The march toward the 2019 NASA Championships Presented by Toyo Tires has begun. The entries are piling up and the fields are taking shape. That means it’s time to scrutinize them and shine a light on the drivers to watch at this year’s NASA Championships Presented by Toyo Tires.
Who will win in 2019? Well, no one knows for sure because a lot can happen during the course of a race. Just look at last year’s GTS2 race at Circuit of the Americas, in which the front three cars got knocked out due to fluid spilled on track in the Esses. That meant the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-place cars went on to take the podium.
That’s why we run the race. Anything can happen.
This year’s event takes place at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, which provides a slight advantage to the Great Lakes Region’s drivers. We’ve picked a lot of Great Lakes hot shoes to win, but we think that a lot of drivers are going to come in from regions around the country and do well at Mid-Ohio. What follows are some truly scientific picks for this year’s winners. It’s a painstaking process that involves institutional knowledge, Championships history, the records of this year’s drivers and some X factors that might come into play. We also have a Ouija board.
Here are the drivers to watch at the 2019 NASA Championships Presented by Toyo Tires.
When you talk about the Great Lakes Region and 944 Spec, the name Dan Piña has to come up, and it did, so we talked to him. Piña won the 944 Spec Championship in 2015 at VIR, took third in 2014 at Sonoma Raceway and second at Road Atlanta that same year, and second place last year at COTA after driving a borrowed car from dead last on grid.
However, the engine in Piña’s current car is blown, and he doesn’t have a ride for the Championships event. If does find a way to enter, we’d give him the nod.
That leaves fellow Great Lakes competitors Michael Cooper and Derrek Morehead to lead the field. Cooper leads the points standings in the Great Lakes Region, with three wins over Morehead, who has five wins, but less consistency. 944 Spec will be one of the most hotly contested races this year because all but one of the entries are from the Great Lakes Region as of press time. Everyone knows the track, so keep your monitors tuned to 944 Spec to see some fantastic racing this September.
One of three registered entries from the Great Lakes Region, Todd Davis knows Mid-Ohio well. He won American Iron at Mid-Ohio in April, took two wins at Gingerman and leads the points race in his home region. We think he’s going to be on point for the big win this year.
If you don’t know Todd Davis, you know his car. He drives the black Buick Grand National, the only such car in all of NASA’s racing classes. We think he’ll have a mirror full of Jeff Lindstrom, who leads the Florida Region in points. Lindstrom has notched seven wins in 12 races this year. In the other five races, he finished second. Look for Lindstrom’s Ford Mustang Cobra to be all over the Grand National come race time.
American Iron Extreme
When you talk about American Iron Extreme, the Faessler family name comes up a lot. They have been fixtures in the Great Lakes Region and American Iron Extreme since the class’s inception.
Paul Faessler drove his 1965 Mustang to the AIX Championship at Watkins Glen in 2016. Paul’s son Brian jumped in the same car after his late Mustang broke in Time Trial competition at Circuit of The Americas last year and took the AIX Championship in 2018. This year, look for Brian Faessler up front.
Now, this is AIX, where the abundance of horsepower can increase the incidence of mechanical failure, so look for Robert Shaw to be waiting to pounce. Shaw took the AIX Championship at Sebring in 2017 and came in second in 2018 at COTA.
Some of the best CMC racing in all of NASA happens in the Great Lakes Region and the CMC field at this year’s Championship at Mid-Ohio is comprised of all but one competitor from the Great Lakes.
No. 913 Derek Wright currently has the points lead over his two main rivals Bob Denton and Kent Owens, who is shown in the photo above from Turn 5 at Road America. Denton is registered for the Championships, but Owens is not. That’s a shame because Owens would make the CMC Championship a three-way battle royale.
These guys have been racing together for decades and they know Mid-Ohio well. Hang onto your hat for this one.
German Touring Series 2
Zach Hillman already has one GTS2 National Championship trophy on his shelf. He earned it at VIR in 2015. He darn near had another one last year at COTA, but as he was leading the race about two-thirds of the way through, he and second and third places spun and crashed as a result of fluid spilled in the entrance to the Esses.
Hillman also scored a third in 2014 Eastern States Championships at Road Atlanta, and we think he’s primed for a second Championship at Mid-Ohio. Look for Hillman up front, with 2018 GTS2 Champion Kerry James in his mirrors to keep him honest.
German Touring Series 3
Last year at the Circuit of The Americas, Roberto Crescencio seemed to have things pretty well in hand. He scored the fastest time in qualifying and took the win in a crash-shortened qualifying race on Saturday, and then went on to take the 2018 GTS3 National Championship. That was a pretty convincing performance, so convincing, in fact, that we think he can repeat it at Mid-Ohio in 2019.
Look for NASA Northeast’s Eric Magnussen to be in the hunt, too. Magnussen has been on a tear this season, with four wins. NASA Great Lakes’ Andreas Fuchs also will be in the mix up front.
German Touring Series 4
Michael McAleenan won the GTS4 National Championship last year and took third in ST2. McAleenan also won the GTS4 Championship in 2013 at what was then Miller Motorsports Park, and took second in GTS4 that year. He won the Championship in ST3 at the Western States Championships in 2014 at Sonoma Raceway, which earned him a spot in the Mazda Race of NASA Champions, where he qualified ninth and finished sixth. In 2015, he won the ST3 Championship at Laguna Seca.
So, we’re thinking maybe this guy can drive. He will have his hands full with Ed Baus, who also is no stranger to GTS podiums, and has a GTS1 Championship trophy on his shelf from 2011 at Mid-Ohio. Look for Vytis Aranauskas to be in the mix, too.
Honda Challenge 1
NASA Northeast’s John Oldt doesn’t have an H1 Championship, but he’s been close. He finished third at the Eastern States Championships at Road Atlanta in 2014, but we think he looks like a good pick for H1 at Mid-Ohio in 2019.
Of course, this is a National Championships, which brings in talent from around the country. The Northeast Region’s Jose Suero is going to be hounding Oldt, as will NASA Southeast’s Rob Oxford, who is leading the points race in NASA Southeast. With nothing but S2000s on the grid, H1 is going to be hard fought this year.
Honda Challenge 2
NASA Northeast’s Robert Paszkiewicz took the H2 Championship in 2017 at Sebring and second in 2016 at Watkins Glen. He also won H2 last year at COTA, so he’s been making good use of his right-hand-drive Honda Integra, and he’s our leading contender to take the H2 Championship again in 2019.
Now, bear in mind that NASA Great Lakes’ Brian Shanfeld was quicker in qualifying at COTA than Paszkiewicz, and he races at Mid-Ohio a lot, so look for him to be badgering Paszkiewicz all week long. Also from the Great Lakes Region, Brad Adams has been on the podium at every race he’s been to this year, so look for him to be hanging tough. NASA Northeast’s Spencer Anderson needs to sign up to make things really interesting.
Honda Challenge 4
At press time, there were only four cars registered for H4, but Rob Krider and Keith Kramer were two of them, so mark them down for P1 and P2 at this year’s Championships at Mid-Ohio.
Now, NASA Northeast’s Dillon Brennan could pull off a surprise upset. He’s been on the podium at in all but one race he’s entered this season, so messers Krider and Kramer should not discount him.
Jeremy Croiset is fast enough to win in, well, anything, really, and he’s proved it at National Championships time and again. He won the H2 Championship at Mid-Ohio in 2012 along with the Spec Z Championship. He also won the H2 Championship in 2014 at Sonoma and took the NP01 Championship in 2018 at COTA.
However, it is difficult to work and race the same event, so he might have his hands full with NASA Great Lakes points leader Barry Brooks. All he has to do is race, and sharp focus is often what’s needed to win Championships.
Gary Tinker won the Thunder Roadster GTR Championship last year at COTA. He took third in 2017 at Sebring, and he looks like a safe bet for this year’s Championship at Mid-Ohio, but we’re going with Jason Oehler, who races in the Great Lakes Region. We think that home-track advantage is going to pay off.
That is not to say he’s going to run away with it. Oh, no. Thunder Roadster GTR is a tightly controlled class. The cars are evenly matched, and that means that you can look forward to seeing some tight racing in TR GTR. Look for Oehler up front, with Tinker, and another NASA Great Lakes racer Brian Bohlander. 2017 TR GTR Champion John Spain will be in the hunt, too.
NASA Great Lakes Spec E30 racer Eric Pennington finished in the top 10 in Spec E30 last year in a field of 31 drivers. That might not be grounds for a prediction to win this year at Mid-Ohio, but he has scored three wins in four races at Mid-Ohio this season, ahead of the quick and championship-caliber driver Sylas Montgomery. That bodes well for Pennington, and we’re picking him to win it all at Mid-Ohio this September.
If he can run up front, he’ll be in good company. Carlos Mendez, Brian Edmonds and Alex Barroso will be on hand to keep him on his toes. Bear in mind there is still time for other top-tier Spec E30 drivers to register.
It took a little patience to get Spec E46 rolling, but this class is becoming one of the larger classes in NASA and the Championships grid is filling out. There are some quick drivers on there, including Rocky Mountain Region Teen Mazda Challenge driver Harry Voigt, Oner Khera, who has a GTS2 Championship from 2016 at Buttonwillow, and Ali Salih, a Great Lakes Region Spec E46 driver who was won all four races he’s entered this year.
However, we’re going to give the nod to Michael Kaniczak, who won in Honda Challenge 1 in 2016 at Watkins Glen and set the track record at the same time. Look for him up front, with the aforementioned drivers all over him trying to prove us wrong.
NASA Southeast’s Robert Miller has more Spec Iron Championships than anyone. He won at Watkins Glen in 2016 and at VIR in 2015. He also scored a second-place finish at Sebring in 2017. It would be hard to bet against him for the Spec Iron Championship in 2019 at Mid-Ohio — so we’re not going to.
However, Miller is going to need to watch out for Robin Burnett, a NASA Great Lakes Spec Iron racer who has five wins this season, three of which were at Mid-Ohio. NASA Great Lakes’ Christopher Williams is going to be in the mix, too.
Spec Miata is always the most competitive race at a NASA Championships, and this year will be no different. The entry list includes a number of drivers who can win: Matthew Dirks, Kyle Webb, Jim Drago and Rocky Mountain Regional Director Dan Williams.
However, we’re going to go with Jonathan Davis, whose home track is Mid-Ohio. Davis has a podium finish in Spec Miata at VIR in 2015, and we think he has what it takes to get over the top at Mid-Ohio.
Super Touring 1
Terry Free has been pursuing a NASA Championship for years. He’s fast enough and he’s come close, but mechanical troubles have kept him out of the hunt, including last year at COTA. Free did score a TT1 Championship at Mid-Ohio in 2012, so if he can keep the mechanical gremlins at bay, we think he’s got what it takes to win ST1.
If he can get his C6 Corvette Z06 to behave itself, he’s got a good shot. Look for Terry Mathis in his Z06 Corvette to give Free as much competition as he’s ever had.
Super Touring 2
Chad Gilsinger drove his Acura NSX to an ST2 Championship at COTA last year, and while it’s true that a crash and some time behind a pace car did come into play, but Gilsinger was able to get a gap on NASA NorCal’s Todd Clarke and Michael McAleenan, two genuinely quick drivers.
We’ll go with Gilsinger this year, too, because he still has the gun in a knife fight, a new Acura NSX, and more importantly, two wins at Mid-Ohio this year, a home track for Gilsinger, who lives in Ohio.
It’ll be a hard-fought win, though. ST2 is filled with lots of talented drivers, including Nick Smither, who beat Gilsinger at Gingerman this year in his Ford GT350R. You’ve also got James Wagaman coming in from NASA NorCal and Nick Smither, another Great Lakes Region racer with two wins this year.
Super Touring 3
Look down the list of ST3 drivers registered for the 2019 Championships, and one name stands out, and for good reason. NASA NorCal driver Tony Colicchio took his E36 M3 to a GTS3 win at what was then Miller Motorsports Park in 2013.
Yes, that was six years ago, but his past Championship and an E0 class win at the 2018 25 Hours of Thunderhill are only part of why we like his chances at Mid-Ohio. Colicchio is a setup wizard, so he can adjust the car to his needs, and Mid-Ohio can be a tricky place for setup. Look for Great Lakes driver Scott Berkowitz to be in the mix, too.
Super Touring 4
Super Touring 4 is an incredible class, due in no small part to the variety of cars that participate. For the 2019 Championships, the list of cars thus far is as follows: BMW M3, Mazda Miata, Acura TL, Nissan 350Z, Scion FRS, Volkswagen GTI, Subaru BRZ and a Honda S2000. What a field!
It still takes talent, and that’s why we’re going with Brett Strom, shown above driving his Audi RS3 LMS, but he’s bringing his BMW M3 to compete in ST4. So is Matthew Wasilewski, who scored a third-place finish in the Eastern States Championships at Watkins Glen in 2016. He’ll be up front giving Strom all he can handle.
Super Touring 5
Now in its second year in existence as a Championships-eligible class, Super Touring 5 has attracted a bevy of small-bore cars, including a number of Mazda Miatas, one of which is driven by Great Lakes racer Cagri Yilmaz, who has five wins this season in Great Lakes, two of which have come at Mid-Ohio, and three in a row at Gingerman. He looks well suited to take ST5 Championship this year.
He’ll have to keep an eye out for NASA SoCal’s John Matthew, who has a way of learning tracks and getting up to speed quickly. Should be a good matchup.
Super Touring 6
Super Touring 6 is in its first year as a Championships-eligible class, taking the place of the erstwhile PTE. Stuart Killian has six podium finishes this season in the Great Lakes Region, one of which was at Mid-Ohio, but we’re going to give the nod for the inaugural ST6 championship to Sonny Watanasirisuk, who has driven his Mazda Miata to two wins in ST6 in his home region this year. He has one TTD Championships, and if not for an electrical failure, he would have won PTD in 2013 at Miller Motorsports Park.
Don’t be fooled. Despite living an entire country away, Watanasirisuk knows Mid-Ohio well and he can win. However, he’ll have ample competition from Aaron Spiegel, who has six podiums and two wins this year. ST5’s inaugural Championship is getting off on the right foot.
Super Unlimited is the class for those with an unlimited need for speed and, arguably, an unlimited budget. This year, there are nine entries in SU, a high car count for this class, and two entrants stand out because of their cars and their racing histories.
NASA SoCal’s Jon Van Caneghem has Super Unlimited championships from 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, and a TTU Championship in 2017, all but one of which came in his Mazda-powered Élan DP02. He drove to his 2016 SU Championship in a Ginetta G57, the car he’s bringing to Mid-Ohio after extensive repairs due to fire damage.
His main competition should be Jacek Mucha, who has championships in open- and closed-wheel cars with other organizations. He’ll be piloting a Swift JMS-016P sports racer.