Kannard Breaks Through With His First Runoffs Gold in FP

Cliff Ira’s been fast in his No. 36 Cliff Ira Motorsports/JPM Honda Civic Del Sol Si, winning F Prod in 2021 – the first year he brought the car to the Runoffs. He’s also started the SCCA® National Championship Runoffs® in second and third, but this year was the first time he’d earned the Tire Rack Pole. But to his left for the green flag was Bill Hingston, whose qualifying time was less than half a second off Ira’s – and like Ira, this was the best he’d ever qualified at the Runoffs. These two were followed by Ken Kannard, who was two decades deep into his hunt for Runoffs gold, and two-time Runoffs champ Kevin Ruck, who was undoubtedly looking to better the silver medals he’d earned at the last two Runoffs.

The 20-car field neared the start line as the second race of the weekend on Friday, Sept. 29, as one of 23 races taking place on Hagerty Race Days at the 2023 SCCA Runoffs at VIRginia International Raceway.

Ira timed the start perfectly, jumping into the lead, followed by Hingston with Ruck on the outside – Ruck made the pass stick for second place through Left Hook. Exiting Oak Tree on the opening lap, the field was single file but stacked up as the front-wheel-drive race cars of Ira and Ruck pulled from the group into Roller Coaster.

At lap one’s conclusion, the top five were Ira, Ruck, Hingston, Campbell, and Kannard, but through Turns 9 and 10, Ira and Hingston came together, dropping both back. Up front, Ruck capitalized, putting a gap on the field. Kannard also gained from the melee, placing him second followed by Campbell, Mason Workman, and Ira.

It didn’t take long for Workman and Ira to pass Campbell, but by lap four of 15 – and turning laps a full second faster than Ruck – Ira worked his way up to challenge Kannard for second.

Ira’s speed on the front straight was impressive, allowing him to pull alongside Kannard multiple times by start/finish, but was unable to make the pass stick – then working lap seven, a full-course caution flew when Hingston impacted the tire wall on VIR’s fast west side. That caution grouped the field, completely erasing the near three-second advantage Ruck had built over Kannard and Ira, followed by Workman and Campbell.

The green reemerged for the start of lap eight, with Ruck, Kannard, and Ira going three wide exiting Turn 1 – but that move only opened the door for Workman and Campbell, as Ira dropped to fifth. Workman took full advantage through South Bend, clinching second from Kannard, although the power of Kannard’s No. 51 Northwest Cable/Hoosier/G-Loc/OPM/JPM 1995 Acura Integra GSR had him back in second place by Roller Coaster.

That excitement offered Ruck clean track, as he pulled away in his No. 73 Hoosier/Wilwood/AEM 1990 Acura Integra GSR once more.

“The restart couldn’t have gone a whole lot better,” Ruck said. “The car was hooked up in a groove running [fast] times – the car was great. I was able to not get a draft effect – those guys have to draft and I can run on my own. I knew in sector one and sector three I had the best car out here, but I knew once we got into some drafting, it was going to be hard.”

Working lap 10, Ira had battled back into third, but he had his work cut out for him as Kannard made the pass for the lead through Roller Coaster and Hog Pen.

This dicing opened up an opportunity for Ira, who was now on Ruck’s bumper, challenging for second. Then on lap 11, Ira passed Ruck, then challenged Kannard for the lead on the front straight. Ruck put his nose in the action too, but the three settled back into a tight Kannard-Ira-Ruck train exiting Left Hook.

The battle for the lead raged, with Ira finally making the pass while working lap 13 into NASCAR Bend – but Kannard wouldn’t have it, staying side-by-side and reclaiming the top spot one turn later.

Ira was glued to Kannard’s bumper on the final lap, with Ruck just over a second behind in third. Onto the front straight, Ira tried the draft once more, popping out for the checker.

“I thought I could totally beat him to the line,” Ira said of the final run out of Hog Pen. “My gearing was really killer right there, and I faked inside to make him come over to go outside, but I did it a tick too early, so I lost the draft.”

At the stripe, it was Kannard over Ira by 0.123sec, and Ruck in third. Workman and Campbell rounded out the top five.

“I had a better gap coming out of Oak Tree [on the final lap], but I saw [Ira] coming because he had a really good run through Roller Coaster and Hog Pen, so I knew he was going to be there,” Kannard said after spraying the Mazza Sparkling Wine in victory circle. “And sure enough, I look at my mirrors coming out of Hog Pen, and he’s there. But he just didn’t have enough to get it done.”

This win marked Kannard’s first SCCA National Championship – something he’d been racing for since his first Runoffs appearance in 2001.

“I’ve chased [a National Championship] for over 20 years, and I’ve won a lot of races, but this one has eluded me,” said Kannard. “It’s a relief to get one done.”

The Sunoco Hard Charger Award went to Richard Gallup, who ran from 16th on the grid to finish eighth.

The 60th running of SCCA’s National Championship Runoffs®, the Pinnacle of American Amateur Motorsports, crowns Sports Car Club of America’s Road Racing National Champions this year at VIRginia International Raceway — in Alton, VA — during Hagerty Race Days, Friday, Sept. 29, through Sunday, Oct. 1.

Live, online video coverage of Runoffs races, presented by Mazda, is available throughout the three days of competition at SCCA.com/live, and at SCCA’s official YouTube and Facebook social media channels. Live timing and scoring for each race is also available at SCCA.com.

Below are official results for Friday's F Production race at the 2023 SCCA National Championship Runoffs, with finish position, starting position in parentheses, driver, hometown, car, and laps completed.

1, (3), Ken Kannard, Sebring, FL, Acura Integra GSR, 15.
2, (1), Cliff Ira, Kansas City, MO, Honda Civic Del Sol Si VTEC, 15.
3, (4), Kevin Ruck, Marysville, OH, Acura Integra, 15.
4, (5), Mason Workman, Canal Winchester, OH, Mazda Miata, 15.
5, (6), Charlie Campbell, Corry, PA, Mazda Miata, 15.
6, (7), Doug Weaver, Chatham, ON, Mazda Miata, 15.
7, (13), Les Chaney, Eden, NC, Acura Integra, 15.
8, (16), Richard Gallup, Clermont, FL, Mazda Miata, 15.
9, (12), Steffen Clark, Salem, VA, Mazda Miata, 15.
10, (18), Steven Layfield, Abingdon, VA, Mazda Miata, 15.
11, (15), David Colbey, Utica, NY, Acura Integra LS, 15.
12, (11), David Strittmatter, Akron, OH, Acura Integra, 15.
13, (19), George (Spike) Behning, Vienna, VA, Mazda Miata, 15.
14, (20), Gregg Seigart, Bristol, TN, Mazda Miata, 15.
15, (14), Mark Weber, Saint Louis, MO, Mazda Miata, 12.
16, (17), Ben Glowka, Greensboro, NC, Acura Integra, 11.
17, (8), Stephen Simonds, Rosharon, TX, Mazda Miata, 10.
18, (10), Perry Simonds, Winnsboro, TX, Mazda Miata, 8.
DNF, (9), Michael Kamalian, Marietta, GA, Mazda Miata, 5.
DNF, (2), Bill Hingston, Parker, CO, Mazda Miata, 3.

Race Stats

Length of Race: 49.05 miles
Overall Time of Race: 35:34.489 (avg. 82.727 mph)
Margin of Victory: 0.123 seconds
Fastest Race Lap: #36 Cliff Ira, 2:07.787 (92.122 mph)
Lap Leaders: #36 laps 1, 11-12; #73 laps 2-9; #51 laps 10,13-15
Sunoco Hard Charger: #5 Richard Gallup

Photo by Jeff Loewe