Bart Wolf is our pick for the person most likely to take the Sports 2000 SCCA National Championship. (Photo by Dennis Wood)
• Who Will Win, part 1
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.
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. and closes on Sunday, Sept. 22, with the final race at 5 p.m.
What follows is a the second set 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 third 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).
Friday, Sept. 20
1. Lawrence Loshak, Honda CRX
2. Chris Albin, VW Golf
3. Greg Gauper, Honda Civic
First, let's assume that a couple past champions won't be competing at the Runoffs this year – but if Tom Feller (four championships) or Mike Moser (one title) show up, all that is written here might be moot.
Lawrence Loshak is planning to compete in two very different classes this year: FB, and HP. He has won in DSR and EP, so he certainly knows how to drive. He has two races on Friday, the second of which is HP. Assuming his week has gone well, he can certainly win in HP. This assumption is for Chris Albin and 2011 HP Champion Greg Gauper to disprove, and they certainly have the ability to do so. Loshak should qualify well and lead when it counts, but Albin and Gauper are likely to lead as well.
The next group won't be far behind, is a great mix of car brands, and will actually include some open-top cars. Ron Bartell hasn't had the best luck at Road America in his MG Midget, but he can be fast, as is proven by his two championship titles. Matt Brannon continues to make progress with his Fiat X1/9 and could be running near the front. Jason Isley will return in his Toyota Yaris, a car that has proven quite capable in the past. Finally, Tim Pitts has shown that he can make his VW Golf go well, and he could certainly be in position for a podium, and FP frontrunner Kevin Ruck will be there in a Honda Civic.
Small bore production classes often suffer from attrition, and this year won't be any different; consequently, the next HP champion could be any of these fellows.
J. Michael Hemsley
Friday, Sept. 20
1. Don Knowles, Chevrolet Corvette
2. Tom Sloe, Chevrolet Corvette
3. Andy Wolverton, Chevrolet Corvette
While diversity in Touring 2 still exists, the displacement has increased, and the number of potential championship contenders has changed. The Mitsubishi, Nissan, BMW days are behind us, replaced with American muscle courtesy of the Mustang and C5 Corvette.
We think the gold is a lock here – it's foolish to bet against defending champ Don Knowles. The only question is what Knowles will be driving. His longtime supporters Phoenix Performance have a Corvette for him to test heads up with his trusty Mustang, so we know he will be prepared – and don't doubt he'll make the right choice.
Tom Sloe and Andy Wolverton will likely occupy the next two steps on the podium. Sloe was the best of the C5 contingent the last few years in T1, and that experience should help give him the edge over C5 convert Wolverton. Other Corvette drivers to keep an eye on are Matthew Pullano, David Sanders, Kyle Kelley, and Natha Waldbaum.
Should Knowles favor the bowtie over the blue oval, we expect Kurt Rezzetano and Pratt Cole to be the quickest of the Fords, but not likely quick enough to challenge for the top three positions.
There are a number of Porsches running out of the Fall-Line shop, which knows how to build winners, but the lack of displacement will likely find them lagging behind on the straights. Should weather become a factor, the rear engine cars could have an edge on corner exit, and that would help Jay Patel and Andrew Longe move up the order.
Saturday, Sept. 21
1. Michael Mueller, Red Devil
2. Charles McAbee, KBS
3. James Weida, Scorpion
The 2012 Formula 500 championship was effectively the race that never happened, as polesitter Jason Knuteson extended his string of disastrous finishes when his car suffered problems on the formation lap. Since winning the 2008-'09 championships, he has qualified strong but racked up a string of DNFs, so we never got a chance to see a race for the win.
With Knuteson out, Michael Mueller moved up from second on the grid to claim his second consecutive F500 title, more than 40 seconds ahead of the rest of the field. Mueller is looking stronger than ever this season, having recently reset the Road America lap record at Milwaukee Region's Cat National.
“We're having another great season and I feel confident that we'll have the pace come the Runoffs to defend home turf one more time,” say Mueller. “With the 50th anniversary, I've been studying some of the statistics and history of the Runoffs, and it's a pretty short list of racers who've won three in a row. This being the last Runoffs at my home track just adds even more motivation.”
At the time this was written, there were a number of contenders noticeably absent, and we have not been able to confirm their plans for this year's Runoffs. We think Knuteson would have been the biggest challenger to Mueller. Also missing from the point standings this season are Michael Vacek or Aaron Ellis. With those three out, the rest of the podium is up for grabs.
C.J. McAbee took the silver in 2012, and could easily repeat that. We also expect to see Jack Walbran, Michael Brent, James Weida, and Steve Jondal making a run for the podium.
Saturday, Sept. 21
1. Andrew Aquilante, Chevrolet Corvette
2. Michael Pettiford, Chevrolet Corvette
3. Jerry Onks, Chevrolet Corvette
Trying to pick what is essentially a new class can be a challenge, but considering his prowess behind the wheel and the track record of Phoenix Performance, it's hard to not pick Andrew Aquilante for the win. In 2012, Aquilante was not even planning to attend, but when a last minute opportunity arose, he showed up in a Mustang and grabbed the silver. Just based on the fact that he should be in a Corvette this year gives him our nod for the win.
Of course, Aquilante's chances went from good to great when defending Champ John Buttermore fell victim to a scheduling conflict – Buttermore will likely be watching the SpeedcastTV.com coverage of the T1 race from a hospital room, as he awaits the birth of his first-born son.
The rest of the podium is a bit of a mystery. Michael Pettiford had a great run going in 2012 before a flat tire took him out of contention, and we expect him to be back in his Corvette. Jerry Onks will be pulling double duty, also running his Corvette in GT-2.
The Viper camp should be well represented this year, with Tim Hund returning after a bronze medal finish last year. Kyle Kelley has upgraded to a T1 Viper as well, and he will be very busy, as he is also reportedly running a Corvette in GT-1 and T2.
There are a number of Mustangs trying to make a race of it this year, but it's unlikely they will match Aquilante. On the more exotic side of things, we should see a couple of Porsche entries, and possibly an Aston Martin – but we don't expect to see any of these cars reach the podium.
The potential dark horse comes in the form of T2 drivers. At the June Sprints, Tom Sloe bested T1 on Sunday in his T2 Corvette, and with the T1 allowances a number of T2 pilots could double dip and fight for a step on the podium.