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 first three parts can be accessed via the links at the top of this page.
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).
This year’s Formula Continental race will be a doozy, more than likely with Brian Tomasi finishing atop the podium. (Photo by Irina Bouzenkova)
Sunday, Sept. 22
1. Brian Tomasi, Van Diemen RF-08
2. Gerald Szykulski, Van Diemen DP08
3. Chris Miller, Van Diemen
Formula Continental is very difficult to call this year. Under the past champion’s allowance for the 50th Runoffs, any number of potent FC competitors can run. Some recent FC champions have also indicated that they are not running more than a race or two during the season, but nonetheless may show up at the Runoffs. This does complicate matters.
Brian Tomasi has two titles and says he will bring his self-prepped Van Diemen out to play this September. He has run the June Sprints this season and had some difficulties, but will be ready for the Runoffs. While he will not have much seat time, he has won before, and vows that he will be ready.
Last year’s winner, Gerald Szykulski, is undecided whether he will attend, but he did register for the event. He was near invincible last season, and should he show, that record could well carry him to his second straight. His Van Diemen is well prepared by Arms Up Motorsports, giving him an extra edge.
Chris Miller is the only one of the three picks who is running the season and has momentum on his side. He has three wins, including the June Sprints, and will be a tough competitor. Chuck Moran is doing well in the east, with three wins and the points lead, and he is eager to show the rest of the country what he can do. Others who should figure into the equation include Robert Allaer and Steve Bamford.
Four-time Champion Niki Coello is not racing this year, but he lives close by, he has a couple FC cars, and has an invitation, so why not?
Super Touring Lite
Sunday, Sept. 22
1. Chad Gilsinger, Honda Civic Si
2. Luke Wilwert, Honda Civic Si
3. Oscar Jackson Jr., Honda Civic Si
At the 2012 Runoffs we saw an epic battle for the Super Touring Lite win, even though there was not a championship on the line. Ray Huffmaster and Jim Drago raced door handle to door handle, lap after lap, with Huffmaster taking the win. Unfortunately, the rest of the field was well off the pace. With a championship on the line at the 50th Runoffs, however, we expect to see more drivers at the pointy end of the field.
Class adjustments coming into the 2013 season stand to shake things up a bit; and we expect the Honda racers to sweep the podium this year. Past Runoffs Champs Chad Gilsinger and Luke Wilwert have converted a pair of ex-SSB Civics to STL trim, and Oscar Jackson Jr. has been campaigning a similar car on the West Coast with great success. We expect to seen John Schmitt, driving a Honda Prelude, to be close to the front, as well.
Huffmaster’s winning RX-8 may have been able to get the job done last year, but it’s a different story this year although we do expect to see him not too far behind the leaders. The same is true of Drago, but he and the rest of the Miata camp may be able to draft their way to the front. Robert Schader has built himself a fast Miata this year, and should be up there with Drago.
The wild card will be 2012 STU Champ Rob Huffmaster, Ray’s son, who may show in his potent ITS RX-7. A year ago this car could have won, but Rob’s no slouch behind the wheel and his skill might be able to make up for a lack of power.
Sunday, Sept. 22
1. Matt Reynolds, Mazda Miata
2. Aaron Downey, Mazda RX3
3. Jon Brakke, Mazda Miata
When asked for an E Production prediction, one source said, “If you don’t pick Matt Reynolds to win EP, then Superman must have bought an EP car.” Well, there’s no indication that Superman is going to show for the Runoffs, and Matt Reynolds is burning up every track he hits. He’s not going to have it easy, though. Aaron Downey’s venerable RX-3 (are they all racecars now?) had some problems early in the season, but it appears that he’s flat flying now. Then there’s Jon Brakke you don’t get three EP championships by being slow, and he won’t be slow. It’s possible, but not likely, that these three will break away.
Most likely is that Greg Ira will be in the mix for the win in his Datsun Z-car, as he usually is. Ira would make a good pick for the championship, and could do it this year even if the others don’t have trouble in the race.
Chasing this group will be an interesting mix of cars, and all could take advantage of any missteps or mechanical issues among the leaders. Sam Halkias makes his tractor (oops, that’s Triumph) TR6, go faster every year. Out west, Gary Gist has shown good speed with his Mazda RX-7 this year, as has John Longwell in his BMW 328i. Fellow BMW driver Kevin Leigh has also been fast in a Z3. Then there’s Tony Rivera it appears that he’s back in an RX-7, and knows how to build a rotary powerplant.
J. Michael Hemsley
Sunday, Sept. 22
1. Scott Rettich
2. Paul Schneider
3. Curt Harrelson
Perhaps this is the class that is closest to a lock but that was said about Rettich one year ago, and his drive was stalled by a fouled shifter, so anything can happen. Nonetheless, Rettich is the class of Formula Enterprises. As of the end of June, Rettich has notched 10 FE wins, including the June Sprints. With such an impressive streak of wins, plus his dominance of the class over the past few years, to pick anyone other than him would be considered a big stretch.
But who could upset the applecart? The first name that comes to the fore is Paul Schneider. Schneider has had a fine season so far; scoring high finishes with great regularity. At the time of this writing, Schneider had four wins and two seconds, and was ranked at the top or near the top of every points table. If Rettich sneezes, Schneider should be there to vault to the top step.
Curt Harrelson has been piling up the points also, scoring big in multiple divisions and U.S. Majors Tour Conferences. He has been a factor everywhere and has to be considered as a genuine contender for the podium. Right with Harrelson should be Justin Hoffman, who has two wins, two seconds, and two thirds. Others to be considered include Mark Eaton, Scott McQueen, and Denny Marklein, all of whom are running well this season.
But the record speaks for itself. Rettich is the one to beat, and barring the unforeseen, should bag another gold medal this September.
Sunday, Sept. 22
1. Lance Stewart, Ford Mustang
2. Michael Scornavacchi, Ford Mustang
3. Lee Niffenegger, Honda Civic
Touring 4 is brand-new for 2013 sort of. The reality is the class is a combination of the old SSB and SSC classes. SSB Cars like Mustang, Civic, and BMW Z4 are more or less the same configuration, but now as a Touring class they can remove interiors and the CRB has more freedom for performance adjustments and components. SSC cars are allowed lighter wheels, aftermarket dampers, and springs up to 500lbs.
So what will be the weapon of choice? Likely the Mustang, and our pick is Lance Stewart behind the wheel. Last year, Stewart was late to the grid and got caught up in the first lap melee, both seemingly taking him out of contention for the win. Despite that, Stewart almost ran down eventual race winner Luke Wilwert (driving a Honda).
2001 Champ Michael Scornavacci, also in a Mustang, will give Stewart a run for his money, and you can never count out Ed Zabinski (2010 champ) or Steve Zink, both piloting Mustangs. See a pattern here?
But let’s look at the other cars that might figure into the medals. We are giving the nod to HPD Engineer and 2008 National Champ Lee Niffenegger to finish in the bronze spot. Niffenegger has been working to get the weight reduced on the Honda Civic this season, and has managed to get the minimum weight down to 3100lbs add that to a suspension change and he’s managed to stay in the mix. He finished fourth at the 2012 Runoffs, breaking his podium streak in the five previous seasons.
Brian Price has a bunch of wins in Majors competition, but will the quick little Mazda MX-5 have the legs for the long straights at Road America? That remains to be seen. Speaking of quick, there’s the BMW Z4 of Toby Grahovec (2005 and ’09 SSB Champ). He had a great run at Circuit of the Americas in March and can’t be counted out. Wiley veteran Ralph Porter is also in a BMW, and you know what they say about age and treachery!
As far as the old SSC class cars go, James Place looks like he’ll be giving it a go in a Chevy Cobalt but as of this writing, he was the only one we could find.
Sunday, Sept. 22
1. Joel Lipperini, Honda Fit
2. Shawn Young , Mazda 2
3. Robbie Davis, Mini Cooper
After last year’s four-car race within a race (where a B-Spec race took place, but not by name, as they all ran as Showroom Stock C cars), picking an initial champion for B-Spec is a bit of a dartboard throw. Certainly if we see last year’s winner Sage Marie back in the hunt, he would be on anyone’s short list to win. However, there are many new faces turning up in some cars that should be well suited to Road America’s fast straights and curves.
Robert “Robbie” Davis and Charlie James dominated the Eastern and Mid-States Majors Conferences, respectively, in a pair of Mini Coopers, while Derrick Ambrose ran roughshod over the Western Majors Conference in his Mazda 2. The exception to that was Buttonwillow, where Roy Richards drove his Honda Fit to a pair of wins.
But with the standing invitation to all past champions to attend this year’s Runoffs, B-Spec could be seen as low-hanging fruit for the 50th Runoffs, and we could see past champions turning up in these low-cost cars for a shot at the title.
One of those past champions is Joel Weinberger, who has a 2011 championship in Super Touring Under and a pair of second-place finishes in 2010 and 2012. He’s bringing a team of three Mazda 2 entries. “The Mazda 2 is a bit underpowered, but also the lightest,” he says. “One of my teammates is Shawn Young, who qualified on B-Spec pole last year in our Mazda 2. He was ultimately beat by the Honda Fits, but there were extenuating circumstances. And it will help to have two other teammates as wingmen on track this year.”
Weinberger and Young will be joined by Tony Kester as their third teammate.
Our pick, however, is three-time National Champion Joel Lipperini. Like some of the others in B-Spec, he’s been wheeling his car in the SCCA Pro Racing Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car B-Spec class this season that and the fact that all of his championships have come in low-powered front-wheel-drive cars, mean he’s hard to bet against.
A ringer who might turn up in B-Spec is John Heinricy, who is rumored to be working on a Chevy Sonic. If he shows up, he’ll be hard to beat.
Sunday, Sept. 22
1. Steve Sargis, Triumph Spitfire
2. Kent Prather, Mazda Miata
3. Peter Shadowen, Honda CRX
Steve Sargis, Kent Prather, and Peter Shadowen all have something to prove Sargis wants to win in a third class with his Spitfire, Prather wants to repeat, and Shadowen wants to show he can beat those open-top cars. If you thought last year’s race was a great one, this year could be one of the best in history, since these aren’t the only fast cars in GT-Lite by a long shot. Bobby Lentz (Nissan Sentra SE-R) and James Hargrove (Honda Civic) were on the podium last year, and each wants to move up at least one step.
Jonathan Goodale (Mazda Miata) is always a threat, Bob Clark leads the CENDiv points and has a quick Honda CRX, and then there are the former champions. Jim Dentici leads that group with five championships, two of which have been in GT-Lite. His Honda CRX is a rocket ship when set up correctly. Chris Bovis (Honda CRX) and Peter Zekert (Nissan 200SX) both have one GT-Lite championship. Brian Downey (Nissan 200SX) has a quick car, and he will be looking for opportunities to move forward during the race. All of these guys know how to drive and can win.
Last year it was a small field, but there seem to be more cars running this year. The field should be strong, and maybe it will attract a few drivers who haven’t been to Road America, like Toyota drivers Lans Stout from the northwest and former GT-Lite Champion Warren Montegue from Virginia.
J. Michael Hemsley
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.