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 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 fourth 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).
Saturday, Sept. 21
1. Michael Varacins, Speed Sport
2. Roger Siebenaler, Mysterian
3. Rick Shields, VDF
The draft, and where you are in the pack entering Turn 14 on the final lap, makes all difference in Formula Vee. Drivers in this class figured out pretty quickly that to have a shot at the win, or even the podium, you had better work together right up until you come out of that final turn. The draft, doubled with an incredibly deep pool of driving talent, really makes picking this podium a wild guess.
Perhaps the lone exception to needing the draft to win is Michael Varacins. In 2009, Varacins proved his potency behind the wheel with a runaway win a method of winning he would like to see repeated this year. “It seems everyone is essentially teamed up’ to make sure I don’t get too far in front,” says Varacins. “That’s why I haven’t really been able to break away the past few years. I was close a couple of times last year another couple of car lengths and I would have been able to shake the draft. I’m hoping with a little extra power this year I might just be able to do it.”
Last year, Varacins was running nose to tail with 2011 Champ Roger Siebenaler, and the two crossed the finish line a scant 0.101sec apart, with Varacins claiming his second title.
If Siebenaler, and others, can keep Varacins from slipping away, it’s almost anybody’s race to win. Thus, the Formula Vee rule of thumb: The driver sitting in second or third as they exit Turn 14 on the last lap has the advantage. However, if Varacins can grab another pole and get some clear track between him and the pack, the only battle will be for second place.
Other drivers to keep an eye on are the capable Rick Shields, Gary Blanarik, Chris Jennerjahn, Tyler Hunter and Stevan Davis. Dave Weitzenhof is another one to watch, as he’ll be there using the past champion allowance.
Saturday, Sept. 21
1. Doug Peterson, Chevrolet Corvette
2. Mike Lewis, Jaguar XKR
3. Cliff Ebben, Ford Mustang
Seven-time National Champion Mike Lewis tried to convince us that his trusty Jaguar was a “little long in the tooth” compared to the current Trans Am machines like those prepared by Tony Ave and driven by current Trans Am points leader and former Formula Mazda National Champion Doug Peterson. Peterson has been having a great season in Trans Am he has made it to the top step in a number of races this season, so we’ll go with him as our top pick. However, that’s not to say we are counting out Lewis. It will be the usual dogfight at the front.
But you can’t count out hometown hero Cliff Ebben and his beautifully prepared Mustang. He, too, has a couple of National titles in the class, and if anyone knows his way around the storied Road America circuit, it’s Ebben.
That said, there’s a new name on top of the current point standings, a youngster 18-year-old Dillon Machavern driving a 1963 Ford Falcon that has been tearing up the competition. He has numerous wins and podium finishes and has kept pace with the likes of Amy Ruman, so he could be our dark horse. That’s assuming he can make it, since school will be back in session.
Other possibilities include Amy Ruman herself she always has a great race at the Runoffs. Simon Gregg in the Jim Derhaag-prepared car gets better each year. He finished on the podium last year, so this may be his chance to move up a step. Both of these drivers have had great seasons on both the pro and Club level and could easily figure into the medals. Tom Smith, Richard Grant, and David Fershtand could also be a threat.
Eric Prill tops our picks in F Production (Philip Royle photo)
Saturday, Sept. 21
1. Eric Prill, Mazda Miata
2. Ken Kannard, Mazda Miata
3. Sam Henry, Mazda Miata
We all know that numerology is bull hockey, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. Eric Prill has some numerology going for him. At the Runoffs, he has gotten good results every other year fourth, then third, then second in 2011. His two podiums have come each time he ran the June Sprints. Well, he ran the Sprints this year, and it’s the every other year, so it’s predictable that he will win. Won’t hurt that his car is now sorted, has a new brake master cylinder, and is very fast but that won’t make the win easy. Ken Kannard is always fast and will keep Prill honest. Sam Henry will be helping with that as well. No doubt about it, these three will be up front.
That said, FP has an incredible number of fast cars. Past Champions Kevin Ruck (Acura Integra) and Rick Harris (Mazda Miata) are going well and will be in the mix. Meanwhile, David Strittmatter (Lancia Scorpion) and Bill Wessel (Datsun SPL 311) continue to make their non-Miatas go fast.
Speaking of Miatas, Mason Workman, Charlie Campbell, and Don Ahrens are having good seasons and are quick enough to challenge for the podium. And what if John and/or Nigel Saurino (MG Midgets) or Jerry Hinkle (Lotus 7) return to the Runoffs after being away for some years? They are all fast. Then there’s the spoiler: Steve Sargis. Sargis is battling issues with his GT-Lite Triumph Spitfire and failed to qualify it for the Runoffs. He says he’ll use his past champion’s entry for his GT-L Spitfire, but might change plans and run FP instead. In which case, Prill will have company at the front.
J. Michael Hemsley
Saturday, Sept. 21
1. Lewis Cooper III, Van Diemen
2. Tim Kautz, Piper
3. Steve Bamford, Mygale
The competition at the 2012 Runoffs in Formula F was close, to say the least, with Tim Kautz claiming his second gold medal a historic first for Honda in the class by a scant 0.077sec over Lewis Cooper. As we look toward the 50th Runoffs, the competition should be equally as tight, with a seemingly great balance between the Honda- and Ford-powered cars at Road America.
Both Kautz and Cooper report making changes to help increase their chances of standing on the top step of the podium once again. “We are working hard on the car after our loss at the June Sprints,” says Kautz. “The car was very fast on short runs, but extremely hard on the tires. We’re trying some new suspension and steering things to help the long runs.”
For Cooper a second championship would also mean returning Ford to its former glory in the class. “We will make another run at a National Championship with Ford power,” says Cooper. “We have worked on the aero on my Van Diemen, amongst other small changes.”
Looking to make this a three-way battle will be June Sprints winner Steve Bamford, driving a Honda-powered Mygale. Other drivers we’re expecting to see crash the party include 2012 bronze medalist Russell Ruedisueli, Reid Hazelton, and Stan Townes.
Kevin Fandozzi (Philip Royle photo)
Sunday, Sept. 22
1. Kevin Fandozzi, Chevrolet Cobalt SS
2. Chad Gilsinger, Acura TL SH-AWD
3. Richard Fisher, Volkswagen GTI
Class reorganization since last September may have altered the landscape in T3, but all indicators are that the Chevy Cobalt is still the car for the job at Road America. That puts last year’s Champ Kevin Fandozzi at the front of the list to win this year. Last year’s runner-up Richard Fisher, driving a Volkswagen GTI, is in a similar situation, so we’re expecting to see a repeat of last year’s epic battle between the two.
That said, Last year’s third-place finisher Chad Gilsinger, the 2010 T3 champ, thinks he has the right combination to make a play for the top spot. “I will be running a new Acura TL SH-AWD and think it will have a pretty good chance, but with the rules being changed for almost everyone this year it is hard to say who will have the advantage.
“Kevin [Fandozzi] had significantly more power than most last year,” Gilsinger continues. “This year I think my car will be fairly equal to his as far as power goes, but [the Acura] weighs about 400lbs more. I do have all-wheel drive, though, and I think my car handles better, so it should be close.”
Another driver to watch is Brian Kleeman in the Nissan 350Z. Kleeman made the T2 podium in a 350Z in 2011, and he’s been tearing up the track this year. Last year’s GT-2 Champion Tom Wickersham and 2012 SSB Champion Luke Wilwert will both be campaigning in Honda S2000s, and both are capable of putting the Honda at the top of the pile.
“It definitely should be an interesting race,” Gilsinger says.
C Sports Racing
Sunday, Sept. 22
1. Steve Forrer, Ralt RT-41
2. Jason Miller, Wynnfurst Kohler
3. Lee Alexander, Stohr WF-0
Steve Forrer has won the last three CSR crowns in his Ralt RT-41. While he has raced but once so far this season, he will take advantage of the past champion’s allowance to qualify for the Runoffs, and he will be ready to win. Forrer is virtually unbeatable at Road America and it will take a lot to beat him.
This year’s CSR field is deep indeed, with a half dozen or more capable of winning. Jason Miller has been knocking on the door but has yet to come through. His six-cylinder, Kohler-powered Wynnfurst West is likely the fastest car, but Miller has been let down too often by reliability issues. If his car has a flawless run, Miller could finally notch a long overdue win.
Lee Alexander has been on a roll this season, with five wins in the bag as of the end of June he could easily be on the top step in September. At the least, he and his Stohr will mix it up at the front for the entire race. James French is at his home track in a Swift Atlantic and will run up front. Kirk Kindsfater has shown good speed, as has Dudley Fleck in an Elan-Mazda. Brian French is a past FA champion with many wins at Road America, so he cannot be counted out. From the savvy pro category comes Jim Downing, whose Peach Day 2 can surprise.
Then there is Jacek Mucha. He is always on the podium and has a powerful car in his Swift 016.a, and we would pick him again this year, but there is so much talent that he drew the odd straw this time.
The top three are picked, but it will be a crapshoot. Don’t bet against anyone.
D Sports Racing
Sunday, Sept. 22
1. Chris Farrell, Stohr WF1
2. Tom Bootz, Stohr WF1
3. David Locke, Stohr WF1
With the sports racing category reorganization just around the corner, it looks as though many of the contenders got an early start on their 2014 race program, with some DSR regulars already running in CSR. The combined DSR/CSR race schedule for the 2013 Runoffs also forced those who, in the past, might have double dipped, to pick a side.
So far this year there has been no sign of defending Champ Scott Tucker, who turned the class on its ear in 2012 when he claimed a half-minute margin of victory in his turbo West and became the only racer to break the two-minute mark at Road America in an SCCA class. His 2012 performance may have contributed to some competitors swapping classes a season early.
Regardless, the question going into the 50th Runoffs is whether a turbo-powered car will be needed to win again. Few who have tested the setup have had the reliability needed to get to the end even Tucker’s amazing run in 2012 was done on a backup engine after losing one in testing. Consequently, it seems reasonable that a naturally aspirated car should be able to get it done, but we won’t likely know who is packing what until we all get to Elkhart Lake.
Word on the street is Chris Farrell has been testing a turbo, but he has also shown he is fast enough to run at the front if the group sticks with traditional power plants. Tom Bootz took bronze in 2012, and with the only guys who finished on the track ahead of him out this year, it would make him an easy pick. However, Bootz has reported that this season has been less than ideal for him, and he has some technical issues he will need to keep in check to pick up another gold medal.
David Locke took the win at the June Sprints, and would certainly like to make up for a disastrous 2012 Runoffs. We will also be watching Greg Bell and Garrett Kletjian, both of whom could mess up our predictions.
This preview was originally published in SportsCar magazine, the official member magazine of the Sports Car Club of America. http://www.scca.com.