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.
Race 20 | Formula 500 | Sunday, 10:30 a.m.
1 | Jason Knuteson | Indianapolis | Scorpion SI | n1
2 | Bob Gieson | Milwaukee | Red Devil LD04
3 | Jeff Jorgenson | San Francisco | Novakar JJ-10
Well you might say that picking the reigning gold medalist is a bit of a copout, but a quick perusal of this year's June Sprints might change your mind. We had it in our minds that Jeff Jorgenson was the one who would get it done this year – and he still might! Jorgenson, as of this writing, has a perfect string of five wins in the NorPac standings, but then he ran into the buzz saw of Jason Knuteson and Bob Gieson at the Sprints. Does that mean it will end up the same? Maybe, maybe not. But all accounts seem to have National Champ Knuteson clearly in control, though Gieson had the nose of his Novakar firmly attached to Knuteson's tail pipe for much of the race as the duo fought lap after lap.
And it might come down to who has the right car. In a class like F500 on a four-mile course like Road America, it may be the car that works best on the long straights that has the edge. We'll see.
So, let's look at some of the other contenders. Michael Mueller, like Gieson, has a home course advantage. Speaking of home course, let's not forget Herb Nobel or 2000 National Champ Aaron Ellis. Great Lakes Division guys have plenty of track time at Road America too, so the likes of Kenny Price Patrick Gallagher and Jeff Blumenthal are ones to watch.
Jack Walbran has been having a great season, as has Chris Huskamp, although he was sidelined at the Sprints. There are a number of others who might be able to jump into the mix, as well. Steve Moore, Michael Brent and NorPac's triple threat of Jorgenson, Don Clar and Joe Rozelle all stand a chance of mixing it up with the leaders. But don't count out Glen Smeal, Joe Palmer, Chuck McAbee and Chris Hite. This one will be worth the price of admission.
Race 21 | H Production | Sunday, 11:30 a.m.
1 | Dan Meller | Milwaukee Region | Honda CRX
2 | Tom Feller | Detroit | Triumph Spitfire | n4
3 | Dan Collishaw | Glen | Austin Healey Sprite | n2
The consensus at the June Sprints and on the Web is that a Limited Prep Honda CRX is the car to have at Road America – Dan Meller validated that perception at the Sprints. He qualified his CRX 4.6sec faster than the next HP car, ran off at the start, spun, restarted well back and still finished third. It was quite a performance.
Tom Feller is always a safe choice to win HP, and he will challenge Meller. Feller knows how to win. Dan Collishaw isn't optimistic about the chances for a 948cc Sprite at Road America, but he set a lap record at VIR. He should do well.
There were three competitive VWs at the Sprints – Bob Kelly in a Scirocco won with Tim Pitts second and Chris Albin fourth, both in Golfs. Any of them could contend for a podium finish, as could Greg Gauper, driving a Honda Civic. Gary Wittman and Mike Cummings lead their respective divisions in Sprites, as does Jamie Blust in his Triumph – all three are entered for the Runoffs and are likely to be racing for a podium finish if they can learn the track fast enough.
Not entered at the article's deadline were several fast drivers. Ron Bartell is a former champion, whose Midget is very well prepared. Matt Brannon finished second at the Runoffs last year in his Fiat X1/9. And Keith Church is running his very fast Toyota Corolla in HP this year. Any of these drivers could be in the mix for a podium finish.
J. Michael Hemsley
Race 22 | Formula Ford | Sunday, 1:30 p.m.
1 | Tim Kautz | Chicago | Piper
2 | Jeremy Treadway | Mohawk Hudson | Swift DB6
3 | Tony Coello | Milwaukee | Van Diemen RF01
Tim Kautz won the Formula Ford class at the June Sprints by an impressive 18sec. That is good enough to predict a National Championship in September for the Piper driver. He's fast, consistent and looking to add an SCCA National Championship to his collection of trophies. As far as we're concerned, this is his year.
Jeremy Treadway finished second at the Sprints, and factoring in his previous performance, including his second-place finish at last year's Runoffs, we believe he'll claim that second spot once more – although if he can get close enough to Kautz, he'll definitely make his presence known.
Tony Coello is always one to keep an eye on. After a disappointing Runoffs last year, where he qualified fourth but finished 11th, he's back with a vengeance. The Sprints saw him in third, only a second behind Treadway come the checker. The telling tale, however, is that his fastest lap of the race was 1.1sec better than Treadway's and a tenth off of Kautz. If the cards happen to fall correctly for Coello, we wouldn't be surprised if he flipped our prediction list.
Should one of our picks falter, though, Cliff Johnson stands a chance of catching the trio – passing for the lead, however, is another story. We also know four-time National Champ Thomas E. Schwietz Jr. is capable of reeling in the leaders and adding to his championship medal collection. And don't count out Michael Sauce. We're not counting any of them out, we're just betting it's Kautz from flag to flag.
Wm. C. Mitchell
Race 23 | GT-1 | Sunday, 2:30 p.m.
1 | Cliff Ebben | Milwaukee | Ford Mustang
2 | Peter Mohrhauser | Milwaukee | Chevy Corvette
3 | Kurt Roehrig| North Carolina | Ford Mustang
"So, have you completely lost it?" We're sure that will be the comment when you read this. Not only did we not pick the reigning National Champion Bill Gray to win GT-1 this year, we didn't even pick him in the top three – our money is on Gray taking fourth.
It's our guess GT-1 is likely going to come down to experience on the four-mile venue, and not too many people have more experience there than 2003 National Champion Cliff Ebben. Add in the fact that his car is being prepared by Tony Ave Racing, and you have a pretty formidable combination.
Staying with that Ave edge, we've also put Kurt Roehrig (the shock and suspension guru) in here, too. It will probably be a shootout between the two Ave-prepared cars and the two Jim Derhaag Motorsports-prepared cars of Peter Mohrhauser and Gray.
Take a look at the GT-1 results from the June Sprints – what jumps out at you? The hometowns of the guys who finished on top, for the most part, were local. Familiarity with Road America could be the key to success. Consequently, Brian Long and long-time Trans-Am competitors Max Lagod and Rick Dittman could have a significant chance of finishing on the podium.
Other potential conctenders include David Fershtand, Jack Busch, Amy Ruman, Richard Grant, Terry Gile and Ryan McMannus, who purchased the beautiful Mustang driven for several years by Tim Cowen in Trans-Am. Bill Thumel has had two DNFs at VIR, but if he gets the car sorted out, he could figure in to the equation. And Mike Lewis – will he make the tow from the West Coast? If so, he will be in the mix.
Race 24 | D Sports Racing | Sunday, 3:30 p.m.
1 | Lawrence Loshak| Milwaukee | Stohr
2 | Tom Bootz | Kansas City | Stohr
3 | Garry Crook | Gulf Coast | Stohr
For several years, DSR has been the story of Stohr Cars. The development of the WF-1 in the Portland, Ore., shop transformed D Sports Racing. First the availability of a professionally designed car with advanced aerodynamics and reliable motorcycle engines reduced lap times and replaced the home-builts, which had long been the heart of the class.
The low lap times and presence of a manufacturer brought quick drivers to DSR. Mark Jaremko, J.R. Osborne and John Hill produced lap times equal or better than CSR and quicker than any other Club Racing car other than Formula Atlantic.
Stohr proved there was a substantial market for cars in DSR – the success of the WF-1 produced competition in the U.S. and tempted Radical in the UK and Gloria in Italy. But success soon saturated the market. Stohr and other developers have turned to new formula markets. The curse of the racecar constructor is domination – without competition to force development, the market is soon saturated and the constructor moves on.
What does any of this mean? Stohr is still the car to have, and while our picks to win may be wrong, we're confident the winner will be behind the wheel of a Stohr, powere by wither a Suzuki or Yamaha motor.
But the wild card in the equation is forced induction. Richard Cottrell of RillTech in Colorado continues to develop turbocharged DSR engines. Turbos have potential, but they have not proven reliable.
Cut to the chase: Lawrence Loshak will win DSR. He led the June Sprints before mechanical problems gave the win to Garry Crook. Tom Bootz finished third last year at the Runoiffs, and we predict a silver medal for him this year while Crook will claim the bronze.
Dorian Foyle could also be a contender in his Stohr. Also watch out for Travis Duder driving Ellen Ferguson's updated Stohr WF-1. For a wild card, keep your eyes on Kevin Allen in his Mallen Alley car.
Wm. C. Mitchell
Race 25 | E-Production | Sunday, 4:30 p.m.
1 | Jesse Prather | Kansas | Mazda Miata
2 | Greg Ira | Florida | Datsun 240Z
3 | John Brakke| Land O' Lakes | Mazda Miata
Jesse Prather is looking for his fourth-consecutive championship, and he stands a very good chance of closing in on his father's six championships. He is a fast, smooth, consistent driver, as his three championships show, and he will be hard to beat.
Greg Ira will be one of the non-Mazda drivers who will finish well. Jon Brakke out-qualified hi at the June Sprints, but the torque of his 240Z got Ira an early lead, and his consistency got him the win. Brakke is fast, but he seems to be haunted by "Murphy" at the Runoffs. Despite that, he should finish on the podium.
Other quick non-Mazdas include Kevin Leigh and Buddy Norton (if he comes) in their Caterhams. Leigh finished second at the Sprints, but he will need more speed to catch those picked. Both Michael Sturm and Bob Coffey have fast Honda Preludes. Sturm seems to have his car back in shape after the highway accident last year that damaged it. Coffey has Lawrence Loshak's 2006 EP winner and has learned how to drive it fast. As with the Lotus drivers, they'll have to be a bit faster at the Runoffs.
But it is Mazda drivers who are most likely to be challenging the picks for podium finishes. In alphabetical order they include Charlie Clark, Aaron Downey, Michael Hart, Terry Jesk, Dave Lemon, James Simaras and Austin Snader.
Track owners like for the last race of the weekend to be one that will keep spectators around – if years past are any indication, EP certainly has the potential for doing that.
As a side note, these picks might have been a bit different had we not lost Tom Thrash at the June Sprints. His times in practice and the first quaslifying session were stunning.
J. Michael Hemsley