small bore production classes often suffer from attrition, and this year won’t be any different; consequently, the next HP champion could be any of these fellows.
J. Michael Hemsley
Friday, Sept. 20
1. Don Knowles, Chevrolet Corvette
2. Tom Sloe, Chevrolet Corvette
3. Andy Wolverton, Chevrolet Corvette
While diversity in Touring 2 still exists, the displacement has increased, and the number of potential championship contenders has changed. The Mitsubishi, Nissan, BMW days are behind us, replaced with American muscle courtesy of the Mustang and C5 Corvette.
We think the gold is a lock here it’s foolish to bet against defending champ Don Knowles. The only question is what Knowles will be driving. His longtime supporters Phoenix Performance have a Corvette for him to test heads up with his trusty Mustang, so we know he will be prepared and don’t doubt he’ll make the right choice.
Tom Sloe and Andy Wolverton will likely occupy the next two steps on the podium. Sloe was the best of the C5 contingent the last few years in T1, and that experience should help give him the edge over C5 convert Wolverton. Other Corvette drivers to keep an eye on are Matthew Pullano, David Sanders, Kyle Kelley, and Natha Waldbaum.
Should Knowles favor the bowtie over the blue oval, we expect Kurt Rezzetano and Pratt Cole to be the quickest of the Fords, but not likely quick enough to challenge for the top three positions.
There are a number of Porsches running out of the Fall-Line shop, which knows how to build winners, but the lack of displacement will likely find them lagging behind on the straights. Should weather become a factor, the rear engine cars could have an edge on corner exit, and that would help Jay Patel and Andrew Longe move up the order.
Saturday, Sept. 21
1. Michael Mueller, Red Devil
2. Charles McAbee, KBS
3. James Weida, Scorpion
The 2012 Formula 500 championship was effectively the race that never happened, as polesitter Jason Knuteson extended his string of disastrous finishes when his car suffered problems on the formation lap. Since winning the 2008-’09 championships, he has qualified strong but racked up a string of DNFs, so we never got a chance to see a race for the win.
With Knuteson out, Michael Mueller moved up from second on the grid to claim his second consecutive F500 title, more than 40 seconds ahead of the rest of the field. Mueller is looking stronger than ever this season, having recently reset the Road America lap record at Milwaukee Region’s Cat National.
“We’re having another great season and I feel confident that we’ll have the pace come the Runoffs to defend home turf one more time,” say Mueller. “With the 50th anniversary, I’ve been studying some of the statistics and history of the Runoffs, and it’s a pretty short list of racers who’ve won three in a row. This being the last Runoffs at my home track just adds even more motivation.”
At the time this was written, there were a number of contenders noticeably absent, and we have not been able to confirm their plans for this year’s Runoffs. We think Knuteson would have been the biggest challenger to Mueller. Also missing from the point standings this season are Michael Vacek or Aaron Ellis. With those three out, the rest of the podium is up for grabs.
C.J. McAbee took the silver in 2012, and could easily repeat that. We also expect to see Jack Walbran, Michael Brent, James Weida, and Steve Jondal making a run for the podium.
Saturday, Sept. 21
1. Andrew Aquilante, Chevrolet Corvette
2. Michael Pettiford, Chevrolet Corvette
3. Jerry Onks, Chevrolet Corvette
Trying to pick what is essentially a new class can be a challenge, but considering his prowess behind the wheel and the track record of Phoenix Performance, it’s hard to not pick Andrew Aquilante for the win. In 2012, Aquilante was not even planning to attend, but when a last minute opportunity arose, he showed up in a Mustang and grabbed the silver. Just based on the fact that he should be in a Corvette this year gives him our nod for the win.
Of course, Aquilante’s chances went from good to great when defending Champ John Buttermore fell victim to a scheduling conflict Buttermore will likely be watching the SpeedcastTV.com coverage of the T1 race from a hospital room, as he awaits the birth of his first-born son.
The rest of the podium is a bit of a mystery. Michael Pettiford had a great run going in 2012 before a flat tire took him out of contention, and we expect him to be back in his Corvette. Jerry Onks will be pulling double duty, also running his Corvette in GT-2.
The Viper camp should be well represented this year, with Tim Hund returning after a bronze medal finish last year. Kyle Kelley has upgraded to a T1 Viper as well, and he will be very busy, as he is also reportedly running a Corvette in GT-1 and T2.
There are a number of Mustangs trying to make a race of it this year, but it’s unlikely they will match Aquilante. On the more exotic side of things, we should see a couple of Porsche entries, and possibly an Aston Martin but we don’t expect to see any of these cars reach the podium.
The potential dark horse comes in the form of T2 drivers. At the June Sprints, Tom Sloe bested T1 on Sunday in his T2 Corvette, and with the T1 allowances a number of T2 pilots could double dip and fight for a step on the podium.
Formula Mazda Darryl Wills (Inna Bouzenkova photo)
Saturday, Sept. 21
1. Darryl Wills
2. Alan McCallum
3. Douglas Peterson
It’s said that nothing focuses the mind so much as the knowledge that one will be executed in the morning, but for a Runoffs champion, losing the crown comes close. That’s what happened to Darryl Wills last year, as Alan McCallum stood atop the Formula Mazda podium.
“Losing to Alan last year was the best thing that could have happened to me,” says Wills. “I did not bring our best game to the playing field. Losing the championship reminded me how much I cherish this title, and we have put forth a big effort for this year’s challenge.”
Before anyone dismisses this as bravado, look at the record Wills brings to the table. He was champion in 2010 and 2011, and third place in 2009. So last year’s fourth-place finish stung hard, and seems to have motivated him to bring his best game.
“I qualified 0.2sec under the existing track record and 1.3sec under second place,” continues Wills. “We feel that the combination of the new brake compound from Hawk and the FM tire from Hoosier will be a big advantage for another Runoffs championship.”
But McCallum may have other ideas. After winning last year’s race with an amazing hard charge through the pack from an 11th-place start, McCallum will certainly not be easy to beat.
Other contenders could include 2011 and 2012 runner-up and 2004 Champion Dougl Peterson, last year’s third-place finisher Steve Jenks, Robert Noell, or the new West Coast hot shoe T.J. Fischer.
“We hope to win,” says Fischer. “It’ll be a fight for the top spot hopefully we can show our stuff.”
Saturday, Sept. 21
1. Bart Wolf, Carbir CS2.85
2. Mark Mercer, Lola 90/91
3. David Doran, Doran JE-1
Ordinarily, there would be a Fergus at the top of this list, as John Fergus has won this class seven times and son Corey triumphed last year. But, as of the end of June, John had indicated that it is quite unlikely that either will run this year. That, of course, opens the door wide in a class that has been the Fergus family property for over a decade.
Road America is Bart Wolf’s home track, and he has many, many race miles here. Wolf has been on the Runoffs podium several times, but the top step has always eluded him. This year, however the last year of Sports 2000 as a Runoffs eligible class should be the year that it all comes together for Wolf. He is ready, his Carbir is ready, and things should come together at last.
Mark Mercer has won twice, but he is hard to predict. Mercer is an excellent racer in his well-prepared Lola, but is quite enigmatic as to whether he will come and run. Further, if the track is wet, his car will remain on the trailer. But if he shows, and it is dry, he will give Wolf all he can handle.
Past champion David Doran has been running his Doran JE-1 very well this year after a prolonged absence. He has a U.S. Majors Tour win and is always competitive. But the podium is anything but a shoo-in for him, as a couple of others will be tough indeed. David Ferguson has dominated the West Coast events in his Van Diemen, but it is a question as to whether he will make the long tow two years in a row. If he does, watch out. Michael Bautz has been a steady winner in his Lola, including at the June Sprints, and he knows the track.
As we bid a fond farewell to this grand class, the biggest smile should be on the face of Bart Wolf.
Spec Racer Ford
Saturday, Sept. 21
1. Brian Schofield
2. Scott Rettich
3. Mike Miserendino
This is the hardest class to pick. Not only is it one of SCCA’s most popular classes, but it also has some of the most talented drivers in Club Racing. To be successful in this class you really need to know how to drive. Sure, setup and chassis balance can’t be overlooked, but past that it’s all out driving skill. So here’s a tip: If cars are still in a tight pack come the end of the race (which they will be), be in second place entering the last lap. It’s going to be a drag race up the hill just ask 2012 gold medalist Cliff White how that works.
Looking down the list, there are no fewer than 15 guys who could win the gold. And, seriously, it’s almost unfair that we can only pick the top three the top 10 would be easier.
2010 National Champ Brian Schofield agrees: “My year has been good but not great. I’ve had a lot of competition with the new Majors format, but this is only making me a better racer. I think anyone qualifying in the top 10 will have a shot to win.”
Schofield is our pick to win only because he has something to prove after going wide and being snookered in the last turn in 2012. Scott Rettich, however, has been nothing short of awesome notching five wins in Majors competition and why would you count out four-time gold medalist Mike Miserendino? Things worked out last year for Cliff White, so who’s to say they won’t again this year? He bested Schofield at the Majors at Watkins Glen, so he likely has his sights set on a repeat.
Tray Ayers, Todd Harris, T.J. Acker, and Franklin Futrelle have been in the mix all season, and you can’t count any of them out. Denny Stripling has two wins, Keith Verges has a couple of wins in Majors and some solid seconds, Craig Reeder is another with a number of wins. A few others who need to be mentioned are Lee Douglas, Adam Gottlieb, Jeff Beck, and 2003 SRF Champ John Black. As always, SRF is a race you don’t want to miss.
This preview was originally published in SportsCar magazine, the official member magazine of the Sports Car Club of America. www.scca.com.
For detailed coverage of the 50th SCCA National Runoffs, go to scca.com/runoffs.