The Contenders: Touring classes

Mazda drivers have a good shot at Touring 4, and one even has a chance in Touring 1 at the SCCA National Championship Runoffs

Among the Touring classes at this year’s SCCA National Championship Runoffs, taking place Sept. 25-Oct. 1 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Touring 4 is where a Mazda driver has the best shot at a National Championship, but one driver is keeping that dream alive in Touring 1, as well. 

Marc Hoover has built a very fast 1994 Miata in which he has been setting Touring 1 track records all over the West Coast. He’ll have a tougher time continuing that at Indianapolis, but he certainly has to be considered one of the favorites. SportsCar magazine, SCCA’s official publication, named Hoover to finish second among a host of Mustangs Bosses, Corvettes, Porsches and Vipers. He’s joined in the class by Chris Edens in a 1990 Mazdaspeed Miata.

There are a few Mazdas in Touring 3, as well – a class that will share its Indy track time with B-Spec. None of them are favorites for a victory, but Mazda will be represented by RX-8s (Raymond and Stephen Blethen, and Tim Mullen) and a couple MX-5s (Paul Kwiecinski and Timothy Wise, who’s also racing the MX-5 in T4).

Jim Drago came close to winning a Touring 4 National Championship in his MX-5 in 2016, but he’s not racing the class this year. While SportsCar predicts Mazda drivers will be chasing defending champion Oscar Jackson Jr., it could be an RX-8, not an MX-5, that has the best shot given Indy’s long straights. Of those, Don Knowles may have the best opportunity. The Southeast Conference T4 champ has many national championships to his name and is a crafty racer who can pick up a track quickly. Knowles won’t be the only RX-8, either; other rotary-powered T4 cars will include those driven by Raymond Blethen, Tim Myers, Lance Stewart and 2016 T1 National Champion Ross Murray, who has limited time in his freshly built RX-8, but has been quick in it so far.

Leading the NC MX-5 contingent in T4 is Ryan Kowaleski. After finishing third in his Runoffs debut at Mid-Ohio in 2016, he’d like to make up a few spots, but whether the twisty sections of Indianapolis Motor Speedway will allow him to overcome a power deficit on the straight won’t be revealed until qualifying begins on Sept. 25. But Kowaleski will be far from alone in chasing Runoffs glory in an MX-5. Eleven more are currently registered, including Kevin Fryer, who cracked the top 10 last year; James Ebben, who was 11th; and Thomas Bernacki. Bernacki has been running quite well in SCCA’s Northern Conference, including a second at the June Sprints and wins at other Majors races. Beyond that, NC MX-5 racers include Christopher Collins, Thomas Hart, L. Lowell Huston, Richard James, Ron Munnerlyn, Steve Strickland, Timothy Wise and Jon Yanca. Mike Burke joins them in an NB Miata.

The fourth Mazda model in the Touring 4 field is the Mazda3. Derrick Ambrose won the Western Conference in one, and could do quite well at the Runoffs with the good speed that car has on the straights. Ali Naimi, who has been racing an MX-5, is also expected to bring a Mazda3 to the Runoffs, as is Steven Christopher.