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 9 | Touring 3 | Saturday, 8:30 a.m.
1 | Bret Spaude | Central Florida
| Chevy Cobalt SS| n1
2 | Bob Boileau | Continental Divide | Honda S2000
3 | Richard Fisher | Chicago | VW GTI
The T3 race at this year's Runoffs will have an interesting twist: SSB cars. Due to scheduling constraints, T3 and SSB have been doubled up for the first race on Saturday morning. In addition to moving to Road America, this combination opens up a whole new arena of racing strategy for both classes.
“Most of the time, lap traffic is a great time to stretch or to leave someone behind,” says defending Champion Bret Spaude. “I'll be watching for a move placed on someone for a great finishing spot.”
Spaude has experience at Road America, but only in a kart. Still, he's confident that he'll have his A-game on display. “I think my Cobalt is better than last year and I'm a better driver than last year, too. I think Road America is a great track for the car and its abilities,” Spaude says.
Leading the charge to take Spaude's crown are Honda S2000 drivers Bob Boileau and John Costello. Boileau finished second at last year's Runoffs and first at last year's June Sprints. Costello has already won several Nationals, set several T3 track records and earned a big win at this year's June Sprints – his first event at Road America.
A possible dark horse is Richard Fisher, who drove a VW GTI to second place at the June Sprints, just 1.2sec behind Costello. Both the GTI and the ex-T2 Lotus Elise could be wild card rides to make a mark at the Runoffs.
Other top contenders include Wiley Timbrook in a Honda S2000 and Kevin Fandozzi.
Race 10 | Showroom Stock B | Saturday, 8:30 a.m.
1 | Toby Grahovec | Texas | BMW Z4 | n1
2 | Lee Niffenegger | Cal Club | Honda Civic Si | n1
3 | John Schmidt | Florida | Honda Civic Si
Racers attempting to qualify for the 2009 Runoffs have little in common with the criminals who encompassed the twisted, convoluted plot that made up the 1994 movie The Usual Suspects. But, the list of drivers who could claim a podium step does contain a directory of, shall we say, familiar names.
Toby Grahovec, the 2005 National Champion, has entered four National events this season and has four wins. In addition, he has been honing his skills as part of the RealTime Racing Team in SPEED World Challenge. Will that be the difference that gives him an edge? It can't hurt. And that's not to say that last year's winner Lee Niffenegger will just go quietly – he will be back to defend his title, and if fellow Honda pilots John Schmidt and Chad Gilsinger put their heads together, it could be quite the battle. Schmidt also spends his weekends on the Koni Challenge circuit where the competition is just as fierce.
Jack Tippens and Ralph Porter are always in the mix, while James Ebben is currently capable of pulling off an impressive finish. Richard Cullen is hot off a big win at Mid-Ohio. David Mead, Steve Taake and Hugh Nguyen all have a shot at glory, as does Stan Czacki. Michael Scornavacchi, meanwhile, has four wins and may just be the dark horse who upsets this derby and boots some of our usual suspects off the podium.