This article first appeared in the October, 2020 edition of SportsCar Magazine. Everyone can read the current and past editions of SportCar digitally here. To become an SCCA member and get SportsCar mailed to your home address monthly in addition to the digital editions, click here.
by Philip Royle
This week, the Sports Car Club of America’s premier winner-take-all road race, the National Championship Runoffs, kicked into high gear at Road America. There, some 600 drivers will battle in 26 classes in the hopes of becoming one of the select few who can call themselves an SCCA National Champion. Most will fall short. However, thanks to SportsCar magazine, SCCA’s official publication, and its annual Runoffs predictions, it’s possible to get some insight into who to watch in each class when the races take the green this weekend, running from Friday, Oct. 9, to Sunday, Oct. 11.
The Runoffs event schedule can be found here, and SCCA will stream all 26 races live on scca.com.
It was no surprise that Greg Eaton took the American Sedan championship last year, and it’s likely he’ll win again in 2020. It was an easy call because VIRginia International Raceway is his home track. This year's challenge is rather different, though, and the Northern Virginia-based driver is making multiple trips to Wisconsin to be ready for this year's contest.
"We're trying really hard this year, that's for sure," Eaton tells us. "I've taken every opportunity I could to go up to Road America and get track time. There's a little of bit of pressure for sure this year, and I'm trying to race everywhere I can with Andy McDermid and the guys [in American Sedan]."
Eaton, however, is well aware that he's not going to drive away with an easy championship. "Andy McDermid has eight championships," Eaton says. "The guy's done it all. When we go to Mid-Ohio, he knows every square inch of the track. So, to try and keep up with him will be difficult, that's for sure. Then you've got Danny Richardson, and Mike Lavigne is extremely fast. And you can't count John Heinricy out, either. That guy's a serial killer in a car."
B-Spec drivers have been working hard for a renaissance for their class, and last year they put an impressive 25-car field on track at VIRginia. This year, they’re on target to match that performance.
Two-time B-Spec champion David Daughtery is favored to win this year, with competitors Fritz Wilke and last year's runner-up Tony Roma also on the podium. However, 2019 National Champ John Phillips and last year's third-place finisher Brandon Vivian will both be on hand for the race, so there's a deep bench to beat on Road America's long straights. Daughtery is a thinking and planning driver, so he's got the competition thoroughly analyzed.
"Riley Salyer," Daughtery says. "Man, that kid is really getting it, and he'll be right there. Tony Roma will be very tough in his Sonic, as will Brandon Vivian. They were both top three last year.
Super Touring Lite
Joe Moser has moved over from E Production this year, and we think he's got what it takes to lead STL at Road America, and he's got a very special motivation to win.
"This is my first year of racing without my dad," Moser reveals. "Not only was he my best friend, but he was my long-time racing partner and more recently, my crew chief. We won a lot of races together. He was the best, and racing the Runoffs won’t be the same without him."
Moser will compete in a Honda CRX with STL history. "It's a new car to me, but it has a long tradition of winning under the ownership of Sam Myers," Moser reveals. "The car won the Indianapolis Runoffs in 2017 with Adam Roberts behind the wheel, so I have a strong legacy of performance to uphold."
STL always delivers exciting racing, and this year's entry list promises close battles. In particular, 2018 and ’19 National Champ Danny Steyn will be there, and he agrees that Moser is the driver to beat.
"The prediction is spot on, 100 percent," Steyn says of our assessment. "We raced at the Sprints, and Joe Moser is an exceptional wheel man."
Super Touring Under
"Irish Mike" Flynn took third place at last year's Runoffs, but we think he'll use the power of his BMW 330 to hit the top step of this year's Runoffs podium.
"My wife bought me this BMW for my 50th birthday," Flynn says. "It used to be a Techmark World Challenge car, and it's the perfect car for STU, I think. It's not the strongest car, but I think it's a very strong car."
Flynn got close to the STU podium with fourth-place finishes in 2011 and ’12 at Road America before moving away from the class. Now with his ex-World Challenge BMW, he's checking his mirrors.
"They've all got me worried," Flynn admits of the other drivers in the class. Flynn listed numerous drivers to watch, but one that’s rocketed to the top during this week’s qualifying session is David Fiorelli in a Subaru BRZ.
Five of Andrew Aquilante’s nine SCCA National Championship titles came in T1. Basically, it’s ridiculous to pick against him in this class. But who does Aquilante think will be chasing him and his Phoenix Performance Mustang this year? “I'd say Mark Boden, since it’s his home track,” Aquilante says. “And really, anyone showing up considering it is never over ‘til it is over.”
We agree with his assessment, and we’d certainly add Tim Myers and James Candelaria to the list of contenders.
Fall-Line Motorsports is not anticipating a stellar performance in T2 this year. We think they’re wrong. And with that, we think it’s Fall-Line’s Alan Kossof and Mark Boden who will duke it out for the top step.
“Yes, it will be close racing among the Porsches,” Kezman agrees, although he foresees other cars leading the pack. “The front of the field will most likely be BMW, Corvette, or Mustang.”
Who does Kezman see battling for the win? “Mark Boden and Kurt Rezzetano...will be strong, as will anyone in a BMW E92 – that thing is a rocket in a straight line.”
“Road America is a track that I have been going to since I was 12-years old,” says two-time Runoffs champ Derek Kulach. “At that time, I was my dad’s crew and would help with anything a kid was allowed to do at the track.
“My first Runoffs I attended in full competition was 2013 at Road America. Since then, I have been back several times and think of Road America as one of my top five favorite tracks. At home on my sim rig, I have run well over 2,000 laps there since it was announced we were going back.”
And we thought Kulach was going to win before he told us this.
His list of potential contenders includes Marshal Mast, Jason Ott, and Rob Hines, with wild cards Richard Baldwin, Jason Knuteson, and Ross Murray.
Michael Borden has basically come out of nowhere and is running at an unbelievable pace, bettering the likes of SCCA racing legend John Heinricy and talented wheelman Nick Leverone. But, with that, Borden admits that the T4 Runoffs race will be like no other he’s experienced.
“I think that the success I've experienced [this season] will help me bring confidence into the Runoffs, but it will be different from the races throughout the season,” Borden admits. “I used other classes to my advantage when I could, but that won't be a factor at the Runoffs.
Jesse Prather showed the true potential of his new BMW Z3 at last year’s VIRginia International Raceway Runoffs. While he didn’t win – largely due to an unforced error – he’s back in full force this year for another shot. He’ll win by a mile – possibly literally.
If Prather’s so fast, will there be any competition for the lead? You betcha. Matt Reynolds, a three-time EP champion in his own right, is fast everywhere he goes. Aaron Downey, meanwhile, has nearly won the Runoffs at Road America, and his RX-3 loves those long straights – he’ll be gunning for that elusive Runoffs win, for sure. And don’t forget three-time Runoffs champ Jon Brakke who scored two of those wins at Road America.
Two-time Runoffs champ Kevin Ruck’s mechanical luck has been horrible for a year and a half, but we have little doubt everything will come together in time for this year’s Runoffs with his powerful Acura Integra and he’ll find himself out front. He is feeling more confident with his dog-box transmission and if his car is on song, he’ll be fast – and he’ll need to be because he’s in some fast company.
Neither Eric Prill nor Sam Henry have had great luck at Road America, but both have shown how competitive they can be at this long track. Prill’s returning to this track with a pair of Runoffs titles to his name, so maybe that extra bit of confidence will be enough to keep his Runoffs winning streak going.
There are a lot of strong contenders in this class, but so far during Runoffs qualifying, Craig Chima and Ethen Shippert have both shown their not-so-aerodynamic Lotus Super 7s might be the cars to have.
Steve Sargis has four pole positions, three wins, and a third at the Runoffs held at Road America. He knows this course – and with a grand total of seven Runoffs titles, there are few people who have been as successful at the Runoffs as he.
That said, Dan Meller has won an HP championship Road America, and Chris Schaafsma finished second at Indy and has a VW sporting plenty of grunt.
And there are plenty of others who could win this one. Vesa Silegren, last year’s champion at VIR, is fast, and VIR is a track not unlike Road America, but the one truly unknown is Mark Brakke in his increasingly speedy Mazda 2.
GT-1 will come down to a race between pro racing powerhouses Ernie Francis Jr. and Tony Ave. We think that Ave comes out on top, but Mike Lewis is no stranger to the top of the podium, Cliff Ebben has been customarily silent but always brings his A-game to Road America, and an improving Dave Ruehlow is likely to be in the lead pack in an Ave Motorsports car and engine.
Few SCCA classes are more of a catchall than GT-2. What package do you want? The proven reliability of the street-based car, like the Porsche of Mark Boden, the Corvette of the scary-fast Andrew Aquilante, or the Viper of Jonathan Start? How about the featherweight stance of the purpose-built, old-school, tube-framed cars like the one Tom Patton wields? The TA2 cars are always a wildcard in the mix, too, and Rhett Barkau and Cliff White are ready with theirs.
We think, come the Runoffs double checker, it’s one of the street-platform cars that will pull it off. Boden and his Fall-Line team have been close, but it’s impossible to bet against Andrew Aquilante, who is more than a contender in every race he enters.
“As we demonstrated last year, you have to be smart enough to leave a good car alone and don’t dial yourself out,” Mike Lewis points out when discussing GT-3. Four or five contenders ended the 2019 VIR Runoffs sitting on the side of the road a year ago, so the question this year is where the balance remains. Pure speed is nice, but not at the expense of going the distance. Expect a little bit of a conservative attitude this year when it comes to car prep.
We would pick Lewis to win, but he’s been a no-show in early Runoffs qualifying sessions this week, leading us to believe this will be Tony Ave’s race. But with Jeff Dernehl, Stacey Wilson, and Taz Harvey in the mix, we simply don’t know what will happen.
Chris Bovis is a three-time GT-L National Champion, with one of those coming at Road America. A win this year could be an emotional one for Bovis – he lost his father, George, this year and his mother last year. They were both great supporters of his racing, and his father served on the Road America Board of Directors and was a past SCCA Board member. That’s some motivation to win.
There are other potent contenders in this class, namely Joe Huffaker, Peter Shadowen, and Jon Goodale, but we anticipate Boden will show them all what GT-Lite is all about.
Picking the winner of a Spec Miata race is like picking the winner of a bar fight before it happens. Honestly, it depends on who's the first to get hit with a chair. That being said, the man of the moment seems to be Preston Pardus. The Florida-based driver picked up second place at VIRginia last year and won the Spec Miata title at Indy two years before.
"I think it's going to be hard," Pardus admits. "I mean, it makes me feel good to be selected [as the possible winner], but I think it's going to be anybody's race. There are several good drivers who have a shot at winning, just like every year. I think Jim Drago, Chris Haldeman, or Danny Steyn could win. Or last year's winner, Todd Buras. Any of us, on any given day, can get the job done."
There are currently 75 entries in the Spec Miata Runoffs field. Pardus believes that 20 of those have the ability to run up front. "I think recent years' results and qualifying show that usually the top 20 are all within a second or so," he says. We checked, and he's right. In fact, early 2020 Runoffs qualifying sessions show the top four positions all running within a tenth of a second of each other.
Others to keep an eye on this year include Voytek Burdzy, Kyle Greenhill, Konrad Czaczyk, Michael Gagliardo, and, well, the list keeps going...
Spec Racer Ford 3
SRF3 entries are neck and neck with Spec Miata, so as usual, the class will be one of the biggest races at the Runoffs. Also, as usual, the field will be packed with prior champions and top contenders from every part of the SCCA. "The pressure is on," says SportsCar's top pick Brian Schofield. "It's Road America, so it's always a crapshoot."
One of the drivers who's sure to be at the front is five-time SRF National Champion Mike Miserendino, and he doesn’t race for second place.
"There are a lot of guys in the field who have a ton of racing experience at Road America," Miserendino points out. "The lead pack is usually eight to 10 cars. Schofield always runs well at Road America, and he's a real master of the draft. He won the June Sprints this year for what seems like the 50th time. I say that with the utmost respect, because his record there is incredible. I also expect my teammate T.J. Acker to be very strong; he led a lot of laps at the Sprints. I am sure Clay Russell will want to keep his title streak alive too. I've yet to win a Gen3 title, so maybe this year."
Others to watch include Franklin Futrelle, Charles Russell Turner, Bobby Sak and, well, at least 15 more drivers.
One final thought from Schofield, which is echoed by drivers from around the country: "I'm really grateful to SCCA for all the work they've done to let us go racing this year."
Formula Enterprises 2
“At the Runoffs, I think Paul Schneider, Russell Turner, Ray Mason, and Max Grau will be the front runners,” says multi-time Formula Enterprises champion Scott Rettich. We anticipate Rettich to be leading the field, and we think this fast group will be joined by the likes of Owen McAllister and T.J. Acker.
With six prior Formula Enterprises championships to his credit, and half of them earned at Road America, Rettich clearly understands both the platform and the track. One factor that will be different this time is that FE2 no longer allows the use of tire warming blankets. In the often-chilly Wisconsin weather, Rettich believes that could make a difference in the opening laps of the race.
"It was 60 degrees F at VIR, and it certainly helped the drivers who had them in the first few laps," Rettich says. "But at Road America where it can be colder, it would make a huge difference – but it's been eliminated. With it being colder, we'll probably race on scuffs rather than sticker tires."
Other new factors for the spec class include a new choice of springs and a weight change. "We have two different spring combinations we can put on the front and on the rear," Rettich explains. "That adds a variable, but I'm not sure how much of a difference it's really going to make. We have some of our cars on one spring package and some on the other. Then they added 20 pounds to our weight. I think most of the contenders were making weight anyway, but it could certainly help out."
SportsCar magazine totally missed this pick. To be fair, when they printed their Runoffs predictions in the October issue, they had no clue Flinn Lazier would enter Formula Atlantic. Had they known, the magazine’s editor assures us he would have been the pick to win.
As it is, though, SportsCar’s choice of Hans Peter to win is a solid one that very well could happen, although it won’t be an easy run for either of them with the likes of Spencer Brockman and Lee Alexander nipping at their heals.
Robert Armington is having a strong year in Formula Continental. He was the class of the field at the June Sprints and should be hard to beat come October. He has also not over complicated his strategy to end on the podium: "Qualify well, get out to the pointy end of the group, and stay out of trouble,” he says.
Rob Allaer has won before, and is unlucky not to have more wins. He is always a threat and may well be the biggest challenge that Armington will have to face this year, although Brandon Dixon is showing tremendous speed.
And, while it’s unlikely he’ll be contending for the win this year, a wild card is Michael Varacins. The seven-time FV champion has slowly become more competitive in FC and we feel it’s only a matter of time before he breaks out in this class, too.
While Formula X is a new class to the Runoffs, for all intents and purposes this year, it’s Formula Mazda under a different name. At the time of this writing, all of the entries are FM Star Mazda cars.
Moses Smith has always sparkled in FM and this may be the year that he takes the top step, although early Runoffs qualifying sessions show he’s got a long row to hoe. Jason Vinkenmulder and Jarret Voorheis will certainly be in the mix, but one to watch this year is Jacob Loomis.
Clint McMahan doesn’t want the honor of being our Formula 500 prediction to win, but when you line up his last Runoffs appearances – a win at VIR, a win at Indy, a pole at Daytona (though bad luck sunk his race early), and a runner-up at Laguna – it’s hard to go anywhere else.
McMahan did list a whole host of potential contenders, though – and it’s a strong list. Calvin Stewart and James Weida are class stalwarts that have a proven track record and made our podium prediction, but McMahan think Eric McCree will surprise some.
“He showed a lot of promise at VIR and made some rookie mistakes, but nonetheless he was fast,” points out McMahan.
When the Formula F field takes the green flag at Road America, the finishing order is always up in the air. But as of late, the Formula F front pack has seen a slew of youngsters slicing and dicing for the coveted SCCA National Championship title. So, who do we think will win in 2020? Veteran racer Tim Kautz.
Bob Perona loves Road America and Jeffrey Bartz landed on the podium before the Runoffs left Road America the last time and has a lot of laps on his home track. Keep an eye on both of them.
Others to watch include Jonathan Kotyk, Max Mallinen, and 19-year-old Simon Sikes.
Last year’s Runoffs at VIR saw an epic battle with the brothers Whitston, Andrew and Zachary, and Hunter Phelps-Barron at the end, and 2020 could see a rematch. But they’re not the only ones who will be fighting for the win in this increasingly difficult class. Expect Andrew Abbott to be in the mix, as well as Whitston dad, Ron.
The only way to sort this out is to put them all on the track and see where the chips fall. But you’re here for a bold prediction, so here’s where we think this lands: Having a brother as a drafting partner is an advantage at Road America. With that in mind, we think it will be Zach’s year to turn the tables on Andrew, but a shove up the front straight from his brother puts Andrew Abbott in between the two.
Although, we could be wrong.
P1 cars are fast, and we expect the fastest laps at this year's Runoffs to come in this class. The fastest of the fast at the June Sprints was the fendered Swift 014.a of James French. French has thousands of miles at Road America, has won numerous races at the track, and should bring his Carl Liebich-engineered Swift home in first if he can shed the mechanical issues he suffered at the Sprints.
French tells us that having lots of laps is an advantage, but the sprint nature of SCCA races is king. "We have a few things planned and hopefully it will be enough,” he says. “I have a terrible history of getting third at this event and would love to finally find victory."
When French's car failed him in June, Chip Romer took Sunday's win. Romer is fast and consistent and will certainly be in the mix.
But there’s another driver who possibly has even more miles at Road America than French. Jason Miller lives but a shout away and has raced here for more years than he cares to remember. He has numerous wins at the track, but though he has raced at the Runoffs since 1996, he has never snagged the gold.
Others in the mix include Daryl Shoff and Todd Vanacore, plus two-time winner Jim Devenport. Also, let us not forget James French's father, Brian French, who has clocked even more miles here in a variety of cars, and who won FA at the Runoffs 20 years ago.
In P2, things look Tim Day's way. He says that Elkhart "is a driver's track, and the high-speed corners are a good fit for the Stohr and my driving style."
Barring mechanical gremlins, he is ready. "The setup is fine-tuned, the car is balanced and running flawlessly and that is a confidence booster,” he reveals.
His strongest competition will be Robert Iversen, Greg Gyann, and Mike Reupert, but one more to watch is Tray Ayres, who has added P2 to his SRF driving and won the class at last year’s Runoffs.
Photo by Jeff Loewe