Continuing our special coverage of the 50th SCCA National Runoffs, the staff of SportsCar magazine makes its fearless predictions about who will emerge triumphant in the Sept. 16-22 National Championships at Road America. First of four parts.
The 2013 SCCA National Championship Runoffs marks a significant milestone, as the Sports Car Club of America celebrates the 50th running of its pinnacle amateur road racing event. For those not in the know, the Runoffs is an iconic, winner-take-all championship for SCCA's Club racers, and is open to any of the Club's competition drivers who qualified for the event. This year's title bout takes place on Sept. 16-22, at Road America.
The first Runoffs took place in 1964 at Riverside Raceway in Riverside, Calif. Throughout the decades, the event has moved to several racetracks (six in total), with the 50th running taking place at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. This year's Runoffs also marks the fifth and final year for the event at Road America before it starts a three-year rotation between Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Daytona International Raceway, and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
On-track action kicks off on Monday, Sept. 16, with practice sessions, and then at 8 a.m. Tuesday morning, the track goes hot for qualifying. Racing starts on Friday, Sept. 20, at 8:45 a.m., with Super Touring Under, and closes on Sunday, Sept. 22, with the Grand Touring Lite championship race at 5 p.m.
What follows is a list of drivers we feel have what it takes to stand on the Runoffs podium, as well those who will do everything they can to claim that space for themselves. We've broken the event down into four digestible chunks, with each containing seven of the 28 total races. The next preview will be published here tomorrow.
For more information on the SCCA Runoffs, check out www.SCCA.com/Runoffs. Also, catch the action streaming live online at www.SpeedcastTV.com/SCCA on the date and time listed for each race (times are for the Central time zone).
Super Touring Under – Ray Huffmaster (Dennis Wood photo)
Super Touring Under
Friday, Sept. 20
1. Ray Huffmaster, Pontiac Solstice
2. Marc Hoover, Mazda Miata
3. Joel Weinberger, Audi A4
Marc Hoover has what is likely the fastest Miata in Club Racing. With a turbocharger and a big carbon fiber wing, the STU Miata from Hooverspeed simply flies. But that may not be enough to take home the STU crown for the veteran racer, who has been on the podium for the last two years and is looking to stand on the top step this year. He's been there before – in 2001 in D Sports Racer – so he knows how to get there.
“I might have something over Joel Weinberger and his Audi, but I don't know about the Solstice. They didn't do anything to rein in the Solstice, so I don't know what to think,” Hoover says.
Ray Huffmaster, father of Rob Huffmaster, will be driving the potent Solstice that Rob piloted to a dominating STU win in 2012. In 2012, Ray proved he has skills behind the wheel as he battled for the win in the then-supplemental STL class.
That said, last year's runner-up, Joel Weinberger, is planning to be there to run for the win regardless of who is piloting the Solstice.
“I'll race my Audi A4 again,” Weinberger says. “We got more turbo restriction, but so did everyone. It should be a good battle, and I should be competitive at least.”
Additional contenders could include Jim Taggart in his Lotus Exige, and “Irish Mike” Flynn in his BMW 325. Both ran well last year, with Flynn finishing in fourth position and Taggart in sixth. Taggart won the hard charger award last year after making a brave charge through the field from the back row of the grid, so it remains to be seen what he can do with a good starting position. Eric Heinrich will also be back with a vengeance in his E30 M3 – after a motor failure sidelined him prior to the race at the 2012 Runoffs, we feel he has some unfinished business to take care of.
Friday, Sept. 20
1. Brandon Dixon, Citation
2. Brian Novak, Nova-Piper
3. Lawrence Loshak, JDR
After last year's dominating performance, any racing prognosticator would hope that Brandon Dixon would run the 2013 season and return with a solid version of his winning car. However, Dixon decided to not make it easy for us. He sold his winning Citation and hasn't turned a wheel all season. At the Runoffs, he'll be driving the 2010 winning car. He's our pick to win, but others will be looking to capitalize should his plan not completely come together.
Brian Novak has seen the podium before, with a championship of his own in 2011 and a F500 championship in 2007. “The FB competition is going to be pretty heavy this year,” says Novak. “J.R. Osborne is now running Brandon Dixon's old car, which is a dangerous combo. Lawrence Loshak is doing excellent in the JDR so far and I'm sure Jeremy Hill and Glen Cooper will be right at the front as always. The two Astra cars on the West Coast seem pretty impressive as well.”
Loshak has two championships to his name – EP in 2006 and DSR in 2010. Loshak has proven he can race a similar vehicle to the FB at Road America, so expect a close contest between him and Novak. Glenn Cooper may also be in the hunt, after coming close to the podium in 2010 and 2011.
A dark horse might be Lucian Pancea out of the Northwest Region. Pancea finished third last year after qualifying sixth, so he's got some race craft to bring to the table.
But this could turn into the Davis/Novak show. “I think we have a great chance to win this year,” says Novak. “We did a lot of development during the offseason and the car is much more developed and improved from when we won in 2011.” Meanwhile, Davis assures us he wouldn't be going if he didn't think he could win.
Friday, Sept. 20
1. Pete Peterson, Toyota Celica
2. Trent Hindman, Porsche GT3 Cup
3. Tom Wickersham, Porsche GT3 Cup
The battle between the traditional tube-frame GT-2 cars and the production-based tub cars continues to heat up. The Porsche GT3 Cup has become the workhorse of the class, as it not only puts down fast laps, but also has reliability on its side. Tube-frame drivers like Pete Peterson and Jim Goughary have been able to often better the tub-based Porsche camp, but their comparatively temperamental cars need everything to fall into place to take the win.
The 2013 season saw a number of adjustments to integrate the ex-Super Touring Over cars with the existing GT-2 cars. The STO cars are predominately big horsepower cars – great for the straights at Road America, where the typical GT-2 car makes its lap time with handling. While the raw STO power seems like a concern, with past STO winners Scott Tucker and David Pintaric not returning, it seems less likely an STO car will upset the status quo.
When Peterson rolled out his Toyota Celica in 2011, it was fast, but in need of further development. At the 2012 event it looked as though Peterson had the car dialed in, and he had the field covered – right up until a camshaft let go. This year, if the car stays together, Peterson should be able to collect his eighth Runoffs title.
There is a lot of buzz about Trent Hindman, who is piloting a Fall-Line Porsche. Hindman comes in with relatively little closed-wheel-racing experience, but has shown speed and maturity beyond his years, setting the track ablaze nearly everywhere he has competed. That combination of talent and top-flight car prep should land Hindman on the podium.
It's likely no one saw Tom Wickersham coming in 2012 when he put his car second on the grid and won the race, but with more seat time he is certain to be a contender for a podium finish this year.
Right behind these three is a long list of drivers who are capable of finishing up front. We know Goughary will represent the tube cars well, while the tub camp has Mark Boden, Erich Joiner, and John Kachadurian. The STO camp will look to Russ Snow, Jerry Onks, and Joe Koenig, although they'll need something to happen up front in order to get on the podium. The real dark horse is Jason Lee in the Audi R8 LMS – we will see if he can get it up to speed come September.