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 in the October issue of the magazine. We'll be relating their prognostications here ahead of the actual races, which gets under way later this week at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. Along with coverage of the races themselves, RACER.com will feature insights from SportsCar contributor Jeff Zurschmeide on the goings on at Road America.
Meanwhile, here are SportsCar's first batch of predictions for Thursday's races:
RACE 1: Super Touring Over | Thursday, 9:25 a.m.
1 Scott Tucker Atlanta Porsche 911
2 David Pintaric Mahoning Valley Dodge Viper
3 Bob Mayer Atlanta Chevrolet Corvette
To say the start of the STO race for the last two years has had some issues would be an understatement. In 2010, a yard sale of T1 cars blocked the track at the flag stand at the start, and a very frightening impact in Canada Corner took out two STO front-runners on the first lap in 2011. We're hoping this year sees that every STO car gets to complete at least one lap without incident.
Scott Tucker will be returning with the Porsche 911 that took him to the win in 2011, but hot on his heels will be 2010 winner David Pintaric in a Dodge Viper. Tucker will be very busy this year, as he pulls triple duty also competing in DSR and GT-2, but knowing that Tucker will bring nothing less than a first-class effort, we have no doubt that the additional seat time will only make him stronger.
An off earlier in the season at Road America found Pintaric writing off a Viper in spectacular fashion, but he came out no worse for wear, and will have his STO car running at full song.
The battle for the win in 2011 kept everyone on the edge of their seats – less than a second separated Tucker and Pintaric at the stripe. The action should be equally as exciting this year with likely the same outcome.
Third place is a much more difficult call. Jerry Onks has rebuilt after being part of the 2011 first lap crash, and is looking fast in his Corvette. Bob Mayer has been trying to get to the Runoffs the last two years but mechanical problems have plagued his Corvette and caused him to throw in the towel – his third try could be the charm.
Only two things could put a damper on the STO race: another opening-lap crash, or a car count that puts the class below the 10-car threshold needed to crown a National Champion.
Race 2: Touring 1 | Thursday, 9:25 a.m.
1 John M. Buttermore Detroit Chevrolet Corvette
2 Tom Sloe Neohio Chevrolet Corvette
3 Mike McGinley Kansas City Chevrolet Corvette
Defending T1 Champ John M. Buttermore will be back in his C6 Corvette, and if things go the way we think they will, he'll cruise to a second title. However, Buttermore will have 2011 runner-up Tom Sloe in a C5 Corvette pushing him into burning up his tires and brakes.
At Road America, the C6 Corvette has the legs to win, but its reported weakness is going the full race distance – something that the shortened races the last two years has not revealed. Meanwhile, the C5 Corvette seems to run at a slightly slower and steadier pace – possibly a better choice for a 13-lap race.
“The C5 Corvette has to be perfect to compete, and the race will need to be the full 13 laps as the advantage with the C5 comes later in the race,” explains Sloe.
Having to push Buttermore won't be the only challenge facing Sloe, as he also plans to run his Mustang in American Sedan, which shares qualifying sessions with T1. With only three qualifying sessions this year, Sloe will be forced into the difficult position of picking a favorite when it comes to which car to run in which session – and, if weather becomes a factor (which it always does), he could easily find himself starting from the back of one of the grids.
Regardless of the number of green flag laps, chances are excellent Buttermore and Sloe will check out on the field, leaving the rest scrapping for third. Mike McGinley, Michael Pettiford, and David Sanders will all be looking for that final step on the podium, and have all shown speed at the Runoffs. It seems very likely that McGinley will take that final step, making the results a carbon copy of 2011.
Race 3: Sports 2000 | Thursday, 10:25 a.m.
1 Corey Fergus Ohio Valley Carbir
2 Mark Mercer Colorado Lola
3 Bart Wolf Milwaukee Carbir
Multi-time Champion John Fergus sold one of his Carbirs and decided to sit out this season. So, that should mean no Fergus with whom to contend, right? No. There will be a Fergus at the Runoffs, and we think he will carry on the family winning tradition.
John's son Corey Fergus is concentrating on the Continental Tire Series this season, but will have run enough points to qualify for the Runoffs. He had two starts and two convincing wins by the end of June, and his Fergus Companies Carbir, expertly wrenched by Randy Hartman and with a new engine from Steve Knapp's Elite Engines, will be ready. Corey has elevated his game greatly in the past two years and will be ready to add to the family total.
His biggest threat will be Mark Mercer. Mark has two gold medals and knows how to win. Mercer picks and chooses his races, but says, “I'm going to try to come to the Runoffs. The car is working well; I'm old but still seem able to drive. As long as it doesn't rain, I'll try to win.”
At the time of this writing, there was a degree of uncertainty surrounding Mercer's attendance, which is a significant reason he is picked for second rather than first.
The third step of the podium should be designed to hold more than one. Besides Bart Wolf, who always runs well at Road America, two West Coast aces likely will make the long tow. Joe Moran, who has four wins and two seconds, may come. “I am on the fence,” says Moran. “It is 2,120 miles, and a brutal drive. I will decide on Labor Day weekend.”
David Ferguson, driving the unique Van Diemen, does intend to come. “I'm qualified and have made arrangements. My car is handling better than ever, and I expect to be competitive.”
Either Moran or Ferguson could well have been the pick for third, but with Moran at this time “thinking about it” and Wolf's familiarity, the pick is Wolf. But it so easily could have been different.
Also figuring into the equation is Alan Andrea, second last year and a veteran with many, many miles at Road America, who seemingly excels in the rain. Michael Bautz is having a very competitive year.
And then there's the wild card. John Fergus says that if it's necessary to make up the required 10-car field to crown a National Champion this year, he just may rent a car and use his champion's provisional.