ChumpCar World Series heads to VIRginia International Raceway this weekend for one of the series’ marquee events, the VIR Classic 24. This race draws fierce competition from East Coast low-buck racers and also attracts teams from as far away as Minnesota, Texas, and Ontario (That’s in Canada). The Classic is no mere crapcan race, after all; this is 24 hours navigating VIR’s 4.1-mile, 21-turn Grand West Circuit.
With typical August high temperatures in the high 80s and a general mugginess index of miserable, drivers will combat sweltering in-car temperatures during daylight and the inky-black of rural Virgina night while navigating famous corners like Climbing Esses, Spiral, and Oak Tree (now without the Oak Tree). As always with ChumpCar, the field is deep and filled with experienced squads who know every square millimeter of their cars. Pulling them apart to pick a winner is nigh-impossible, but let’s take a look at some of the top contenders.
To the best of my knowledge, no bookies take bets on ChumpCar, but if they did, Simon Says (above) would hold the best odds for a win. The Acura Integra has run with ChumpCar three times at VIR and finished on the podium each time, including a win at last year’s 24-hour race. The Simon Says squad also topped two of ChumpCar’s 45-minute sprint races at Charlotte Motor Speedway in June. The same squad will campaign a second Integra, Maximum Oversteer, which finished on the podium at Daytona International Speedway in May.
If success at VIR is the main measuring stick for sizing up the Classic 24’s odds, then keep an eye on Ronald’s Racers, too. The E30 squad, who raise money for Ronald McDonald House Charities, won the shorter race at VIR in 2012 and finished second at the same race this year.
The team formerly (and occasionally known) as Rbankracing drag not only their two front-drive Saabs but also a veteran Eagle Talon to VIR. In July, the Saab junkies collected two second-place finishes in just six days. Of course, the tracks were some 2,000 miles apart and the race time totaled 50 hours on the track, so expect good efforts from the Will Race for Beer Saab 9-5 and the Tired Iron Repair Saab 9-3. This team has been one of the very few to find the magic touch with the finicky Swedish machines, though a win has eluded their grasp so far in 2013. Even though it’s won a 24-hour race before, consider the team’s Domination Chassis Eagle Talon a longshot.
SRI Racing come off a win in June at Charlotte, where they edged out Simon Says by a single lap in the weekend’s endurance race. The SRI folks hope to gain a numerical advantage with three well-prepared BMW 3 Series. Something will have gone devastatingly wrong if at least one of these cars is not in the Top 10 at the checkered flag.
Minnesota’s Tubby Butterman Racing make the 17-hour haul to the track in the hopes of picking up their eighth crapcan win, which has included victories both at big-time circuits and in 24-hour races. Lack of experience at VIR may handicap the Butterman squad and their battle-proven E36 a little, but you can’t rule out any team with seven race wins in the last three years.
In crapcan racing’s early days, the Nissan Z platform was something of a running joke on the allure of traditional sports cars and how they fall apart in the face of endurance racing. Eventually, teams like GFY Motorsports (#06 above) figured out how to prepare and how to hold them together. GFY’s chopped-top Z should show up near the top of the fastest lap board. If the Classic 24 comes down to a late-race sprint and GFY is in the mix, expect them to battle hard for the top spot.
Volkswagen has enjoyed a small surge of ChumpCar success in 2013 with Squirrels of Fury winning the Spokane 36 in their Rabbit and with Junior Johnson Motorsports besting a bevy of Bavarian brutes at Watkins Glen in April with their Jetta. Junior Johnson Motorsports bring the Jetta back to VIR in the hopes of a repeat drubbing of the Bimmer-heavy field.
Ghetto Motorsports (above) made a name for themselves with three 24 Hours of LeMons wins in a 12A-powered first-generation Mazda RX-7 in Colorado, but the team’s Eastern Branch debuted a second-generation RX-7 this year, garnering a LeMons win and a ChumpCar podium so far. The Ghetto crew run a clean race and keep their noses clean, which should translate into good results with the “newer” Wankel-mobile.
A myriad of BMW 3 Series could reside near the sharp end of the field. AC Schnitzel, Northloop Motorsports, Cheap Shot Racing, and Bucksnort Racing all run fast E30s with tireless preparation and quality drivers. Bimmerline’s E36 finished runners up at Daytona in May and the two-E36 Team SFR (Alpha and Bravo) may find their way into the podium discussion, as well.
MealTime Racing represent ChumpCar’s Northern (read: [mostly] Canadian) Region, bringing their Honda Civic hatchback to VIR from America’s northerly neighbor. The Civic might be a little outgunned in terms of overall speed, but MealTime’s enviable reliability record is the type of thing that can make a major difference over 24 hours. No word on whether or not they’ll be cooking delicious meat products on the Honda’s manifold-grill.
Mazda Miatas also typically struggle with pace to compete outright with the best of ChumpCar, but I’d expect a few little roadsters to be capable of landing in the Top 10 through clean driving and the little roadster’s surprisingly robust nature. Look for Lil’ Chump Change, Flying Tigers, and NAMCO Racing all to fight as underdogs.
I’m not sure the V6-swapped MR2 Biohazard (above) has much of a chance of lasting 24 hours without breaking, since the second-generation Toyota MR2 typically rips at the seams after 12 to 14 hours at race pace. However, the Biohazard car can usually be counted on to run the fastest lap in a given race, sometimes by upwards of five seconds.
I always handpick a longshot to keep an eye on, although I’ve had an especially tough time with this race. Naturally, I’m going to do the stupid thing and pick a Porsche, in this case the Cone Crushers 944. Porsche’s reputation in low-buck endurance racing falls well short of their record in professional endurance racing, but Cone Crushers debuted at Road Atlanta in December with a Top 10 performance and might just be capable of improving that result.
Crapcan racing isn’t all about the fast and reliable, of course. Some teams merit mention for other reasons (though these cars may also be fast and reliable). No Panic Racing (#42, of course) calls to my inner Arthur Dent. Dos Boot is a great play on words. Bad Brains Racing is hardcore.
Austin Healey Frite is a Zetec-powered Sprite; the same team will also bring Richard Nixon’s Opel Ascona (actually
a Kadett an Ascona), making them winners in my book even if neither car comes anywhere near the Top 70 in the 95-car field.
Naturally, I’ve only covered about a third of the field, which leaves a lot of room open for surprising performances from a field that still includes a lot of competitive cars.