A New Challenge(r)
Rhett Barkau is the 2019 Formula Enterprises 2 champion. Before going out to defend that title tomorrow, he will be taking on a new challenge in GT-2. Barkau will be starting sixth in his Dodge Challenger TA2 car.
“We have two Chrysler dealerships, family owned; and it was kind of a lot more marketable and what we saw as best fit for me and the route that we saw for my future,” Barkau explained. “It’s a lot easier to go to a sponsor and say, ‘Hey look at this big orange Challenger’ compared to this little formula car. And there’s kind of an untapped market for drivers like me in the sports car world.”
Barkau ran a handful of SCCA Pro Racing Trans Am TA2 races in 2020, and plans to do the full season in 2021. He’s been concentrating on that effort; the FE2 title defense is out of convenience, as well as a free entry and tires that come with being the defending champ.
The two cars he’ll race on Sunday are very different, but he feels he’s adjusted well.
“There is actually a lot more grip in these cars than you would expect, and you can push them a lot harder,” he says of the TA2 machine. “One thing I do enjoy is you have a lot more horsepower and torque in these cars, and the Hemi – there’s not a better motor than that out there. I’ve been doing some Late Model circle track racing just to get used to (running) close with big cars like that.”
GT-2 is an interesting mix of production-based cars; a variety of tube frame cars with Nissan or Toyota engines and bodies; and Trans Am TA2 cars like Barkau’s. Barkau thinks the production-based Corvette of Andrew Aquilante or the Porsche Cup cars are going to be tough to beat, but has his eyes on a top five.
He’ll start seventh in FE2.
Family Affair in Formula Vee
Andrew and Zachary Whitston, with the help of Hunter Phelps-Barron, put on one of the most spectacular shows at the 2019 SCCA National Championship Runoffs at VIRginia International Raceway. Andy won that Formula Vee race, and Zach was third. They hope to repeat that performance tomorrow at Road America, perhaps with a one-two finish this time.
“It was great to win [at VIR],” says Andy. “I’ve been trying to win the Runoffs for many, many years and been close a lot of times, so it was really neat to win that one, and to do it in such an awesome battle is an awesome way to do it. But, really, a lot of our races in Formula Vee are like that. That wasn’t some atypical moment; that’s racing Vees just in general, pretty much every weekend.”
Formula Vees are based on Volkswagen Beetle chassis components and engines; they’re low horsepower so momentum and drafting is key. That produces some pretty exciting racing with a lot of lead changes, and last year’s race was just that.
Zach was happy for Andy to win last year, but he’d like his turn at the front at Road America.
“It was OK [to miss the win last year] because Andy won,” says Zach, who was leading to start the final lap and is picked by SportsCar magazine to win this year. “I was able to model my driving after his, chasing him all season and really since I’ve been starting to drive. Knowing that he got that win I was just fine with that. I’ve been rooting and crewing for him and my dad, longer than I ever thought of getting into a car. We’ve been chasing that victory for him at the Runoffs for so long, it was really special when it happened.”
As to how he rates his chances this year, Zach knows it’s going to be tough: “I think there’s five, six, maybe seven guys that have a really strong chance. And I think at Road America … flip a coin,” he says.
It’s not just Zach and Andy, though. Father Ron has been racing Vees for a very long time, and this year they’re also joined by brother Steve.
“It’s a huge advantage having your family around,” says Andy. “You know they’re working for you, and likewise you’re helping them out. Teamwork always helps.”
Adds Zach: “I wouldn’t be doing it without my Dad and my brother. They put so much work into the team and the cars, plus all the mental support that goes beyond the physical support.”
Andy will start second in the Formula Vee race that is scheduled to start at 1:00 p.m. Central time, with Phelps-Barron alongside on pole. Zach will line up eighth.