Sonoma Raceway in Northern California is steeped with racing history, all of which started with an SCCA enduro on Dec. 1, 1968. And this year, from Oct. 16-21, the facility will continue the tradition when it plays host to the SCCA National Championship Runoffs.
As is the case every year, our crack team of prognosticators took up the task of trying to predict who might win this year’s Runoffs. So, who will stand on the podium on race weekend? Honestly, we haven’t the faintest idea, but that has never stopped us from guessing. Sometimes we even strike gold with our predictions.
So keep checking RACER throughout the week as we present our predictions for who will win in each of SCCA’s 28 national racing classes.
Dare we say Touring 1 has become predictable? Aside from a blown engine removing any possibility of Andrew Aquilante winning in 2016, it’s been a long time since anyone else has challenged him for the win – and we expect his domination to continue at Sonoma Raceway. Arguably the biggest roadblock for Aquilante is a car change from his proven Mustang (which is being converted to GT-2 trim) to a Corvette.
That said, “The Corvette in general will be pretty strong at Sonoma,” he says. “That’s what we’re looking at, and we’ll go from there.”
Mark Boden has been getting a lot of seat time this year, and we expect he should be able to drive his BMW to a podium finish.
The Touring 2 race should be a nail-biter. Kurt Rezzetano showed he was human at Indy, failing to add to his championship collection as he tried a different Mustang variant. While we have yet to confirm his ride for Sonoma, we know he has been piloting a Corvette this year, and based on Phoenix Performance teammate Andrew Aquilante’s opinion, that will be the right choice for Rezzetano to capture the win. Actually, even in a Mustang, he’s our pick to win.
On his tail will be Mark Boden in his potent 911, and on Boden’s tail will be Preston Calvert in a Mustang. Calvert could prove us wrong on all sides, however, as he’s honed his craft quite steadily over the years, so it’ll only take a wobble for him to move from third to second – or maybe even to first.
Derek Kulach has had a lock on Touring 3 the last few years, but we expect that streak will come to an end in 2018 when he takes home the silver. Why? The BMW boys have gotten the cars dialed in, and arguably no one in the class knows how to get around Sonoma better than Mark Drennan (pictured), so he’s our pick to win.
“I haven’t had a lot of time in T3 – I’ve just seen what’s out west, and the BMW is the class of the field,” says Drennan. We agree that a BMW will probably end on the podium, but the one wild card in the mix is Scotty White with the new EcoBoost Mustang, which we likely haven’t seen the full potential of yet.
We think the reign of the Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ will come to an end this year at Sonoma. What will take its place? We think it’s the RX-8 – specifically, the RX-8 with Ross Murray behind the wheel.
“The braking and handling are all pretty optimized,” says Murray. “I’m hoping for it to be cool – some of my issues are hot days. The Scions have beaten me pretty easily when it’s hot, but when it’s cool then my car seems to lose less power.”
The rest of the podium is likely to be filled with flat-four Toyota, Scion, or Subaru versions of the proven coupe, with Izzy Sanchez leading that group, probably with Nick Leverone close behind.
Additionally, we can’t overlook racing legends John Heinricy and Don Knowles.
Mike Lewis had a difficult week in Indianapolis last year, and still came away with a silver medal behind Trans Am regular David Pintaric. This year, we expect to see Lewis on top. Although most of Lewis’ efforts this summer have gone to his GT-3 campaign, don’t expect him to have ignored that old Jaguar XKR.
“It’s a little long in the tooth, and it showed last year and the year before,” Lewis admits about the GT-1 car that has seen him on many a Runoffs podium. “It doesn’t quite have the pace of these newer cars. But we’ve been working on it, and our familiarity with the track will help.”
There are a number of others who will contend for the podium, and we fully expect to see Preston Calvert near the front. He isn’t bringing a traditional GT-1 car, but should the conditions not be ideal, we think his FIA Porsche could become a contender.
Though the car will be different, we expect Andrew Aquilante to once again hoist the GT-2 trophy at the Runoffs. “The [Corvette] I’ve won with in the past was sold earlier this year, so I’m not really sure,” Aquilante says about the car he’ll be driving at the Runoffs. “I’m thinking about making last year’s T1 Mustang work.”
This is not Aquilante being coy – the Mustang is probably the car unless, as he says, “the lottery comes through” and he builds a new Corvette for Sonoma. Although Aquilante thinks the Corvette is the car to have at Sonoma, we’ll place our bet on the eight-time champ until proven otherwise.
There are others to watch, however. Michael McAleenan has been fast out west in a BMW, as has Spencer Trenery in a Porsche, and Aquilante specifically listed his friend and teammate Preston Calvert and his Corvette to contend for his second consecutive podium in the class.
Until someone beats Collin Jackson, we’d be foolish to choose anyone else to claim a gold medal against him. Now a remarkable four-for-four, the defending champ is all lined up to make it an unprecedented five for five.
Jackson is coming and, as he’s told us, he’s putting his full effort into winning. Sonoma is his favorite track, so it’ll take a Herculean effort to beat him
OK, so, remember Mike Lewis? Lewis is also running GT-3 this year, and if anyone can put an end to Jackson’s winning streak, it’s Lewis. He is driving Mike Henderson’s very fast RX-7 this year, and he’s doing so superbly, so expect him to be glued to Jackson for the entire race.
The race for the final step on the podium will be interesting, too – and you can never count out Taz Harvey.
We’d be crazy not to tap Joe Huffaker in a home race, but it won’t be without some challenges. For one, he’ll be running the Midget in both GT-Lite and F Production.
“For some reason, the Midget is quite a bit faster than the Mini,” Huffaker says. “I pulled the Mini out for the Majors race at Sonoma just to see if I could get it close to the Midget, and it just isn’t. That makes the decision easy.”
Huffaker’s fellow West Coast nemesis Troy Ermish will be squarely in the mix, and he’s been fast this year. Taz Harvey will also be there in the Mazda Miata that has done well for its previous owners, so we won’t be surprised to see his name near the top of the results.