The rationale behind the choice of Craig Chima to win is that if a Lotus can win at Road America, it can win at Indy. Also, Chima is quite a wheelman. Chima believes the Lotus could win, too, and intends to work hard to ensure that it does, but he knows there are several racers who will do their best to ensure it does not.
For his part, Chima has made improvements to his car, including revised front and rear suspensions, and he was very competitive at Mid-Ohio and in Pittsburgh. Despite that, he’s quick to point out that both Kevin Ruck and Charlie Campbell were faster than him at Watkins Glen, and that Eric Prill won the last time the Runoffs came to Indy.
These three aren’t the only fast drivers in FP, though. For starters, there’s the Mazda Miata gang, which includes Sam Henry and Campbell, along with Mason Workman and David Bednarz. Rick Harris is entered in an Acura Integra this year, and he’s fast in whatever he drives. Then there’s Chuck Mathis, who works magic in his Volkswagen Rabbit. But one not to count out is Cliff Ira, who will be there in a Honda Del Sol.
Variety, they say, is the spice of life – and from the looks of it, this year’s FP race should prove quite spicy.
Here’s how you pick the podium for one of the most highly stressed, small engine classes at the Runoffs: You look at experience, then for consistency, and finally at recent race results. Experience and consistency lead directly to Steve Sargis and his seriously fast Triumph Spitfires. He has won eight National Championships and has been on the podium 19 times in three classes, always in a Triumph Spitfire. He’s our pick to win, and likely no one in this 40-plus car field would disagree.
Still, in the “recent race results” category, there’s a weakness. “I absolutely hand grenaded two motors in two sessions at the June Sprints,” Sargis notes. But fear not, as he’s not only building a new engine so his son can run a couple of races, but he’s prepping one for the Runoffs for himself.
That uncertainty adds a bit of optimism for his opponents. Certainly, Eric Vickerman will be optimistic that his speed and a great car will gain him the gold. Chris Schaafsma will be looking for the top spot with his speedy VW. And Vesa Silegren certainly wants to be a repeat winner in his Honda CRX.
Danny Steyn has two SCCA National Championships to his name, but while they both came in a Miata, neither were in Spec Miata. Still, with five top-10 Spec Miata finishes at the Runoffs, Steyn is a fast and consistent force in the class, and he’s also our pick to take top honors this year. A risky prediction? Perhaps, but be it at the Runoffs, the June Sprints, Hoosier Super Tours, or beyond, Steyn has proven he has what it takes.
But before we hand him the champagne, there’s a long line of prominent Spec Miata drivers – including past champions – who would like to have a word.
Last year’s champ is Preston Pardus, whose victory put him in the much smaller club of repeat SM champions. Pardus moonlights as a NASCAR Xfinity Series driver when he’s not at the Runoffs, and he took his first Spec Miata crown at Indy in 2017. Two-time champion Jim Drago and 2019 champion Todd Buras are also among the 90-some drivers (and counting) planning to race their Miatas at Indy.
Yet no one knows the competitive landscape better than Steyn, and he’s realistic about the challenge he faces. “If I were to consider all the usual suspects, there have to be at least 20 drivers capable of beating me at any time, and all 20 of them have,” Steyn says. “Obviously, you’d never rule out the East Street gang, so that would include Jim Drago, Preston Pardus, and Todd Buras. I think together they’ve got five wins, so you cannot eliminate them.”
That’s just the start. If you consider the Super Tour standings, Steyn is in the lead, but he’s closely followed by Drago, Elivan Goulart, Pardus, Travis Wiley, Nick Leverone, Charles Mactutus, and Ryan Gutile, all of whom have entered this year’s Runoffs. Brandon Collins could be a wild card; he’s currently leading the U.S. Majors Tour points for the Northern Conference, and he’s entered as well.
“We’ve got some amazing young guys,” Steyn says of the crop of First Gear Mazda Challenge drivers. “Charles Mactutus, who’s 24, and Connor Zilisch, the world championship karter. He’s only 15. And then Travis Wiley from Texas. So, there’s a bunch of young, fast guys you just cannot ignore. And then you’ve also got Konrad Czaczyk from Florida, who was there last year – he was very close to winning it last year.”
In 2017 at Indy, Steyn finished second on track, but lost the position during post-race tech. “My car was not compliant,” he says. “They did absolutely the right thing in disqualifying me. It was embarrassing, to say the least. So, yes, there’s some unfinished business and I hope to show that I was worthy of that second place and hopefully worthy of the first place this time.”
Steyn has reasons to be confident that he can make it work this year at Indianapolis.
“What makes Indy so appealing for me in particular is that you’re in a continuous state of weight transfer,” he says. “You’re hovering on this delicate balance of slipping and sliding, either understeer up front or a little bit of oversteer in the rear. It’s like driving on ice, and the trick is to not overheat the tires. But this really does fall into my wheelhouse because I love being on the verge of drifting. If you give me a wet day, I’m very happy. So that’s a bit of an equalizer.
“Of all the tracks that could give me a shot in Spec Miata, this is the one that gives me the best shot, and I came pretty close to it in 2017,” Steyn concludes. “I’m hoping to come back and show that I can do it in Spec Miata.”