Here’s the third and final 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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E Production, F Production & H Production
Words: J. Michael Hemsley
It’s hard to argue against success, and Jesse Prather has had considerable triumph as both a race car builder and driver. Since he transitioned to a BMW Z3, he’s earned three poles, two championships, and a third-place finish at the Runoffs in E Production. That third came the last time the Runoffs was at VIR, and it was one little error that kept him from converting a pole to a championship. We’re betting he doesn’t make that mistake again.
Matt Reynolds, another very successful EP racer, is not coming to VIR with his EP Mazda Miata this year, but several other fast guys are. John Hainsworth continues to improve his open-top Mazda RX-7. He’s finished in second and third in previous years, and he’ll be doing his best to prove that SportsCar is wrong this year.
Jon Brakke, a former EP champion, will be testing his Prather-built BMW Z3 against its builder at VIR. Brakke has been sorting his car, and it’s been getting faster all year. As for others, Prather says, “If Tim Schreyer comes, he’ll be right there as well [so far he has not entered]. I know Jeff Young has made big strides in his super cool Triumph TR8 as well, and Joe Carr will have a new engine in his [Mazda MX-5].”
It will be Prather in his BMW, though, who will take the checker for a third consecutive championship.
What a great class. At first glance, it looks like an Integra versus Miata class, but there’s one Honda Del Sol and one Lotus 7 that will be working hard to insert themselves into the battle.
Kevin Ruck has had considerable success with his Acura, but, as he says, “It’s always a tremendous honor to receive this nod as the favorite to win the Runoffs, but it never seems to bring me much luck as I’m two-for-two on being named the favorite and leaving the Runoffs with a hole in my block!” Ruck, though, is very good at learning from his car and improving it.
One of the guys trying to ensure that SportsCar is wrong is multi-time FP champ Eric Prill in his Miata. Prill’s Miata is fast and reliable, and Prill is an excellent driver. Cliff Ira’s Del Sol stands out among the others because it is so different, but it’s also fast, as he showed at Indy.
Ken Kannard now has the Integra that Mark Carpenter used to win two championships, and you’d be foolish to ignore Craig Chima in that fast Lotus 7.
As always, F Production will deliver a great race, especially at such a great track as VIR.
Sometimes you just have to bet against success. Few have been as successful in H Production as Steve Sargis in his Triumph Spitfire; but at VIR, Will Perry has been someone to reckon with. Perry finished second the last time the Runoffs was at VIR, and he scored a win and a second there this spring.
“I think I have a chance of winning, but Steve Sargis is going to be tough to beat,” Perry says, recognizing the challenge.
Sargis will be very fast and probably take the pole, but he’ll have several drivers, including Perry, hounding him on the straights and in the curves. Those include Eric Vickerman in an MG that’s well accustomed to the Runoffs. At the time this is written, Vickerman is not sure he’ll be attending, but says the chance he’ll be there is 90 percent.
The last time the Runoffs was held at VIR, Vesa Silegren won in his Honda CRX, but he had quite a hard crash at Indy and is still working on getting his car to perform well. And watch for Enrik Benazik in his Honda Civic – he scored a second-place finish this spring at VIR’s Hoosier Super Tour, beating Vickerman.
As always with HP, there will be some mechanical issues, but the fast guys are usually there at the end.
GT-1, GT-2, GT-3 & GT-Lite
Words: Reece White and J. Michael Hemsley
Last year in this space, following a conversation with our pick to win, David Pintaric, we laid out a caveat: none of the information was valid if it rained, and Thomas Herb’s Porsche was going to go from an outclassed ride to a major contender. As we now know, it did rain, Herb did win, and he’s a National Champion.
So where to go this year? Let’s start in the same place as last year. Pintaric was our official pick a year ago, and he stays on top this year. He can drive, he’s got the equipment with some Ave power in his Mustang, and the Goodyear tires seem the most likely to go the distance.
We don’t expect it to be easy. Michael Lewis is always a contender with equipment that’s as reliable as anyone in GT-1, although his Jaguar doesn’t necessarily have the power of other GT-1 cars. He leads the Hoosier Super Tour points, and no one would be shocked to see him wearing a medal.
Adam Romito was already on this list, but Pintaric specifically called his number as well – that Dodge Challenger is poised to make some noise, literally and figuratively.
Ah, but it is VIR in October, so what happens if it rains? We called it last year, and we’re pretty confident this year. You can almost see his sly smile when asked, but if it rains, we still expect to see Pintaric on a bit of a revenge tour.
Let’s face it, until proven otherwise, the GT-2 prediction starts with Andrew Aquilante. No, it’s not a lock, but in eight class starts he has four wins, a pair of seconds, and a DNF where he led five laps early in the race, all in a Phoenix Performance-built machine. Last year’s race at Indy would have been better served in a boat, so even that silver medal is a wash, no pun intended.
So who can rattle that streak? There is a fairly significant list of names on our radar. For the runner-up, we’ve chosen Kevin Allen. It’s his home track, he’s historically had the tube-frame car to beat in this class, and his Mallen Alley shop has had a lot of success at the Club and Pro level this season. Hans Peter, a three-time Formula Atlantic champion, leads the Hoosier Super Tour points, and is in a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car – which likely means the most all-around balanced car in the field, never a bad thing at VIR.
The wild card? Tony Ave in his Runoffs GT-2 debut. Currently he’s registered in the former Jim Goughary Nissan 350Z, but word on the street is that there might be a secret weapon in development. Even if not, an improved-by-Ave Motorsports Nissan might be enough to take down the field. But the list of contenders goes on: Tom Patton; the Fall-Line gang including Mark Boden, Tim Kezman (the defending champ), and Thomas Herb; Lou Gigliotti and Scotty White.
In other words, this might be the race of the weekend.
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Tony Ave, Michael Lewis, and Troy Ermish walk into a paddock…
GT-3 is always one of our toughest races to call. The drivers are among the best at the event, and they’re all excellent car builders. But the fact is, making a GT-3 car go fast requires putting it on the edge, and then taking care of it, for a whole week.
That means one loose bolt or crossed wire can end the day early. Ermish and his team pulled off a remarkable win at Indianapolis a year ago, putting the car back together after a test day rollover. Lewis and his team will spend the week swapping motors, among other things, as he runs the same car in both GT-3 and GT-Lite.
Can both keep up the good fortune for another Runoffs week? You bet they can, but we’re still going to land on Tony Ave when we roll the dice. And it’s a big roll as the only Acura in a field full of mostly Mazda-powered vehicles.
And there are others ready to pounce. Jeff Dehrnel is almost always running at the finish; Stacy Wilson is a former champ and also builds son Blake’s car, and Tony Rivera is returning to the Runoffs for the first time in more than 10 years.
But we keep talking about the wet stuff. If that happens, the underpowered TCR car of Alex Mayer is suddenly nimble and front-wheel drive, which isn’t a bad place to be.
GT Lite might come down to which driver can manage to race in multiple classes in very different cars. Both Peter Shadowen in his Honda CRX Si and Michael Lewis in a Mazda RX-7 are experienced in their GT-Lite cars, but Shadowen is also running in P2, and Lewis in GT-1 and GT-3. Shadowen is a multiple GTL champion, and Lewis is a multiple GT-1 and GT-3 champion. That does suggest that Shadowen might have the advantage in GTL, but Lewis has shown considerable speed in his Mazda, finishing third in class last year. Both are excellent drivers, so this could be quite a race.
And, speaking of excellent drivers, Brian Linn has several championships under his belt in H Production.
“The uncertainty could be Brian Linn,” muses Shadowen. “I know the car, and I know the driver, but I’ve never raced against that combination.”
Linn is fast and smooth, but he’s a West Coast racer who’s not had much, if any, experience at VIR, which could be a disadvantage.
Two who have had experience at VIR are Graham Fuller (Honda CRX) and James Gregorius (Mazda RX-7). They’ve each won a GTL race at VIR during this year’s Hoosier Super Tour.