Will home track advantage be the deciding factor at the 2018 SCCA National Championship Runoffs?
Spec Miata rarely provides clear favorites for a National Championship Runoffs race. Who would have predicted last year’s outcome, where Preston Pardus, who hadn’t won a U.S. Majors Tour race to that point, would come out on top of a fierce race-long battle? This year, though, is an exception. When one of the strongest Spec Miata competitors in the country calls Sonoma Raceway home, however, picking a favorite becomes much easier.
Mark Drennan is about as obvious of a pick to win the Runoffs in Spec Miata as there has ever been. Not only is Sonoma his home track, he’s returned to SCCA Road Racing after a couple of seasons in the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup, with the Runoffs at Sonoma being his singular focus. Drennan wants this win bad, especially after missing out on a NASA Championship at Sonoma and getting caught up in the Spec Miata turmoil during the 2014 Runoffs at Laguna Seca.
“I’m going to do everything in my power to be prepared,” said the racer from San Jose, Calif., early in the season. “My formula has always been to get the best equipment and get the best help and be the best prepared, and that puts you in a good position that’s kind of ‘no excuses.’ That’s how I prepared for 2014 … that same kind of preparation and determination is going to see me through.”
Drennan made picking him as a top choice especially easy when he dominated both races at the U.S. Majors Tour at the track in June. That race included notable SM racers such as Brad Rampelberg, Austin Newmark, Chris Haldeman, Matt Reynolds and Tristan Littlehale. At the end of Sunday’s race, it was all California drivers on the podium, with Littlehale and Newmark joining Drennan.
Danny Steyn, Michael Carter, Nick Leverone and Pardus will certainly make respectable showings, but none of them have traveled out west this year to race at the track, although Pardus may have had some test time at the track over the summer. Sonoma Raceway is a nuance track, so those who have not raced there recently may be at a disadvantage. For that reason, some drivers who aren’t regularly mentioned in the same breath as those above may figure prominently. Tommy McCarthy and Justin Crickenberger are drivers with some local knowledge, and Oregon racer Ken Sutherland was third and fourth during the Sonoma Majors races in June.
SportsCar magazine picked Drennan, Steyn and Littlehale to podium, and they may not be far off. But if Drennan has the lead by Turn 3, chances are everyone else is racing for second.
The Spec MIata race is scheduled as the first race after lunch on Saturday during the Runoffs, at about 1:30 p.m. Pacific time. SCCA is expected to livestream the races as it has done in the past.