The SCCA National Championship Runoffs finds itself with a new home for 2009. Normally, a change in venue would result in us pulling out the dartboard when trying to pick the winners of SCCA Club Racing's main event, but with Road America playing host to the event, we had what we hope is an ace up our sleeve.
Thanks to what is the largest non-championship National Club race of the season, the June 19-21 Chicago Region June Sprints gave us a glimpse of which drivers, and which cars, may have an edge come the Sept. 25-27 championship event. However, to toss a wrench into our well-meaning prognostications, this year we noticed several top drivers and cars were absent from the Sprints. Perhaps they didn't want to show their hand going into the Runoffs; perhaps they wanted to make our Who Will Win predictions that much more difficult. Undaunted, our crack team of experts made their selections of who are the ones to watch as the Runoffs descends on Elkhart Lake, Wis.
The move to Road America, after the three previous years at Heartland Park Topeka, marks only the sixth venue to host the Runoffs. Originally, the Runoffs alternated between Riverside International Raceway in California and Daytona International Speedway in Florida. This rotation occurred from 1964-'69. For the 1970 Runoffs, Road Atlanta in Braselton, Ga., was selected, and the event stayed there for the next 24 years. From 1994-'05, the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, hosted the event and, during that time, the Runoffs set a record for highest number of championship starters, at 709.
Road America is a historic 4.048-mile, 14-turn road course that was carved out of Wisconsin farmland and hosted its first SCCA National Club race in 1955. Since that time, the course has received a number of upgrades, but the original course layout has gone unchanged. With over 50 years of racing history, Road America is a fitting home for the 2009 Runoffs, and all of the drivers should find it a challenging and rewarding track.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves – after all, the Runoffs isn't until Sept. 25-27. Right now, there are only wild guesses as to who will take the gold. What follows are our best guesses at who will win in each of the 25 championship classes.
We'll see you in Elkhart Lake, Wis., and we'll find out just how wrong we were.
Race 1 | GT-Lite | Friday, 8:30 a.m.
1 | Jim Dentici | Milwaukee | Honda CRX | n4
2 | Chris Bovis | Kansas | Honda CRX | n1
3 | Peter Shadowen | Florida | Honda CRX
Jim Dentici can run four races – and the Runoffs – and never be more than 75 miles from his home. He built his Honda CRX, he knows Road America and he is smooth and lightning fast. Dentici will win, but 2007 Champion Chris Bovis is also in a fast car – one that Dentici built. Bovis will make sure that Dentici doesn't have it easy. Peter Shadowen qualified fifth and finished second last year at Heartland Park Topeka and is leading his division – he's quick, and Hondas seem to be a good bet at Road America.
Pushing these three will be a host of others in a variety of cars. Reigning Champion Peter Zekert will be running his Nissan 200SX like he stole it, as will Chad Bacon in his Toyota. Jim Stinehelfer finished third at the June Sprints in his Miata, the only open car entered. Jim Hargrove came from British Columbia to run his very quick Honda Civic. If his Runoffs setup is as quick as he hopes, a different kind of Honda could be on the podium. Bill Gilcrease has entered his Mini and always runs well. Unfortunately, Road America will be a tough course for a Mini.
The real unknowns, though, are the roadsters that weren't at the Sprints. Built to full GT-L specs, some believe the roadsters to be over dogs – but that's not been shown yet. Brian Linn was closest last year, but he broke before the start. Already entered in roadsters are Kent Prather in a Miata, Howard Gerstein in a Miata, Brian Linn in a Midget or Miata, Noel Hayward in a Midget and Rick Haynes, also in a Midget. Any of these guys could spoil a Honda podium, but it won't be easy to spoil Dentici's run.
J. Michael Hemsley
Race 2 | C Sports Racing | Friday, 9:30 a.m.
1 | James French | Milwaukee | Swift 014.a
2 | Jason Miller | Milwaukee | West
3 | Jacek Mucha | Indianapolis | Swift 014.a
It is not often that a high school student running his first Runoffs is favored to win his class, but that is exactly what we are predicting this year. James French, son of longtime FA and historic F1 racer Brian French, has shown amazing speed in this, just his second full year of racing. Indeed, he won the June Sprints fairly easily over a fine field of CSRs. This was his third win of the year and marks him as the one to beat.
French is aided by the fact that his car is very suited to the long straights of Road America. He is driving a fendered Formula Atlantic Swift, expertly prepared by Carl Liebich, and doing so on his home track. The fendered Atlantics have shown more speed at Road Atlanta than the true CSRs, and that will be a big advantage.
Having said that, a true CSR is picked for second. Jason Miller is running on his home circuit also, and again is in a 6-cylinder, Kohler-powered West. Potentially the Kohler 6 is the strongest engine in the race, and if it holds together it can push the ground-effect West chassis around the four miles very fast indeed. Jason Miller is the son of six-time Champion Jeff Miller, and it's about time that the family tally is increased.
Jacek Mucha has been banging on the door for years. His fendered Swift Atlantic was not suited for Topeka but, as stated above, is well suited to Road America. He should be very competitive.
Others to figure into the equation include Brian French, David Kohler, Don Yount, David Koller, Renny Damon, Gary Gibson, Bill Goldkind, Jeff Miller and the evergreen Jim Downing.