The experts at RACER's sister publication SportsCar, the official publication of the Sports Car Club of America, made their fearless picks of who will rise to greatness at the 49th annual SCCA National Championship Runoffs, now getting under way at Elkhart Lake's Road America, in the October issue of the magazine. We're relating their prognostications here ahead of the actual races, so here are SportsCar's predictions for Friday's races:
RACE 21 Touring 2 | Sunday, 9:30 a.m.
1 Marty Grand Washington DC Mitsubishi Evo
2 Cooper MacNeil Chicago Ford Mustang
3 Don Knowles North Carolina Ford Mustang
The T2 class has been the poster child of the Touring classes, exemplifying mixed-make racing and drawing great sized fields, but a change is on the horizon, and T2 as we know it will change for 2013. A Touring restructure is in the works, and many of the front-running T2 cars will move to T1, creating new opportunities for some of the slower cars and allowing many of the current T3 front-runners to join the party. So, what does this mean for the 2012 Runoffs? No one will leave anything on the table.
While the diversity of past Runoffs should still be present come September, many makes have lost ace drivers, which will leave them out of podium contention. The Pontiac camp took a hard hit with Andy Wolverton being MIA this season and Don Knowles moving to a Ford. Over at Nissan, Tony Rivera, who qualified second in 2011, has moved from the 370Z to a BMW, while Brian Kleeman has parked the 350Z in favor of a Mustang.
The Mitsubishi flag will be flying higher than usual, as defending Champ Marty Grand will be back, along with rookie Martin Musial, and if C.J. Moses shows there will be three boost-buggies for the rest of the field to get around. The nod has to go to Grand – he has shown he can win in the wet or the dry, and with him focusing on just T2 this year he will be hard to beat.
The blue oval fans will be looking to Knowles, Kleeman, and Cooper MacNeil to do them proud – although reports are that MacNeil will have his BMW at the ready just in case, but so far he has been faster in the Mustang. Based on the seat time he has racked up during the last year, we think MacNeil will be the top Ford if he chooses to run it.
The wildcard in T2 has to be Rivera. He has been under the radar, but we know if he brings a BMW he will be the top candidate from that camp.
The 996 variant of the Porsche 911 is also a contender at Road America, so there is the possibility for guys like Jay Patel and Steve Jenkins to mix things up.
With nearly all of these front-running cars set to move to T1 one for 2013, this could easily become a very physical race, with everyone giving 110 percent. Jason Isley
RACE 22 Super Touring Under | Sunday, 10:30 a.m.
1 Joel Weinberger Chicago Audi A4
2 Marc Hoover Arizona Mazda Miata
3 Toby Grahovec Texas BMW Z4
Super Touring Under is one of those classes that will never be easy to predict. With the variety of cars eligible for the class, it's impossible to say who will turn up in what car this year. But one thing is certain: Joel Weinberger will be back behind the wheel of his Audi A4 to defend his 2011 championship.
“With a class like STU, you really never know what's out there, but Marc Hoover will be a threat,” says Weinberger. “Eric Heinrich will be tough, too, and Irish Mike Flynn.”
Along with Weinberger, a notable roster of Runoffs veterans will be vying for the podium. Among the contenders is regular T3 pilot Richard Fisher in his VW GTI. Fisher won this year's June Sprints race and is always fast.
Past SSC champion Joe McClughan is one of the best-liked Runoffs contenders, and he went to the June Sprints this year and brought home a second-place finish in STU driving a Mazda6 sedan. McClughan will certainly be a force to reckon with at the Runoffs.
Past SSB Champion Toby Grahovec will also be on hand in his BMW Z4. Although he failed to finish the June Sprints race, he could easily make the podium in September.
“I started 10th at the sprints and got up to second place battling for the lead with Richard Fisher and Joe McClughan when the car overheated,” Grahovec says.
Finally, don't count out Gino Carini in his Acura TSX. Carini has been honing his skills at the Runoffs for years, and he's backed by the very successful RealTime Racing team, with plenty of Pro and Club Racing wins to their credit.
Of note this year is a race within a race, where STL competitors have been welcomed into the fold under the STU banner. There will be no championship for STL (at least this year), but that doesn't mean the racing won't be intense. We're expecting to see nearly as many STL cars compete as STU cars. Who will win this race? According to STL competitor Greg Amy, “STL will be a cat and mouse game of Honda power versus Mazda handling and braking.” But we wouldn't be surprised to see rotary power poking its nose in there should the right one show up.
RACE 23 Formula Vee | Sunday, 11:30 a.m.
1 Michael Varacins Chicago Speed Sport
2 Roger Siebenaler Northern New Jersey Mysterian
3 Rick Shields Steel Cites VDF
Trying to predict anything in Formula Vee is like trying to guess the Tour de France winner. Sure, there are guys who qualify strong and get the hole shot at the start, but all too often they are hunted down and consumed by the peloton.
Somehow Michael Varacins has figured out how to get around Road America quickly in a Vee without the aid of the draft. This has paid off in a number of pole positions and, in 2009, he was able to break away and cruise to the win with a better than 25sec margin of victory. In Formula Vee, that's almost unheard of.
At the 2010 Runoffs, Varacins started from the pole, but found an oil slick on the track that put him off and dashed his hopes of a podium finish. This bunched up the field and resulted in Rick Shields setting the record for the second narrowest margin of victory at the Runoffs when he beat Roger Siebenaler to the line by 0.017sec.
The 2011 championship race was just as exciting, as Siebenaler emerged the victor over Robert Neumeister by just over a tenth of a second, while polesitter Varacins came home third.
The only certainty with trying to pick the podium in this class is that we will be wrong, because it's all up for grabs and won't be decided until the last car pulls out of the draft heading up the front straight to the checker.
Come race time, we give a slight edge to Varacins – he has made some aero changes over the winter and, if he can pull away from the pack, we know he has the staying power to get it done again.
Siebenaler should have a lock on a podium finish, but if he is within drafting distance of the leader on the last lap, he's capable of leveraging that into the win.
Picking a third person for the podium is much more challenging. We would have given it to Robert Neumeister, but we think the change from his trusty Vortech to a different chassis could hamper his efforts. Shields shows he is always a contender, but also watch for Charles Hearn, Stevan Davis, Chris Jennerjahn, and Dennis Andrade.
In reality, the only thing we are somewhat confident in saying is Varacins will start from pole. After that, it's anyone's game.