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.
Coming to Sonoma Raceway will seriously shake up the Spec Miata pecking order, as drivers are forced to adapt to an entirely new track. So who will win?
“I believe it will be Mark Drennan this year,” says two-time Spec Miata champion Jim Drago, who won’t be attending the Runoffs this year. “Chris Haldeman will keep him honest, and has a really good shot as well. My podium prediction would be Drennan, Haldeman, [Preston] Pardus. Then… Matt Reynolds.”
Haldeman is approaching the race methodically. “Qualifying will be critical to being able to win,” he says. “From what I’ve seen, this is a true driver’s track and the lead car is quite capable of breaking away from the pack.”
Spec Miata regular Danny Steyn could also shake things up. He’s making the tow all the way from Florida and intends to compete at the front.
“For a lot of people who are making the trip, it’s a completely new track, and very few of us have been there,” Steyn says. “I think that it’s a flowing, technical, and ballsy kind of track so it suits a certain type of driver and I think it really plays into my hands.”
Steyn has his own thoughts about who will be fast. “I would immediately put Mark Drennan on the list,” he says. “And definitely Chris Haldeman and Michael Carter. Michael really can prevail at the big events. I think Preston Pardus will be good as well.”
One wild-card competitor likely to run up front is Tristan Littlehale. He’s been a frontrunner at West Coast Majors events, he holds a Tire Rack Solo National Championship, and we wouldn’t be surprised if he surprised everyone at Sonoma.
But with nearly 50 entries this year, this race is anyone’s guess. But our guess is Drennan for the win.
If in doubt when trying to pick a winner for the upcoming Runoffs, check for head-to-head competition results. That will settle it, right? Unfortunately, that isn’t the case for this year’s E Production matchup, where two-time Runoffs Champion Matt Reynolds traveled to Sonoma Raceway for the Majors race and split the wins with local hotshoe Glen McCready. Joe Moser, the STU champ from Mid-Ohio who had a narrow miss against Reynolds in EP the same year, will be there and he’ll certainly be a contender. And three-time Runoffs Champion Jesse Prather, who surprised even himself with a podium in a not-yet-fully developed RX-7 at Indianapolis in 2017, is also towing west. Plus Northern California is Aaron Downey’s playing field. So, yeah, this is not an easy race to predict.
So are we putting our money on? Matt Reynolds. But we won’t be surprised if we’re wrong.
Nine national championships, a shop at the track and a home nearby, plus countless laps around Sonoma Raceway. Yeah, choosing Joe Huffaker as the F Production winner was easy.
“I traveled a lot in the earlier days [of going to the Runoffs], particularly to Mid-Ohio,” Huffaker says. “It was fun to go and figure out who the hometown boys are and try to beat them, and I hope they come and repay the favor.”
Huffaker concentrated his Midget on winning the class Conference title this year, and that paid off. He also lowered the track record at almost every stop, which is bad news for his competitors.
Even so, we expect another close race. Huffaker thinks that the Miata will be a typical top contender, and Charlie Campbell could be leading that charge. Brian Linn will also be there in a Lotus – and last time he raced in FP in a Lotus, he started the race on the pole. Craig Chima will also be there in a Lotus, so this could quickly turn out to be a Lotus 1-2.
Is it possible to win the Runoffs in a car’s first and last race? Jason Isley is certainly hoping so, and we think he’ll be able to pull it off with the 2018 Toyota Yaris he’s building specifically for this race. But this on-track battle really is old school versus new school – a brand-new Yaris driven by Isley versus the Midgets of Brian Linn and Lee Fleming. Now add in the fact that while all three are West Coasters, Linn and Fleming have many more miles around Sonoma Raceway than Isley. But no matter who eventually wins, it’ll be these three shuffling for the win, and we can’t wait to see it unfold.
–Jeff Zurschmeide and Reece White