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 18 | Formula Enterprises | Sunday, 8:30 a.m.
1 | Scott Rettich | Ohio Valley
2 | Nick Evans | Ohio Valley
3 | Scott McQueen | Houston
As befits a class in its infancy, FE is a hard pick. The players are still sorting themselves out as the class expands and new runners enter the fray. The field should be much larger than last year, with a corresponding increase in talent. The June Sprints had 23 FE cars race, which may well be the largest turnout yet.
Scott Rettich dominated at the June Sprints, taking the pole and the race win. If he can continue this form in September, he will wear the gold medal around his neck. Indeed, defending class Champion Mark Eaton tabbed Rettich as his biggest threat in remarks before the Sprints. Rettich has not raced as much as the others this season, but his June Sprints form shows that he may well be the one to beat.
Nick Evans already had three wins by mid-June and was Rettich's closest pursuer at the Sprints. He has what it takes to win should Rettich falter. Scott McQueen has notched four wins so far [early July] and knows FE cars inside and out. He should also be on the podium.
A number of others are definite contenders. Paul Schneider has been tearing up SEDiv, while Lee Rackley has been right behind him. Others to be considered include Lee Walther, Matt Schneider, Sean Wagner, Jonathon Bennett, Sigmund Knapstad and Brandon Aleckson.
It is a bit difficult to name the defending Champion Mark Eaton as a dark horse, but under the circumstances, he is. Eaton has lost all sponsorship and is running sparingly. “We are running a very limited schedule,” he says – and his luck was made worse at the Sprints when his engine blew. “We have no budget but will be at the Runoffs.” If he can get it together, expect him to ruin our predictions.
Race 19 | GT-2 | Sunday, 9:30 a.m.
1 | Jim Goughary Sr. | New England
| Nissan 350Z | n3
2 | Mark Jurczyk | Chicago | Porsche GT3 Cup
3 | Tom Patton | Cincinnati | Sunbeam Tiger | n1
Look for Nissan and Porsche to battle it out again this year, led by Jim Goughary Sr. (in a Nissan 350Z) and Mark Jurcyzk (driving a Porsche GT3 Cup). In his 22nd consecutive GT-2 Runoffs, Goughary won his third title last year, 1.518sec ahead of fellow Nissan hot shoe John Black. Jurczyk was fourth, less than a second behind two-time Champion Wayland Joe (who will not be at this year's Runoffs as he has taken up off-shore racing).
Jurczyk is looking forward to the move to Road America, where he has done well at the June Sprints (Jurczyk won the Sprints this year and was fourth in 2008). “I know the track very well,” Jurczyk says. “The Nissans are very fast in the short run, but Porsches seem faster over the long haul.”
There are several drivers in the mix for third. Among that group is the venerable Tom Patton. Patton has driven his equally venerable Sunbeam Tiger in 24 Runoffs, with 15 top-10 finishes. It's been 10 years since his last title, so we know he's itching to finish on top again – and, more to the point, he's capable of doing it.
Four others are strong contenders for a podium spot. Black has nine career Runoffs podium finishes, and in 2003, he won the Spec Racer Ford National Championship. Although Tim Gray (driving a Porsche) has only finished 12th, 10th, 11th and 10th the last four Runoffs, he does well at Road America. He was fifth in this year's Sprints, his third top-five finish in as many starts. Gerry Mason (in a Nissan) and Jim Walsh (piloting a Porsche) also have the ability to mix it up at the front.