This article first appeared in the September/October, 2021 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. While much of this information was targeted specifically at Road America at the time, much of it can still be applied to the Runoffs this year at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and for years to come.
With the 2021 National Championship Runoffs returning to Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sept. 25-Oct. 3, all we know for sure is that anything can happen. Here’s our best guess of what could happen...although we’re probably wrong.
Four years ago, National Championship Runoffs competitors and workers had no idea what to expect. The Runoffs had begun its yearly track rotation in 2014, following a five-year stint of SCCA’s championship road racing event at Road America. But while the racetracks the Runoffs had attended from 2014-’16 were all big names – WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Daytona International Speedway, and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course – none drew attention like Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
This is not to speak poorly of the tracks the Runoffs has competed on since 1964, but the Brickyard was special, and everyone knew it. By the time the final checker flew on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, the Runoffs entry count tallied up at 969, some 250 entries higher than the prior record. Impressive.
Since 2017, the Runoffs has traveled to Sonoma Raceway, VIRginia International Raceway, and Road America – and, this year, the Runoffs returns to Indy on Sept. 25-Oct. 3.
Nobody is expecting the entry count to beat the 2017 record, but it won’t be far off. Case in point, at the time of this writing in early August, the entry count was at a mind bending 888, with a few classes standing above the rest.
B-Spec is a fascinating class. The slowest of the road racing classes, it also has one of the lowest weekend-to-weekend participation averages. Yet as of this writing, the B-Spec entry list stood at 59, beating each of the three classes in the always-popular Production category. And then there’s SRF3 with 86 entries and Spec Miata sporting a 97-car field.
Granted, those numbers will remain fluid until the final green flag of the championship week, but regardless, they prove the popularity of Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a venue for SCCA’s winner-take-all National Championship event, the historic Runoffs.
However, high entry counts bring with them all kinds of logistical issues, from workers shuffling racecars on and off the track in a timely manner, to the flow of paddock traffic, to yellow-flag conditions, to potential Last Chance qualifying races for classes exceeding 60 entries. At the same time, stratospheric entries also mean winning will be that much more difficult.
Expect to see several “dark horse” drivers, as we call them – hot-shoe Regional racers simply checking off a bucket-list track, who wow the crowd with unexpected podium performances. There are also well-known National drivers who put their all into this particular season because, hey, it’s Indy. In 2017, we saw that come in three GT classes, with GT-1’s David Pintaric, GT-3’s Collin Jackson, and GT-Lite’s Chris Bovis all raising already impressive bars.
These surreally high entry counts also mean our job as Runoffs prognosticators is insanely difficult. On the pages that follow come our predictions for what could happen come Oct. 1-3, 2021, when the green flags drop on 26 National Championship races. Are our predictions correct? It’s highly unlikely. We took the safe road on some – picking Andrew Aquilante to win is hardly going out on a limb – but as we saw in 2017 in American Sedan, Formula 500, and Touring 4, absolutely anything can (and will) happen at the Runoffs. So, if we forgot to mention you as a potential winner, don’t get mad, get even – by winning!
Before you turn the page and jump into our Runoffs predictions, be sure to check out scca.com/runoffs for not only the latest Runoffs event schedule, but also for a link to the free live stream of the races come the Oct. 1-3 race weekend. You see, while we will report on the behind-the-scenes racing drama come the next issue of SportsCar, you can watch the action unfold on track as it happens.
Now you can turn the page...
Eight-time American Sedan National Champion Andy McDermid had a rough week the last time the Runoffs was held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A crash early in the week sent him home to repair his Mustang; repaired and back on track, his car broke during the race and left him sidelined. This year, he plans to correct that result, and he’s our pick to win.
“I have unfinished business at Indy,” he says. “That place sure owes me one. I'm thinking that Greg Eaton, Amy Aquilante, Danny Richardson, Phil Smith, and some others I'm sure I forgot to mention are looking like threats for the top step on the podium. AS is looking like a growing class again, and that's exciting.”
American Sedan is racing under new rules that boost competitiveness of restricted preparation level cars, and that could affect the competition. “I think the restricted prep cars will be very fast,” McDermid predicts. “Amy Aquilante has been racing one and she was very fast in it. At the Cat National, John Heinricy was in one. They’ve leveled the playing field a lot with the rules. It’s a great thing.”
Another class with impressive growth is B-Spec. Since none of them have power to speak of, the diminutive B-Spec cars are all about handling. David Daughtery is our pick to claim his 11th career SCCA National Championship this year, but he could have his hands full with both new talent and the established drivers in the field.
“I think it's going to be an interesting race,” he says. “B-Spec continues to grow and attract new talent. We’ve got 55 cars entered in the race. This year’s fast drivers will include Kyle Keenan, my son Chris Daughtery, John Phillips, and Steve Introne. Charlie Valdez from Texas and Frank Schwartz in his Mini Cooper will be strong. Then you've got Stuart Black, he's making great progress. He could be a player. And you've got Tony Roma, Brandon Vivian, and Sergio Zlobin.”
One big change that could shake up the B-Spec results is a tweak to the Mazda2’s balance of performance by the Club racing Board. “I think it's going to be kind of a stranglehold up front with Mini Coopers and maybe a couple of Mazda2s in there,” Daughtery says. “But I think it's going to be a heck of a race. It won't be a snoozer!”
Super Touring Lite
Our pick to win STL is Danny Steyn, who won back-to-back championships in 2018 and ’19, and finished second last year. But he’ll have a hard challenge from last year’s winner, Joe Moser.
“This is a really interesting race because you always have your known unknowns, and you always have your unknown unknowns,” Steyn says. “Joe Moser has played the greatest poker game known to man, because he has not shown his new car once – not once. He has converted his old car, which easily beat me, over to STU, and I'm sure he's one of the favorites there. He's built a new car for STL.”
“We just tested the new STL CRX for the first time [earlier this year] at Road America,” Moser responds, “and it was excellent – much stronger than expected.”
In addition to Steyn and Moser, the list of contenders in STL is impressive. “There are seven or eight who are capable of winning,” Steyn says. “The Honda drivers are always going to be quick. They have an engine and a weight advantage on us, so Max Gee and Greg Maloy are going to be there, and Mike Taylor will be a contender. Then, in the master camp, Craig McHaffie and David Palfenier will be up front, for sure.”
Super Touring Under
As mentioned, 2020 STL champion Joe Moser has taken his winning car to STU, where he previously won the 2016 National Championship.
“We had heard over and over again that winning STU would take big money,” Moser says, “and that small displacement, naturally aspirated cars didn't have a chance. After running through countless lap simulations to estimate what a small-displacement, front-drive CRX could do, we decided we had a chance. Chad LeBeau and King Motorsports put together a killer B20-VTEC engine, we bolted it into the STL CRX, and headed down to Florida in the winter to try it out. It was a huge success at Sebring and Homestead, with two new track records and huge smiles on my end.”
Drivers who will be there to compete with Moser include a laundry list of STU contenders, which includes the likes of Eric Heinrich, who is once again trying his hand at small-displacement STU performance in his E30 M3.
“My old friend Kip VanSteenburg is always a rocket and is bringing back his championship-winning Porsche 944 S2,” Moser adds. “I've never raced against Chip Herr, personally, but my King Motorsports colleagues vouch for his driving skills and top-notch car. I hope to see David Fiorelli, our 2020 STU pole winner, too. Finally, you have the huge South Florida STU contingent. Our 2020 champion Paul Azan, Jorge Ortiz, and Jose Pena tend to lead the pack from this group and will absolutely be threats to win it all.”
A lesser driver might have shrugged his shoulders and walked away after twice snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. But 10-time SCCA National Champion Andrew Aquilante likes his chances of claiming title number 11 – it would be his sixth in Touring 1 – at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this fall.
Aquilante was en route to that sixth T1 title in a wet Runoffs race at VIR two years ago when a timing chain broke on the final lap, handing the win to class arch-rival Mark Boden. In the lead again at Road America last fall, a tie rod broke on lap 10, with Boden once more capitalizing on Aquilante’s misfortune.
“Yes, OK, I was leading the past two years,” Aquilante explains. “However, one race was in the wet and in the other race, Mark [Boden] was all over me and had the superior car but couldn’t make it happen. It's one of those things: We’re fighting with less horsepower, more weight, less tire, [but] we’re still in the front.”
Aquilante has prioritized his GT-2 effort this summer, spending only a minimal amount of time in his familiar Phoenix Performance Ford Mustang. Indy, though, with its challenging infield, was the site of his most recent T1 championship in 2017, and he likes his chances, although there is no overlooking his Fall-Line Motorsports challengers, who SportsCar’s editorial team has picked to fill out the T1 podium:
“Mark’s BMW M3 will be very strong, and Tim [Kezman] will be pretty strong as well,” Aquilante says. “Tim doesn’t have as much time in the car as Mark, but that car in the hands of anybody – as we saw last year with Tom, who hopped in it at the last minute for the Runoffs – it’s a strong car. I don’t expect there to be anyone showing up out of left field like what we had at Sonoma.”
In T2, T1 front-runner Andrew Aquilante likes Phoenix Performance teammate Kurt Rezzetano’s chances as much as SportsCar’s editors who placed him just above the Fall-Line pair in their Who Will Win the Runoffs? estimation.
“This year, clearly, it was a level playing field for the V8 cars [like ours],” says Aquilante. “We feel a lot better.”
Rezzetano, who has a pair of T2 National Championship titles, will be chased by a trio of six-cylinder, Fall-Line Porsches driven by Mark and Joe Boden, plus Tim Kezman. Mark is the defending T2 champ, taking over a recovering-from-injury Kezman’s Porsche 996 and claiming a popular Runoffs victory on his home track, Road America – a win made even more memorable for son Joe, the third-place finisher, joining him on the podium.
Of the 20-plus T2 racers set to take to the track, there are quite a few who could nose into the action – like Charlie Peter, who put his BMW in second place at last year’s Runoffs. In fact, we’d be shocked if he didn’t prove our podium prediction wrong.
Marshall Mast, the third Phoenix Performance driver picked by SportsCar this year to win a Touring class, has never missed a podium finish in his four Runoffs appearances. Indeed, the Narvon, Pa., native made it almost look easy at Road America last fall, qualifying on the pole and outrunning nearest challenger Jason Ott into Turn 1 twice – once at the start and again on the restart after a long mid-race red flag – to claim his second National Championship crown.
Indy is quite a different challenge than Road America, though, and Coloradoan Ott’s nimble BMW Z4 should give Mast’s potent Ford Mustang a real run – and with six top-five Runoffs finishes to his name, Ott is gunning for more.
Meanwhile, keep an eye on ex-EP and STL Mazda driver Breton Williams. Sixth in last year’s Runoffs, the Iowan is a serious dark-horse pick.
A fourth 2021 Touring National Championship for Phoenix Performance? Possibly, as evergreen, 74-year-old, 15-time National Champ John Heinricy once again will park his Toyota 86 under the Pennsylvania team’s tent. But in T4, we’re going a different route this year and selecting OPM Autosport major domo Tom Fowler to claim the gold – albeit with Heinricy on his tail.
Fowler, once noted for speed in a Honda Civic, stepped away for several years, but returned with a Mazda RX-8 in 2019 for the Runoffs at VIR and was an immediate T4 frontrunner. Note that Fowler's Georgia-based OPM Autosports team also includes Danny Steyn, our pick to win both Spec Miata and STL, and this year Fowler has entered T4 in an NC MX-5 – the same chassis Steyn runs.
Meanwhile, we anticipate that Chi Ho will turn a disappointing 2020 run into a podium finish this year. Ho was fast at the 2017 Runoffs at Indy, but we’re unsure if his heavier BMW will be able to keep pace with the nimble 86s and MX-5s in the long run.
Jesse Prather is pretty confident, and he has reason to be. He has, after all, won every race he’s entered in his BMW Z3 for the past two seasons. On top of that, Prather is an excellent driver, and his BMW is incredibly reliable. But a win at the Runoffs is not going to be easy.
Three-time EP champion Matt Reynolds and two-time EP podium finisher John Hainsworth are incredibly fast and consistent, and they were on the podium with Prather last year. Then factor in that past EP National Champ Jon Brakke is entered with a BMW Z3 sporting a Prather-built engine.
Bill Lamkin will be there driving a BMW 328, while past Formula Mazda champion Mike Anderson will be wheeling a BMW 325is.
There’s a rumor that Skip Van Steenburg acquired a BMW as well, but as of press time, he’s entered in a Porsche 914-6. Regardless, he’ll be fast.
So far, Aaron Downey, Peter Norton, and Tim Schreyer are not entered, but if they come, they’ll be fast.
The rationale behind the choice of Craig Chima to win is that if a Lotus can win at Road America, it can win at Indy. Also, Chima is quite a wheelman. Chima believes the Lotus could win, too, and intends to work hard to ensure that it does, but he knows there are several racers who will do their best to ensure it does not.
For his part, Chima has made improvements to his car, including revised front and rear suspensions, and he was very competitive at Mid-Ohio and in Pittsburgh. Despite that, he’s quick to point out that both Kevin Ruck and Charlie Campbell were faster than him at Watkins Glen, and that Eric Prill won the last time the Runoffs came to Indy.
These three aren’t the only fast drivers in FP, though. For starters, there’s the Mazda Miata gang, which includes Sam Henry and Campbell, along with Mason Workman and David Bednarz. Rick Harris is entered in an Acura Integra this year, he and he’s fast in whatever he drives. Then there’s Chuck Mathis, who works magic in his Volkswagen Rabbit. But one not to count out is Cliff Ira, who will be there in a Honda Del Sol.
Variety, they say, is the spice of life – and from the looks of it, this year’s FP race should prove quite spicy.
Here’s how you pick the podium for one of the most highly stressed, small engine classes at the Runoffs: You look at experience, then for consistency, and finally at recent race results. Experience and consistency lead directly to Steve Sargis and his seriously fast Triumph Spitfires. He has won eight National Championships and has been on the podium 19 times in three classes, always in a Triumph Spitfire. He’s our pick to win, and likely no one in this 40-plus car field would disagree.
Still, in the “recent race results” category, there’s a weakness. “I absolutely hand grenaded two motors in two sessions at the June Sprints,” Sargis notes. But fear not, as he’s not only building a new engine so his son can run a couple of races, but he’s prepping one for the Runoffs for himself.
That uncertainty adds a bit of optimism for his opponents. Certainly, Eric Vickerman will be optimistic that his speed and a great car will gain him the gold. Chris Schaafsma will be looking for the top spot with his speedy VW. And Vesa Silegren certainly wants to be a repeat winner in his Honda CRX.
Danny Steyn has two SCCA National Championships to his name, but while they both came in a Miata, neither were in Spec Miata. Still, with five top-10 Spec Miata finishes at the Runoffs, Steyn is a fast and consistent force in the class, and he’s also our pick to take top honors this year. A risky prediction? Perhaps, but be it at the Runoffs, the June Sprints, Hoosier Super Tours, or beyond, Steyn has proven he has what it takes.
But before we hand him the champagne, there’s a long line of prominent Spec Miata drivers – including past champions – who would like to have a word.
Last year’s champ is Preston Pardus, whose victory put him in the much smaller club of repeat SM champions. Pardus moonlights as a NASCAR Xfinity Series driver when he’s not at the Runoffs, and he took his first Spec Miata crown at Indy in 2017. Two-time champion Jim Drago and 2019 champion Todd Buras are also among the 90-some drivers (and counting) planning to race their Miatas at Indy.
Yet no one knows the competitive landscape better than Steyn, and he’s realistic about the challenge he faces. “If I were to consider all the usual suspects, there have to be at least 20 drivers capable of beating me at any time, and all 20 of them have,” Steyn says. “Obviously, you'd never rule out the East Street gang, so that would include Jim Drago, Preston Pardus, and Todd Buras. I think together they've got five wins, so you cannot eliminate them.”
That’s just the start. If you consider the Super Tour standings, Steyn is in the lead, but he’s closely followed by Drago, Elivan Goulart, Pardus, Travis Wiley, Nick Leverone, Charles Mactutus, and Ryan Gutile, all of whom have entered this year’s Runoffs. Brandon Collins could be a wild card; he’s currently leading the U.S. Majors Tour points for the Northern Conference, and he’s entered as well.
“We've got some amazing young guys,” Steyn says. “Charles Mactutus, who's 24, and Connor Zilisch, the world championship karter. He's only 14 or maybe 15 now. and then Travis Wiley from Texas. So, there's a bunch of young, fast guys you just cannot ignore. And then you've also got Konrad Czaczyk from Florida, who was there last year – he was very close to winning it last year.”
In 2017 at Indy, Steyn finished second on track, but lost the position during post-race tech. “My car was not compliant,” he says. “They did absolutely the right thing in disqualifying me. It was embarrassing, to say the least. So, yes, there's some unfinished business and I hope to show that I was worthy of that second place and hopefully worthy of the first place this time.”
Steyn has reasons to be confident that he can make it work this year at Indianapolis.
“What makes Indy so appealing for me in particular is that you're in a continuous state of weight transfer,” he says. “You're hovering on this delicate balance of slipping and sliding, either understeer up front or a little bit of oversteer in the rear. It's like driving on ice, and the trick is to not overheat the tires. But this really does fall into my wheelhouse because I love being on the verge of drifting. If you give me a wet day, I'm very happy. So that’s a bit of an equalizer.
“Of all the tracks that could give me a shot in Spec Miata, this is the one that gives me the best shot, and I came pretty close to it in 2017,” Steyn concludes. “I'm hoping to come back and show that I can do it in Spec Miata.”
David Pintaric will happily admit that he wants to be a race car driver when he grows up, and still pictures himself winning the Indianapolis 500 before reality sets in. So, when he won the GT-1 National Championship at the Brickyard in 2017, it was a true dream come true.
It’s hard to argue with the power of dreams, and because of that – along with a brand-new Tony Ave/Bob Riley collaborative Trans-Am car that will run for the first time at this year’s Runoffs – Pintaric is our choice in GT-1 this year.
The track is special to him, and his memories of the last win are bittersweet. Pintaric’s father passed away less than 30 days after his win, and there would be nothing sweeter than picking up a second win in 2021.
But it won’t be easy. Mike Lewis is always a contender, though the question is whether the old Jaguar XKR has enough legs in the motor to hold on. Jordan Bupp has been quick all year long and won in Trans Am 2 at Indianapolis in 2018. Dave Ruehlow comes with Ave Motorsports power, and James McAleese is sneaky good when overlooked. All will be contenders.
Oh, but there’s a wild card: Rain. If that happens, keep an eye out for Thomas Herb and his Porsche 911.
No one is foolish enough to bet against Andrew Aquilante in GT-2, especially with Kevin Allen sitting out Indianapolis to prep his tube-framed Nissan for his home track of VIR next year. Yet Aquilante’s biggest concern is the weight of his Corvette and how that might affect both the green flag start and the end of the race.
If tire management becomes an issue on the Phoenix Performance Corvette, watch out for the Fall-Line crew. Tim Kezman and Mark Boden are our podium selections in the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars, which should be good to the end.
Of course, a GT-2 wild card is the Trans-Am 2 cars. Is this the year someone pilots one to the top of the podium? Also, could Pete Peterson have a resurgence? Almost anything can happen in this wild class.
Like always, to win GT-3 you must finish in GT-3. As we’ve seen in these highly stressed cars, reliability can be more important than speed.
Our best indicator may well be the finishes from Mazda’s GT-3 Challenge, which has provided a “regular season” of sorts for these cars. Taz Harvey leads the points, but our pick this year is Mike Lewis in his Mazda. Lewis is the defending champ, and his team has seemingly dialed in that car over the past couple of seasons as he’s made a return to his younger days.
But it’s tight beyond that – the GT-3 field at this year’s Runoffs is full of talent. Lewis’ quickest West Coast rival, Troy Ermish, is next in line for us this year. And then there’s Tony Ave who will certainly be a contender.
At press time, there are 21 GT-3 cars on the entry list and almost any of them could win. Take your pick – former champ Stacy Wilson or newcomer and son Blake Wilson? Harvey or Paul Young or Joe Kristensen? Rob Warkocki could be right there. Take your pick.
Although Chris Bovis points out that Runoffs performance is difficult to predict, his appearance at the Indianapolis Runoffs in 2017 makes him an easy choice for the gold. Plus, Peter Shadowen, arguably Bovis’ top competitor, is taking this year off. Plus, Bovis just had a very successful weekend at Road America, where he says the car felt normal. “I think we’re well prepared,” he says, adding, “But I thought that last year, also.”
Super consistent Joe Huffaker will do everything he can to make sure Bovis’ preparation isn’t enough, but it will be a challenge, especially with the likes of Michael Lewis. Lewis was the meat in an ugly three-car sandwich last year, but his car is back together and as gorgeous as ever, so we expect him to be in the hunt.
However, that hunt will also involve a few others, including Brian Linn and Scott Twomey. So, while we don’t anticipate Bovis having any issues with the win this year, the remaining two steps are anyone’s guess.
Spec Racer Ford 3
Attempting to predict a winner in the SRF3 Runoffs race is risky business. Any given Runoffs field in SRF3 is bound to feature at least half a dozen racers of top-notch caliber, with often more than 10 prior National Champions. That said, our pick to take gold this year is Mike Miserendino, which is about as safe as any choice can be.
With five prior SCCA National Championships and seven more podium finishes in SRF and SRF3 to his credit, Miserendino is often the man to beat. “I don't think I have delivered the last few times I have been picked, but maybe I can straighten that out this year,” Miserendino jokes. “I expect the field to be absolutely stacked, with John Black, Brian Schofield, Scott Rettich, Bobby Sak, Denny Stripling, T.J. Acker, Franklin Futrelle, Clay Russell, and others. I could go on and on. If you add up the National Championships on the entry list, I bet the number is over 20, and I bet the podium count is over 50.”
He’s not far off with that. Glancing down the standings for the Hoosier Super Tour and the various Conference Majors results, the list of names is familiar to anyone who follows the class. Past Runoffs Champion James Goughary is first in the Hoosier Super Tour and Northeast Conference. The balance of Super Tour standings is a gaggle of talented SRF drivers, including Schofield, Turner, and Black. Bobby Sak is atop the Northern Conference point standings, and Denny Stripling leads in the Mid-States Conference. Caleb Shrader, meanwhile, is leading the Western Conference and could be a dark horse contender at Indy.
But back to Miserendino... The last time the Runoffs took place at Indy, Miserendino claimed the championship in SRF and took second in SRF3. “The SRF3 race at Indy in 2017 turned into a two-car race between me and Tray Ayers,” Miserendino recalls. “I don't expect that to happen this year. I bet we have a five to seven car race for the lead the whole time.”
When the bench is that deep, every driver has to have a plan, and the smart ones are a little bit cagey about exactly what that plan might be.
“There’s no new approach for me,” Miserendino insists. “I just try and make sure my car is handling well over practice and qualifying, and then drive mistake-free for the race and hope for the best.
“It is an honor to be able to race at Indy again, and I really appreciate all the folks at SCCA who make it happen.”
Formula Enterprises 2
There’s a lot of cross over between SRF3 and Formula Enterprises 2; both managed out of SCCA Enterprises. And one driver who will race in both classes is Scott Rettich, who is our choice to win FE2.
“Our team has had a great season and we have had multiple new drivers run FE2 with us this year,” Rettich says. “We have been more focused on our FE2 customers than my own personal program, but I have had the opportunity to run more events recently to get prepared for the Runoffs. I think we will be a serious contender for the win, but there are many drivers who have a great shot at the win this year.”
With six prior championships in the first Formula Enterprises class, and then eight more podium finishes to his credit, Rettich would be a leading driver in any estimation.
Another series contender includes Bailey Monette, who is not only leading the Hoosier Super Tour standings (as of press time), but he beat Rettich on Sunday at this year’s June Sprints. He’s also featured on this month’s cover of SportsCar. In fact, we wouldn’t be at all surprised if he won.
It’s truly a tossup between Rettich and Monette, and we foresee Max Grau sitting a car length behind, waiting to capitalize. Yet Grau won’t be the only one waiting to pounce. In the Northern Conference, Dean Opperman, Jason Pribyl, and James Libecco each have two Majors wins. In the Western Conference, Jeff Read is leading, and T.J. Acker has been on the podium at every race he has attended, including three wins. Three-time champion Darryl Wills leads the Mid-States Conference, while in the competitive Southeast Conference, Charles Russel Turner leads with five wins. Robert Vanman leads the Southern Conference. Any of these drivers could make a play at the front of the grid.
The Formula Atlantic picture is complicated this year, and according to Hans Peter – our pick to win this year – “the older cars have an advantage, and people who own [Swift] 16s are not doing many SCCA races. I had to make sure that I had a competitive car, so Mirl Swan has prepared a special 014.a for me.”
Peter has won this class at the Runoffs in 2007 but has been largely absent ever since (although he did return to the Runoffs in 2020 to score a silver FA medal). But his skill combined with the preparation of multi-time champion Mirl Swan should be enough to see Peter notch the win.
The competition is mixed but should be led by the defending National Champion Spencer Brockman, who will also be in a Swift 014.a. Lee Alexander and Mirl Swan are also in 014.a cars and will be competitive.
Keith Grant will likely lead the Swift 016.a entrants – and he won the last time the Runoffs was at Indy. Meanwhile, 14-year-old phenom Austin Hill is driving a Pro Formula Mazda while Jim Booth has a Ligier JS53. The dark horse in this is P1 champ James French, who is piloting a 30-year-old Ralt RT-41.
The Formula Continental class is awash with Van Diemens of various vintages with the occasional Citation thrown into the mix. The Citations appear to be the ticket at the moment, as our picks for the first two spots are both in that chassis. We like the chances of John LaRue, who last won Runoffs gold in 2016. His strongest challenger will be young Simon Sikes, who ran multiple classes at last year’s Runoffs and landed a first and a second for his efforts. He’s been very active in Club and pro series this season and is fully capable of upsetting our prediction.
Rob Allaer seems to have the fastest Van Diemen, and he’s won the Runoffs twice in the past. He will have his son Nolan to contend with in another Van Diemen – Nolan is not only fast on his own but has beaten the "old man" on occasion.
Also, look for Tim Minor in a Citation, and the Van Diemen mounted Michael Varacins, Bill Johnson, Chuck Moran, and Brian Tomasi to also be in the picture.
Formula X is new class with a lot of variables. And, while this is the new home for ex-Formula Mazda cars, other chassis have proven to be potent. Foremost among these is the Elan DP-08, which is best known as being the former USF-2000 pro chassis. Our picks for the top two spots are driving Elans and, in our view, will be dominant.
In first place should be Austin Hill. Now hold on, you say, he’s just a kid. True, Hill is all of 14-years old, but he has displayed skill well beyond his years. He has been racing in FA and FX with SCCA, and he also competes in SCCA Pro Racing-sanctioned FRP series. And he has been winning.
Hill is going in with his eyes open, saying that this is the biggest race of the year and that everyone will be bringing their A game. “I can't make any mistakes,” Hill notes. “I have to qualify good to have a great start to the race. I want to approach this race as a normal race and try to remain relaxed yet focused.”
Robert Wright should be Hill's strongest challenger, while Melvin Kemper should be keeping pace in a former Formula Mazda. The dark horse is James Goughary in a Ligier.
Regardless, everyone will be chasing the young Austin Hill.
Last year’s Formula F Runoffs race was an instant classic, and that’s as good a place as any to start with this year’s prediction. Tim Kautz crossed the line first a year ago, but a pass under the yellow saw him moved in the final results. Simon Sykes was just behind, followed by Bob Perona. Jonathan Kotyk was in the mix for most of the race as well.
This year, we’re going to pick Sykes to repeat and take the checkered flag on the track. That comes with a twist, however – he’s having a fantastic season in USF2000 on the Road to Indy, but hasn’t spent time in the Formula F. Will that competition and success help his confidence, or will removing the wing for the first time all season throw him off his game? We’re betting on the latter.
The experience of Kautz and Perona can’t be discounted, though, and we expect both to land on the podium for the second consecutive year. Kotyk will expect to be in the mix, and the last we saw Joe Colasacco, he was running second in Formula Continental at the Runoffs in 2019. In short, with long straightaways at Indy, it’s anybody’s race.
Formula Vee is just as wide open. To start with, we can look at a couple of families – the Whitstons and the Abbotts. Andrew and Zach Whitston shared the podium two years ago, and Andrew Abbott joined them. Last year, Chris Jennerjahn broke through with a National Championship, slipping ahead of “the Andrews” – Whitston and Abbott, respectively, to take the win.
As always, the name of the game in Formula Vee will be avoiding the chaos. Jennerjahn, an Indy native, saw his race end in 2017 with a Turn 1 crash. The young guns, which include Hunter Phelps-Barron, Brian Farnham, and Alex Scaler, will keep the brothers Whitston, Abbott, and veterans Rick Shields, Roger Siebenaler, and Jonathon Weisheit busy.
This year, however, we think Andrew Whitston returns to the top step. He’s acknowledged that, in addition to talent and skill, it will also take a little bit of luck to be there. If that luck comes through, he’ll hold the gold medal.
It’s nearly impossible to look at the Formula 500 race and not choose Clint McMahan to win. For starters, he hasn’t lost a Runoffs in four years (though he skipped the West Coast swing in 2018). To be the best, you have to beat the best, and McMahan is the pick until proven otherwise.
So, who completes the podium? Calvin Stewart is always fast and prepared, and the former champ is the likely bet to challenge McMahan. We expect him to finish with the silver medal.
We’ve got our eye on a handful of others as podium contenders. Ryan Mayfield is McMahan’s protégé, moving from sim racing to the real world and making his first Runoffs start this year. James Weida is always right there, always consistent, and ready to pounce on any mistakes.
Our pick for third is a bolder choice at first glance. Sven de Vries has made just one career Runoffs appearance, but it came at Indianapolis in 2017. He started 11th, and he then drove all the way to a runner-up finish. He has the speed to make the run, and we’ve got our eye on him to do it.
The P1 class has a mix of chassis, with the Elan DP-02 being an odds-on favorite – especially considering the drivers behind the wheel. Regardless, the one to watch is last year's Runoffs champion James French, who is piloting a fendered Swift 014.a – the one he won with last year. He has raced for his father Brian's team for years, and his Carl Liebich-prepared cars always run up front. He had a memorable win at the June Sprints this year, too, threading his way from last through a field of P1s and Atlantics.
"Our team has put a ton of work into developing this package, and I am confident that the performance we found will carry over to Indy,” French tells us. “The competition has been quite good and the closest battle I've had was with Chip Romer."
Indeed, Chip Romer has proven to be French's strongest competitor, and he has notched a number of wins, including the Saturday go at the June Sprints. He will continue to be a thorn in French's side, and if French falters, Romer will be there for the win.
Other Elans in the picture include those of Todd Vanacore, John McAleer, and Darryl Shoff, all of whom have Hoosier Super Tour wins.
Lee Alexander has the fastest Stohr at the moment. Jim Devenport is, as usual, the joker in the mix. He has two Runoffs championships driving the Norma, but this year he also has an Elan DP-02 at his disposal – it is anticipated that he will test both and select whichever proves faster.
In the P2 race, our pick is for Tim Day to continue his winning ways. Day was first in 2018, second last year, and is always in the hunt – we expect no less in Indianapolis. And, to that end, Day has been working on improvements. "In the off season, we embarked on a major development project,” Day reports. “We switched from the Hayabusa motor to a modern 2017-’21 Suzuki 1L Gixxer in our Stohr WF-1. Running the smaller motor allows us to remove 150lbs. We saw no reduction in lap times at Road America [which he won], but it is still early in the development process. Nevertheless, I have increased confidence in the car.”
Day's opposition is deep this year, with several drivers hoping to take the gold. Day sees last year's champion Greg Gyann as his toughest competitor. "Greg and his team have evolved and have raised the bar,” says Day. “He was the first to take the leap and switch to the Suzuki 1L Gixxer in the Stohr. It has worked for him.”
Our pick for second is a bit out of the ordinary. Bob Iverson is running a Ligier JS49 and has been fast. The Ligier has great acceleration and approaches P1 top speeds on the long straights. He has been knocking at the door and may walk through at Indy.
Tray Ayres has shown himself to be a front-runner in his move up to the P2 class. He has an Elan DP-02 and it would not be surprising to see him add P2 to the two gold medals he has collected in Spec Racer Ford.
Meanwhile, Lucian Pancea has dogged Day's heels the last couple years. Day has a lot of respect for his talent and says that Pancea is an experienced driver who "has raced me very hard and clean at the June Sprints. He is very competitive, and I'd expect no less at the Runoffs.”
Photo by Jeff Loewe