Honda and Acura racers claimed one national championship and an additional five podium (top three) finishes as the Sports Car Club of America [SCCA] National Championship "Runoffs" returned to the famed Road America circuit in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, September 19-25. In all, 11 of 28 competing classes at the Runoffs featured members of the Honda Racing Line, Honda Performance Development's grassroots motorsports support program.
Greg Gauper highlighted a weekend of outstanding performances from a combined 36 Honda and Acura drivers at the Runoffs, winning the H-Production race on a damp track in his Honda Civic. Rain affected nearly all of Sunday's eight races, and Gauper had established a strong wet-weather setup earlier in the week. He used it to good advantage in the race, moving up from his second-row grid position to take the lead on the third lap and edge out a 3-second margin of victory at the end of the 13-lap (52-mile) event.
"It still hasn't sunk in," Gauper said at the finish. "I really expected I'd be battling for possibly third spot. I didn't think the rain was going to be as much of an advantage [for us]. My stomach was just butterflies [before the start] … ‘am I making the right [tire] choice?' We decided to go out with intermediates on the front and slicks on the back. It was a handful, but it worked out well for me."
In addition to Gauper's victory, five other Honda and Acura drivers recorded top-three finishes at the Runoffs, highlighted by a thrilling, come-from-behind second-place run for 2010 Touring 3 National Champion Chad Gilsinger in his Acura TL-SH AWD,
Starting 15th in a large, 26-car Touring 2 field, Gilsinger's all-wheel-drive package came to the fore during his 10-lap, rain-shortened race. Despite starting on slick BF Goodrich tires, Gilsinger was able to find traction on a damp-but-drying track in the early laps, then really began to move up in the order when rain returned with a vengeance on Lap Seven. With the rain increasing in severity, Gilsinger caught and passed everyone save winner Marty Grand, who started on full rain tires in his four-wheel-drive Mitsubishi.
"We started the race on slicks, and knowing we had all-wheel-drive gave me a little bit more comfort," Gilsinger said. "At the beginning, it was wet enough that I was able to take advantage. Then, it started to dry out and our power-to-weight was not quite there, so we started to move a little backwards. But then, it downpoured and there were puddles everywhere, and that's when it got bad for everyone. You have to work really hard to keep it on the track in those conditions. I don't think I've ever been so happy to see the checkered flag!"
In Touring 3, Chris Puskar led the Honda S2000 effort on a damp-but-drying track with a second-place finish, surviving a quick spin while trying to catch and pass eventual winner Kevin Fandozzi. In addition to scoring his best Runoffs result, Puskar also set fastest race lap and won the "Hard Charger" award for gaining the most positions in the race after starting 11th.
Lee Niffenegger, the 2009 Showroom Stock B champion, repeated his 2010 performance with another second-place run in his Honda Civic Si, a car he borrowed for the Runoffs from Honda of Keene in New Hampshire. Defending GT-Lite Champion Peter Shadowen raced second this year in his Honda CRX-Si; while Rob Coffey was another Honda-powered racer who excelled in Sunday's rain, charging from 28th on the grid to finish a remarkable third in the E-Production race. In addition to his third-place medal, Coffey also won the "Hard Charger" award after the outstanding run in his Honda Prelude Si.
Each year, racers from across the country compete in 70 SCCA national club events to qualify for one last, winner-take-all event in each of 28 classes: the National Championship "Runoffs". Previous Runoffs champions include Bobby Rahal, Skip Barber, Paul Newman and Jimmy Vasser. Other Runoffs competitors through the years have included Michael Andretti, Parker Johnstone, and former Acura American Le Mans Series racer Scott Sharp.
More than 500 drivers participated at this year's Runoffs, the third to be held at the historic, four-mile Road America circuit, located 60 miles northwest of Milwaukee. Thirty-six were Honda and Acura drivers, competing in 11 of the 28 classes.
Launched in July 2009, the Honda Racing Line is a program targeted at licensed participants in sanctioned amateur and entry-level professional racing. The Honda Racing Line was formed to provide its members with a direct connection to Honda Performance Development and its unparalleled record of success at the highest levels of motorsport. Competitors may register for the Honda Racing Line through HondaRacingLine.com.
Honda Performance Development (HPD) is the Honda racing company within North America. Founded in 1993, and located in Santa Clarita, Calif., HPD is the technical operations center for high-performance Honda racing cars and engines.
HPD is the single engine supplier to the IZOD IndyCar Series and competes in prototype sports-car racing under the HPD banner in the American Le Mans Series, Intercontinental Le Mans Cup and the European-based Le Mans Series. HPD offers a variety of race engines for track applications from sports prototypes to karting; for amateur and entry-level professional racers.
2011 Honda SCCA National Championship Runoffs Podium Results:
1st H-Production: Greg Gauper, Rana Mort Racing Honda Civic
2nd Touring 2: Chad Gilsinger, Team Honda Research Acura TL-SH AWD
2nd Touring 3: Chris Puskar, Puskar Racing Honda S2000
2nd Showroom Stock B: Lee Niffenegger, Team Honda Research Honda Civic Si
2nd GT-Lite: Peter Shadowen, Road ‘n Racing Honda CRX-Si
3rd E-Production: Robb Coffey, David Hobbs Honda Prelude