SCCA National Championship Runoffs Friday Notebook

The Touring 4 race opened the 58th running of the SCCA National Championship Runoffs on Friday morning. While the field didn’t get much green flag running and several contenders ended their race early, the winner continues to add to an impressive total. John Heinricy took his 16th title when the race ended under full-course caution. While it didn’t change his second position on the list of all-time wins, and he’s unlikely to overtake Jerry Hansen’s 27 wins, it’s still an impressive number, all coming in competitive production-based classes.

Spec Miata champion Preston Pardus not only became the first person to repeat a championship at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he also became the first person in the history of the class to win three championships. Pardus won his first at Indy in 2017, then won again last year at Road America in a dramatic finish where he went from eighth to first on the final lap. This year he started on pole, put a gap on the rest of the field and led every lap.

David Daughtery broke a four-way tie for third on the all-time Runoffs victory list with his B-Spec win. He had been tied at 10 with Joe Huffaker Jr., Michael Lewis and Andrew Aquilante. However, it’s not the 11 wins of which he is most proud; Daughtery points to his close-to-50 percentage, 11 wins in 24 starts, as something more worth celebrating. There’s also a good chance that his total will be equaled or surpassed before the weekend is over, as both Lewis, who finished third in GT-Lite today, and Aquilante have two races yet to run.

Amidst all the drivers adding to their win totals today — Steve Sargis in H Production, Scott Rettich in Formula Enterprises 2, Andrew Whitston in Formula Vee and Lee Alexander in Prototype 1, along with the others mentioned above, there was a first-time winner: Scott Twomey of Tacoma, Wash., won GT-Lite in his Toyota Tercel in a hard-fought battle with Chris Bovis.

Remember this Name
Connor Zilisch finished third in Spec Miata, no mean feat in a field of 72 fairly equally matched cars. But making it all the more impressive is this is 15-year-old Zilisch’s first year racing cars after a pretty stellar karting career that includes seven national championships and, most recently, he became the first American to win the FIA Karting Academy Trophy championship.

“I was picked out of a bunch of other candidates in the U.S.,” Zilisch explained. “It was an amazing opportunity for me, and going over there and racing against people from all over the world, 50 different countries, and being able to win was amazing. It really showed how good American karting is and how good the drivers are.”

Most karting drivers making the transition to cars might choose formula cars as their next step, but for a variety of reasons, Zilisch and his family chose Spec Miata. Not the least of those reasons is budget, but also that he feels the sports car route is a better fit and a better showcase for talent. Plus, Zilisch is from Mooresville, N.C., so he can see some stock car racing in his future. For now, he’s looking at another year in Spec Miata, or perhaps some pro racing in Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup.

“I’ve had so much fun here, it’s such an amazing place and it’s so special to be able to race here at such a young age,” he said of the Runoffs at Indy. “Karting really has helped me and formed me into the driver I am today. Spec Miata was such a good jump up and I’ve really enjoyed my time in Spec Miata and I’ve enjoyed racing with all the amazing people in the class.

Being able to get a podium here is just amazing, I can’t even believe I was able to do it. I came in hoping for a top 15, top 10, and coming home with a podium is just way out of my expectations.”

The Return of Lou Gigliotti
Lou Gigliotti enjoyed a long career in professional racing, notably in Corvette Challenge, World Challenge and Trans-Am. But on Saturday he’ll make his first Runoffs start since 1975 when he starts fifth in GT-2.

“I want to race, and there’s not very many places to race [in pro racing] unless you go to GT3 or GT4, and that’s gotten astronomically expensive. SCCA has always been very solid,” he said.

Gigliotti, who built a race team and automotive performance business — which he’s now sold to finance the building of a racetrack in North Texas — used the option to use two pro races as substitutes for SCCA U.S. Majors Tour races to qualify for the Runoffs He then borrowed a car for a couple of SCCA Majors, so he hadn’t really had the chance to drive the car he prepared for the Runoffs before getting to Indianapolis. As a result, he feels it took him a while to get up to speed.

“It’s taken a while,” he said. “I’m glad we got two test days; I wish we would have had three, we would have been here a little earlier. We’ve got another second to make up.”