This week, the Sports Car Club of America’s premier winner-take-all road race, the National Championship Runoffs, kicked into high gear at Road America. There, some 600 drivers will battle in 26 classes in the hopes of becoming one of the select few who can call themselves an SCCA National Champion. Most will fall short. However, thanks to SportsCar magazine, SCCA’s official publication, and its annual Runoffs predictions, it’s possible to get some insight into who to watch in each class when the races take the green this weekend, running from Friday, Oct. 9, to Sunday, Oct. 11.
The Runoffs event schedule can be found here, and SCCA will stream all 26 races live on SCCA.com.
In this installment of our multi-part Runoffs preview, we take an inside look at E Production, F Production, H Production, and the GT classes to see who could become SCCA’s next national champions.
Jesse Prather showed the true potential of his new BMW Z3 at last year’s Virginia International Raceway Runoffs. While he didn’t win – largely due to an unforced error – he’s back in full force this year for another shot. He’ll win by a mile – possibly literally.
If Prather’s so fast, will there be any competition for the lead? You betcha. Matt Reynolds, a three-time EP champion in his own right, is fast everywhere he goes. Aaron Downey, meanwhile, has nearly won the Runoffs at Road America, and his RX-3 loves those long straights – he’ll be gunning for that elusive Runoffs win, for sure. And don’t forget three-time Runoffs champ Jon Brakke who scored two of those wins at Road America.
Two-time Runoffs champ Kevin Ruck’s mechanical luck has been horrible for a year and a half, but we have little doubt everything will come together in time for this year’s Runoffs with his powerful Acura Integra and he’ll find himself out front. He is feeling more confident with his dog-box transmission and if his car is on song, he’ll be fast – and he’ll need to be because he’s in some fast company.
Neither Eric Prill nor Sam Henry have had great luck at Road America, but both have shown how competitive they can be at this long track. Prill’s returning to this track with a pair of Runoffs titles to his name, so maybe that extra bit of confidence will be enough to keep his Runoffs winning streak going.
There are a lot of strong contenders in this class, but so far during Runoffs qualifying, Craig Chima and Ethen Shippert have both shown their not-so-aerodynamic Lotus Super 7s might be the cars to have.
Steve Sargis has four pole positions, three wins, and a third at the Runoffs held at Road America. He knows this course – and with a grand total of seven Runoffs titles, there are few people who have been as successful at the Runoffs as he.
That said, Dan Meller has won an HP championship Road America, and Chris Schaafsma finished second at Indy and has a VW sporting plenty of grunt.
And there are plenty of others who could win this one. Vesa Silegren, last year’s champion at VIR, is fast, and VIR is a track not unlike Road America, but the one truly unknown is Mark Brakke in his increasingly speedy Mazda 2.
GT-1 will come down to a race between pro racing powerhouses Ernie Francis Jr. and Tony Ave. We think that Ave comes out on top, but Mike Lewis is no stranger to the top of the podium, Cliff Ebben has been customarily silent but always brings his A-game to Road America, and an improving Dave Ruehlow is likely to be in the lead pack in an Ave Motorsports car and engine.
Few SCCA classes are more of a catchall than GT-2. What package do you want? The proven reliability of the street-based car, like the Porsche of Mark Boden, the Corvette of the scary-fast Andrew Aquilante, or the Viper of Jonathan Start? How about the featherweight stance of the purpose-built, old-school, tube-framed cars like the one Tom Patton wields? The TA2 cars are always a wildcard in the mix, too, and Rhett Barkau and Cliff White are ready with theirs.
We think, come the Runoffs double checker, it’s one of the street-platform cars that will pull it off. Boden and his Fall-Line team have been close, but it’s impossible to bet against Andrew Aquilante, who is more than a contender in every race he enters.
“As we demonstrated last year, you have to be smart enough to leave a good car alone and don’t dial yourself out,” Mike Lewis points out when discussing GT-3. Four or five contenders ended the 2019 VIR Runoffs sitting on the side of the road a year ago, so the question this year is where the balance remains. Pure speed is nice, but not at the expense of going the distance. Expect a little bit of a conservative attitude this year when it comes to car prep.
We would pick Lewis to win, but he’s been a no-show in early Runoffs qualifying sessions this week, leading us to believe this will be Tony Ave’s race. But with Jeff Dernehl, Stacey Wilson, and Taz Harvey in the mix, we simply don’t know what will happen.
Chris Bovis is a three-time GT-L National Champion, with one of those coming at Road America. A win this year could be an emotional one for Bovis – he lost his father, George, this year and his mother last year. They were both great supporters of his racing, and his father served on the Road America Board of Directors and was a past SCCA Board member. That’s some motivation to win.
There are other potent contenders in this class, namely Joe Huffaker, Peter Shadowen, and Jon Goodale, but we anticipate Boden will show them all what GT-Lite is all about.