It’s time once again for predictions on who will win the RallyCross National Championship.
The RallyCross National Championship returns to the phenomenal site in Indianola, IA Sept 29-Oct 2 for the 2016 event. The site showed last year it is more than capable of handling the abuse of a RallyCross onslaught while holding up through all types of weather. The date has been pushed back to early October which should produce some cooler weather and slightly less rain fall creating the stage for some great courses and great competition. There is no doubt weather could still affect the results like it did last year but that is all part of the sport known as RallyCross.
The run order for the 2016 National Championship is still be determined by a random draw bringing an element of surprise to the event for the competitors. The competition is looking stiffer than ever with several new hot shoes and seasoned veterans registered to attend.
As of the writing of this article 93 of the expected 120+ competitors have signed up for the event and the predictions below are based on those preregistered drivers. With less than two weeks left to register for the event there is no knowing who is waiting until the last minute to register and join the mix.
Stock Front Wheel Drive
Chang Ho Kim
Donald Carl (1997 Dodge Neon) returns and is looking like a strong contender to repeat in SF. Donald won at the Central Challenge and is competitive with more capable cars at local events. 2013 PF National Champion, Chang Ho Kim (2000 Acura Integra R), has been running his Honda Del Sol at most local event and took the win at the East Coast Challenge. Chang shows the consistency to be at the top and will challenge Carl for the top spot. Matt Wolfe (1993 Ford Escort GT) will be attending Nationals for his first time and shows real potential to go deep into the trophies with top 10 finishes and an overall win in the Detroit region. Ron Foley (2012 Honda Civic Coupe) has attended all 9 previous National Championships and is consistently a top competitor vying for the crown. He will push the others to be fast or be last. Kim Hapgood (2000 Acura Integra R) is the co-driver to Chang Ho Kim and will bring competitive times. With a second in class at the East Coast National Challenge running behind only her co-driver she has the potential to shine in 2016. To date there are only 9 competitors registered in SF. The class is smaller than 2015 but no less competitive. It will take consistency and quickness to stay at the top and win Stock Front in 2016.
Stock Rear Wheel Drive
All four Stock Rear drivers at the 2015 RallyCross Nationals have not yet registered for 2016 leaving Stock Rear wide open for a new title holder. James Wood (1999 Mazda Miata) finished 2nd in class in 2011 and returns to compete for the 2016 National Champion. Wood dominates the neighboring Nebraska Regional and he will bring that same speed to Indianola. Howard Duncan (1999 Mazda Miata) has been to every RallyCross Nationals. Howard moves from the All-Wheel drive ranks to SR for this year’s event and looks poised to finish well in his Miata. Duncan may not have the seat time that some do but he is no less dangerous behind the wheel. Joseph Hanna (2001 Mazda Miata) moves from SF to SR for 2016. Hanna has been racing both SF and SR locally and has been more successful at the local level in his Miata. Joseph will push the top contenders to be consistent and fast. Guy Roberts (2008 Ford Crown Victoria) returns after a five year hiatus from Nationals. The P71 may be a heavier car than the popular Mazda models but Guy will wheel the rear wheel drive monster for some quick times. He could be the spoiler to an all Mazda podium in 2016. Michael Lasater (1985 Chevrolet Camaro) attends the Nationals for the first time and has been tearing up the fields in the Kansas City region with his 1985 Camaro. Lasater will be fearless as he pushes the Chevy to its limits to finish in the top 5. Even though it is one of the smaller classes, SR will keep it interesting with close competition. There could be several swaps at the top before all is said and done.
Stock All Wheel Drive
Gonzalo San Miguel
Multi-National Champion, Jan Gerber (2006 Mitsubishi Evo) returns from a 3rd place in 2015 to battle for title in 2016. Gerber has shown he has the speed and with the potent Evo IX at his command he will be tough to beat. Jan finished behind Gonzalo at the Central Challenge driving a Subaru but with the Evo speed machine he should be more competitive. ZB Lorenc (2005 Subaru Impreza WRX STI), returns to competition once again in 2016. ZB took the East Coast National Challenge and had the FTD beating out some seriously modified cars for fastest single time. There will be no room for error at the top as ZB is capable of blazing fast times in the Subie. Gonzalo San Miguel (1998 Subaru Impreza 2.5RS) is also dominating at his local events and took firsts in Stock All at the Central National Challenge and West Coast National Challenge. With a second in class at the 2015 Nationals, Gonzalo is a serious contender with the speed to go to the top. Jon Trudeau (2002 Subaru Impreza WRX) from the Detroit Region has shown some real speed with an overall win and several class wins. Jon can lay down some fast times in the Subie and will be pushing the others to run fast and clean. Woody Gallagher (2016 Subaru WRX) shows up in a new Subaru and with the new fire power and local success over the last couple years Woody will bring the heat in 2016. The class of 9 cars is dominated by Subarus. Will a Subaru take top spot? Will they have a podium sweep? Or, will the EVO continue its dominate run in this class. All will know after dust settles on this very competitive class.
Prepared Front Wheel Drive
Prepared Front Wheel Drive will be a very diverse group of cars in 2016 with six different manufacturers and a whole host of models represented in this class. Robert Seelig (1989 Honda CRX), last year’s runner up, is blazing fast in the CRX and has been dominating most of the events he attends, including the Central National Challenge. After more than one 2nd place at Nationals, this could be his year to finally break through and claim the Championship in PF. Andrew Thomas (2003 Toyota Celica GT) won the East Coast National Challenge in MF and has been dominant in local events. Thomas is a first time attendee to the Nationals and will give the more experienced attendees a run for their money in his Celica GT. 2015 National Champion, Greg Cheney (2014 Ford Fiesta ST) returns to Indianola where he had so much success a year ago. Greg has battled Seelig and Capesius at local events throughout the year showing he has the speed to repeat in PF. Dmitry Beliaev (2015 Ford Fiesta ST) won the East Coast National Challenge in PF and is doing well at local events. Dmitry definitely has the skills to finish high in the standings in 2016. If he is on his game he will be hard to beat. David Capesius (2004 Dodge Neon SRT4) has the local knowledge and talent to be in the mix for the title. David changed from his MF Ford Escort to PF where he has shown plenty of quickness in his local Iowa events. David will certainly be a contender in his new ride. With ten drivers and more to join before the event starts, this is a fast growing and highly competitive class with lots of potent options in vehicle selection. The championship will not come easy and the winning competitor will need to put together a complete event to gain the win.
Prepared Rear Wheel Drive
East Coast National Challenge winner Shawn Roberts (1994 Mazda Miata) is known in his local region for speed and skilled driving. Returning to the Nationals after getting a 2nd place in 2015, Shawn will be a force to reckon with in 2016. First time attendee Dan Hipwood (1986 Toyota MR2) won the Central National Challenge and has shown the speed to be a serious contender for the title as a rookie. Hipwood will wheel the older MR2 to some very fast times. Kyle Nilson (1999 Mazda Miata) moved from MR to PR for the 2016 Championship. Kyle is capable of cracking off some quick times in the Miata and will give his competitors a run for the top spot. 2014 National Championship, Eric Adams (2013 Scion FR-S) returns from a rough 2015 National. Eric is coming off a second place at the Central National Challenge and has beat Dan Hipwood at local events through the season. Eric will be a contender as he wrangles the FR-S to some fast times at the event. Katie Orgler (1994 Mazda Miata) codrives with Shawn Roberts in the wicked fast Miata from the DC Region. Katie will be pushing the Mazda towards a top 5 finish besting the rest of the field. PR remains a small field for 2016 but looks promising for close competition.
Prepared All Wheel Drive
Prepared All Wheel Drive count drops from 17 to 12 cars for 2016. The top four finishers in 2015 are vacant from the class leaving the door wide open for the next PA driver to rise to stardom. 2013 National Champion and 2014 runner up Edwin Cunill (2006 Mazda MazdaSpeed6) is fully capable of taking the title again in 2016. If Cunill can pull it off it will bring Mazda its first AWD title at Nationals. Edwin is smooth and fast in the Mazda. Contenders will need to be on their game to best him. Mark Hill (2006 Mitsubishi Evo) has had car issues this year but when he has made events he has finished at the top. Mark also showed last year that he can absolutely lay down screaming fast times in the dry. If all comes together for Mark, he is capable of rising to the top. East Coast Challenge winner Mark Macoubrie (2005 Subaru STI) is looking to better a midpack 2015 finish by working on the car and his driving. Mark has finish first in class at several local events. Macoubrie will be looking to ride that momentum to a high finish at the 2016 National Championship. Harold Denham (2006 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX) returns to PA again in 2016. This may be the year Harold takes his borrowed ride to the top of PA. Denham has spent most of the year running a FWD car but has shown he has the skill and consistency to run at the top of the class finishing only 0.4 second back of Edwin in 2015. Ed Trudeau (2003 Subaru Impreza WRX) returns after missing the 2015 Nationals. Ed has racked up several 1st in classes and a first overall in the Ohio region and should not be overlooked as a serious contender for the 2016 title. Trudeau will have to really get up on the wheel to stay even with the higher powered STI’s and Evos. Two other notables who could surprise the field are Mike Coons (2008 Subaru WRX STI) and Alan Rodriguez (1995 Subaru Impreza Coupe). Mike has been challenging Mark Macoubrie all year in the KC Region and walked away with the PA title at the Central Challenge. Alan has also been running neck and neck with last year’s 3rd place finisher, Ken Little. Will a Mazda finish at the top for the first time in AWD? Will Subaru be able to rise from the depths? Will another EVO continue its dominance in the class? It will all be settled on Sunday afternoon. The journey should be interesting in this class.
Modified Front Wheel Drive
Modified Front Wheel Drive is almost half the size of 2015 but continues to have top talent competing for the National Championship. Brent Blakely (2000 Suzuki Swift) was the West Coast National Challenge winner in MF. Brent showed last year that a light weight car and talented driver can run extremely fast times. If the Suzuki Swift stays together Brent may bring Suzuki a national title. Multi-National Champion Kent Hamilton (1988 Honda Civic) returns to defend his title. Kent has proven he is extremely fast and consistent. Kent returns in the same car he has had so much success and it will take something special to finish ahead of Kent. Scott Carlson (1998 Volkswagen Golf) has been tearing it up in the New England region and has shown some real speed in the competitive New England Region. Scott has the Golf humming and will place well in this very competitive class. 2013 MF National Champion, Leon Drake (1983 VW Rabbit Pickup), returns in the wildly modified and fast VW pickup. Leon ran some blazing fast times at the East Coast Challenge putting time on everything in his run group and has had several overall tops finishes in the Tennessee Valley region. Drake is ready to bring it in 2016. Bret Hunter (1990 Honda CRX HF) also brings a very light and fast car to Nationals. Hunter finished 2nd in MF at the 2015 National Championship and has been consistently near the top in the Colorado region. This may be the year a new Honda wins MF. With all the innovation and talent in this highly competitive and creative class, it will be a hard fought win to whomever becomes the 2016 National Champion. This class has the potential of finishing gaps that look a lot more like Solo than RallyCross as every driver pushes to win a championship.
Modified Rear Wheel Drive
John W. England
The top four MR drivers in 2015 are not currently registered and with more than half the MR drivers making their first appearance at a National Championship, Modified Rear may produce another rookie winner. John W. England (2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata) laid down some seriously fast times to finish 2nd in the East Coast Challenge in MR. John has no fear putting the car through its paces and will be fast out of the gate. Young gun George (Ellis) Gildner (2000 Porsche 911 Carrera Coupe) has been blazing fast taking an overall win in Arkansas and a couple overall seconds. An overall win with a rear wheel drive car is a rare feat when running against well prepared AWD and FWD cars locally. The Gildners have put together a wicked fast Porsche and Ellis is fully capable of wringing out every ounce of speed to finish high in the rankings at the 2016 Nationals. Dustin Kirk (1985 Toyota Corolla GT-S) is also looking strong locally and will be a serious contender for the crown. Dustin has battled fellow national contender Bee Thao in the Southwest and has shown that he and the car are capable of finishing towards the top. Bee Thao (1999 Mazda Miata) is looking to redeem a rough 2015 Nationals and has shown good speed with top 3 finishes at the West Coast and Center National Challenges. Bee’s experience from traveling the country will serve him well in his quest to be atop the MR class. Doug Liebman (1971 VW Super Beatle) is racking up local wins and has the skills to be competitive in the Beetle. Liebman lead the 2015 MR Class early on only to slip to 4th as the track dried and the high powered cars got better traction. Doug will be in the battle to the end and if it gets sloppy he will gain the advantage. The mix of new and experienced drivers in the MR Class will keep it close to the very last run. This class will provide some close racing in 2016.
Modified All Wheel Drive
A whopping 22 drivers are currently registered in the Modified All Wheel Drive class and the field is absolutely packed with talent and national champions. 2015 Runner-up and West Coast National Champion Bryan Rodgers (2005 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR) makes the long trip form the west coast to showcase his talent and speed. Bryan has a wicked fast car and knows how to use it. He will definitely be applying the pressure on the other drivers to bring their best. Multi-National Champion, Warren Elliott (2006 Mitsubishi Evo), returns to defend his title in 2016. Warren continues to dominate the MA class year in and year out. Elliott will be well prepared and always brings his best game when it counts. It will take the perfect storm of man and machine to dethrone the current champ. 2015 PA National Champion and Central Challenge winner Max Lawson (2006 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR) dominated the field in PA last year as he makes the shift to MA for 2016. Sporting a similar car to both Bryan and Warren, Max has shown he also knows how to wheel a well prepared car. Max will certainly be vying for the top spot throughout the event. Swapping top spot with Max Lawson at local events Peter Zlamany (1994 Eagle Talon) has proven a well-built car and talented driver can compete at the highest levels in the modified classes of RallyCross. Peter finished second in 2014 behind Warren and will tear the course up in his quest for a championship. Sheldon Wright (1995 Subaru Impreza Sedan 4wd) will codrive with Multi-National Champion Charles Wright in a newly acquired Subaru. Both drivers have been quick in the Subie with Sheldon besting Charles locally. Sheldon will certainly push the Subaru and his competitors to the limit at this year’s national event. Others notables including Christopher Almon (2002 Subaru Impreza WRX), Christopher Regan (2006 MazdaSpeed6), and Scott Banes (1996 Subaru Impreza L Coupe) could also be at the top of the MA class. The racing and times will be very close in MA. Will it be an Evo sweep or will the Evos go down to another well prepared RallyCross machine. With MA being the largest class and having drawn talent from coast to coast, there will be no lack of speed and talent. Winning MA will not come easy for the ultimate champion.
Come October the final tallies will sort the winners through fierce competition. Will it be as predicted or will a late registrar or weather throw a wrench in the plans of the contenders? Will the stars of the sport shine again or will a newcomer take the O’Neil 2-day Rally School award for most promising driver with a National Championship? Only time will tell as this year’s National Championship unfolds. Either way, the 10th Anniversary looks to be another awesome National Championship.
Hope to see you there.
Words by Mark Macoubrie