Here’s the second installment of SportsCar magazine’s fearless predictions of who will win this weekend’s SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Virginia International Raceway.
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Formula Atlantic, Formula Continental, Formula X, Prototype 1 & 2
Words: Tom Schultz
Formula Atlantic is a class that has had several peaks and valleys. This year is a bit of a valley, with entries down nationwide. However, that has opened the door to cars of other classes, such as F1000 and Formula Regional Americas, to come and play with the traditional Atlantics.
We expect to see a real variety at VIR this year. The man on top appears to be the defending champion, James French. He’s driving an old mule in an almost 30-year-old Ralt RT-41, but don’t be fooled – the car has been thoroughly conditioned and modernized by its Carl Liebich-led crew. French is very fast, and the combination should make it two straight.
Alex Mayer has been a factor in his JDR F1000 and could well take the fight to French. Austin Hill heads the Ligier JSF-3 contingent and has been regularly placing. Chip Romer is doubling up this season, adding a Swift 016.a to his Prototype 1 effort, and has been a winner. Indeed, he could be French’s toughest opponent.
Another Swift is that of J.R. Smart, who’s sprung a surprise or two this year. And if Flinn Lazier enters, he’s another man to consider. But at this time, put your chips on James French to repeat.
Simon Sikes (pictured, top) is the defending champion in this class and circumstances indicate that he should be able to make it two straight. He won last year in the same Citation that he has under him this season, and another win would make it three straight if you include his FF victory in 2020.
The Citation appears to be the car of choice at the moment, with Tim Minor also in one. Minor is always a factor and is overdue for a win.
The majority of the field will be in the familiar Van Diemen chassis, and tops among them are the father-and-son team of the Allaers. Rob Allaer has won the gold twice before, but son Nolan is showing that he’s absorbed a lot of passed-down knowledge and can be found ahead of his father more often than not. Look for these two to battle over a podium spot.
Michael Varacins has many FV titles to his credit, but since his switch to FC has not been as successful. He’s getting more competitive every season, and could be a factor for the podium. Others to watch include the Citation of John
LaRue and the Van Diemen of Bill Johnson, who has multiple wins this season. But look for Sikes to come out on top.
The Formula X class is still finding its footing. While the Star Mazda cars are disappearing, not many have taken their place. The principal newcomer chassis is the old USF2000 car, the Elan DP-08. There’s a scattering of other cars, but as of the end of July, they seem to be procrastinating in entering the Runoffs.
Having said that, we are very much in need of a crystal ball in calling this race. 15-year-old Austin Hill has been a regular in an Elan DP-08 and is our pick to win. Trevor Russell, in a Van Diemen, has been an occasional entrant and will factor into the race.
The rest of our forecast is cloudy indeed, although Elan-mounted Trent Walko and Billy Smith have been competitive and could be a factor.
One reason for the low car count has been Avery Towns. He’s been racing a Formula Renault 2.0 Tatuus and has been virtually untouchable. However, Towns recently stated that he won’t be entering this year’s Runoffs, so that should bring some cars out of the woodwork. All of this is speculation, mind you, but we expect a good number of late entries.
Melvin David Kemper Jr. and Brad Yake are still wheeling old Star Mazdas and, if nothing else, should contest their informal class-within-a-class.
Formula F, Formula Vee & Formula 500
Words: Reece White
The challenge of the Formula F pick is that there’s often a gaggle of up and coming youngsters who show up with the goal of adding a Runoffs title on the way to a pro career. But at press time, few have thrown their hat in the ring – so let’s work with what we have.
And what we have is a stout field of regulars. Bob Perona has been close – very close – a number of times, and continues to develop the skill needed to play the draft and choose his opportunities. Perona, however, isn’t entered at press time. Three-time champion Jonathan Kotyk is, however, and he’s got to be our pick. In five Runoffs appearances he’s been off the podium only once, and that was a fourth-place finish. Plus, one of his championships came at VIR. The chips are stacked in his favor.
We’ll look for Tim Kautz near the front, too. He wasn’t there the last time we visited VIR, but he’s proven he can drive everywhere and isn’t just built for Road America, where he has three titles.
Which brings us to a youngster, but one familiar to the SCCA family. Nolan Allaer became the third generation of his family to land on the Runoffs podium last year in Formula Continental. Can he repeat this year with a change of class? It’s certainly very possible.
The Formula Vee National Championship absolutely goes through the Whitston family, so we’re going to start our Who Will Win predictions right there.
Andrew Whitston hasn’t been outside the top five since 2014, and that kind of consistency leads to wins (oh, by the way, he has two in the last three years). It’s impossible to overlook him.
But this year we’re leaning toward a mild upset, believing that it’s younger brother Zach’s turn to stand on top. He was on the podium at the last Runoffs at VIR, and looks poised to take another step forward. Of course, if they fall, there’s also dad, Ron, and youngest brother Steve lurking, too.
But it’s not a given that a Whitston will win. Andrew Abbott has two consecutive third-place finishes, so he’ll be in the lead pack. And at VIR, it could be a pack of six across the finish line – who else can get in position?
The Formula 500 battle is thrown wide open by the absence of Clint McMahan, who has declared himself out for this year’s race (full disclosure – he does reserve the right to change his mind, and has in the past).
That turns our attention to a man who has been on the podium in each of the last three seasons, including the runner-up to McMahan at VIR in 2019, Calvin Stewart. It’s all the way back to Daytona in 2015 since he’s been on the top step, and he’s always hungry for that gold medal.
But as Stewart told us, the Runoffs race is never a lock and everyone brings their A game – and there are a lot of “A” programs coming to VIR. James Weida represents the best of the dwindling two-stroke motors; if he enters, he’s got a good shot at the podium. Eric McRee was third at VIR in 2019, and there’s no reason to think he can’t be back on the podium.
Sven de Vries is the defending champ, so putting him in third is probably a terrible call on our part. Jason Martin is on Stewart’s radar, as are Jason Knuteson and Aaron Ellis, if they show up.
Chip Romer has enjoyed a stellar season, with seven wins as of mid-year. In all his races, his Elan DP-02 has been a challenger for the victory. Among his wins was a near double at the Chicago Region June Sprints at Road America. He won on Saturday, and then, just when he was poised to do the double, had his car break only a mile from the finish.
For VIR, we expect that Romer will not only run up front, but he should bring home the gold. Lee Alexander, last year’s winner, will be a close runner in his Stohr. Following his rejuvenation last year with his return to the P1 class, he should continue his hot streak and be right behind Romer, ready to pounce.
Jim Devenport won this class twice in a Norma, but has switched to an Elan, and is just as fast. He looks to make it three wins. Others in the mix include Todd Slusher and Todd Vanacore in Elans, who many think can win, and Jason Miller, who’s been trying for over 20 years. He has the speed in his Wynnfurst-Kohler, but has been cursed by unreliability. However, if James French shows up with his Swift, all bets are off!
Tim Day Jr. has been the dominant player in the Prototype 2 class the last few years. In fact, he seems to improve every year. This season, as of the end of July, he has won seven big events in his Stohr. Among his wins are doubles at both the VIR and June Sprints Hoosier Super Tour weekends. It’s hard to see anyone beating him at the Runoffs.
Greg Gyann has been his closest chaser, and he appears set to fill that role at VIR. He’s also in a Stohr, as is Tray Ayres. Tray has moved from SRF to P1 and now P2, and is fast getting a handle on these cars.
Others in the mix with Stohrs are long time racers Mike Reupert and Sherman Chao. Reupert won in a predecessor class many years ago, but has seemingly been rejuvenated with his purchase of a Stohr. Non-Stohr entries that could figure in are the Ligiers of John Gyann and Robert Iverson.
Spec Racer Ford 3, Formula Enterprises 2
Words Jeff Zurschmeide
Spec Racer Ford 3
Spec Racer Ford Gen3 has received the biggest upgrade since the switch to the 1.6-liter engine package in the form of the SADEV-SRF3 six-speed, sequential-shifting transmission. The new gearbox replaces the traditional five-speed H-pattern shifter, but not everyone has it yet. The SADEV transmission is considered an upgrade, but it will take some practice to use the new equipment to its full potential.
“Most tracks that we’ve gone to, the SADEV has made the track and the car easier to drive,” says Hoosier Super Tour points leader C. Russell Turner. “But VIR is the exception. I think it’s more of a challenge to find that 100-percent speed with the SADEV than it was with the H-pattern gearbox. There are a couple of corners where you’re running in a different gear, so it’s changed the track. We didn’t get a lot of time to master it at the Spring Sprints, so there’s going to be a lot of learning going on at the Runoffs. I think the people who figure it out the quickest will be the ones who are most dangerous.”
It’s safe to say the SRF3 class has a deep bench full of racers who figure things out quickly. The list of past champions registered for this year’s race includes five-time winner Mike Miserendino, two-time champion (plus two more in GT-3) John Black and defending two-time champion Bobby Sak, along with two-time champions Robeson Clay Russell and Brian Schofield. Still more may enter before the deadline.
This year, our prediction is that Sak will get his third championship in a row, with Turner and Schofield rounding out the podium. However, VIR is Turner’s home track so he’s got a plan to be at the front.
“I hope I don’t have to get to the front,” Turner jokes. “I hope I start at the front and stay there. But it’s VIR, so if you don’t have the right drafting partner or you don’t get the right draft in qualifying, you can be the fastest guy out there and you’re starting 10th.”
Formula Enterprises 2
Formula Enterprises is attracting more participation every year, and this year’s field includes several notable SRF3 drivers who have crossed over into open-wheel racing. Our pick for the top spot is C. Russell Turner.
“I’m really worried about Bailey Monette and Owen McAllister,” Turner says. “Owen runs well at VIR, and so does Paul Schneider. Those are the guys I’m looking out for. VIR is my home track so hopefully I have an advantage. It’s going to be a fight, though!”
Monette thinks his teammate, Sterling Hamilton, will also be in the mix. “He’s there, and he’s pretty quick,” Monette says.
McAllister has his own list, noting that “Bailey Monette, Russell Turner, Jason Conzo and I will all have a good shot. I think that winning will come down to two factors: qualifying, and the first couple laps of the race.”
VIR is a complicated track, so there’s no easy way to be fast everywhere.
“You have to be very consistent, and in some places you have to be patient. It’s a driver’s track,” Monette says.
Asked about his race strategy, Turner plans to rely on his own efforts.
“FE2 doesn’t run like the Spec Racers do, where you can work together in a pack, and I don’t have any teammates,” he says. “I imagine Paul and Bailey may team up in qualifying, and Caleb [Shrader] and TJ [Acker] coming from the West Coast will work together.”
Formula Enterprises 2 will race in Virginia without its defending champion. Scott Rettich won FE and FE2 seven times, including last year at Indianapolis. He passed away earlier this year, and he will be missed by everyone at the Runoffs.