Back in 2008, the people at Optima Batteries had an idea to show that the cars typically seen at SEMA could actually go as fast as they looked. That first year about 30 cars showed up to battle it out in the desert at the K&N sponsored Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI). Fast forward to 2015 and the current event is on a whole other level. Over the last eight years the top-finishing cars have gone from modified street cars capable of track duty to pseudo race cars that are legal for street use. Participants have also figured out that it’s a lot easier to make a modern car, like a C5 or C6 Corvette, fast than to start off with a vintage ride. This has resulted in a lot more high-tech muscle in the mix, making life even harder for the classic iron.
Last year the event was moved from its long-time home at Spring Mountain Motorsports Park in Pahrump, Nevada to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The move allowed Optima Batteries to easily host the hundreds of spectators that were clamoring to watch the festivities and the location was 50 miles closer to Las Vegas where the annual SEMA show is held.
Each year the rules are tweaked a bit, but for the most part they carried over from last year’s OUSCI. The three driving events, and the Lingenfelter sponsored Design and Engineering Challenge, were scored using a points system where the top 20 finishers were awarded from 25 (first place) to 1 point (last place). This meant the cars had to perform well in all four challenges to win the overall prize.
Another way to pick up points was in the road rally. This year it was a cruise down the Las Vegas strip, in near gridlock, where drivers could garner a maximum of 25 points. Blow getting these points and there’s really no mathematical way you can do well in the overall event. After all, these are supposed to be street cars, so they should be able to drive around town, even in heavy traffic, without issue.
The Falken Tire Hot Lap Challenge consisted of three sessions where groups of cars were sent out on the 2.4 mile track. Cars were sent out in groups and passing was allowed on the straights. The first session ran in a random order, but subsequent sessions ran with the fastest “qualifying” car going out first. With over 80 cars the Hot Lap Challenge sucked up all of Sunday.
The Detroit Speed sponsored Street Challenge Autocross was also changed up quite a bit. Two cars were run at the same time (like a drag race) on two tracks that somewhat mirrored each other. This made it more fun for the fans even though the cars were racing the clock and not each other. Competitors had to make 4 laps on both tracks and then the top time on each side, were added up. Hitting a cone, no matter how much it teased you, resulted in a two-second penalty.
Lingenfelter sponsored the Design and Engineering Challenge where cars were judged much like they would be in a car show with an emphasis on modifications that are both aesthetic and functional changes. After all, this isn’t about zip-tied and beat-up race cars, it’s about finding the “ultimate” street car and that ride should be nice looking as well. This also penalized drivers that brought new, mostly stock, cars to the race.
In the Wilwood Brakes sponsored Speed-Stop Challenge, drivers combined launch speed with handling and braking prowess to launch into a banked 180-degree turn, negotiate a quick slalom, and stop in a coned off box. Bumping a cone in the stop box earned a DNF. It’s way harder than it sounds and really favored cars with ABS systems and all-wheel-drive. For the non-ABS cars the real trick was to not flat-spot tires, which would make the road course tough since drivers run the same set of tires the whole event.
The competitor’s best time in each event was used to determine how many points they accumulate. All the cars had to be displayed somewhere at SEMA and need a certain level of safety gear. The biggest rule was that the tires had to be 200, or greater, treadwear. Every entry had to pass a technical inspection where street car items, like turn signals, wipers, back up lights and such were confirmed.
Last year several imports really put the pressure on the domestics. We may poke fun at imports, but an all-wheel-drive raced-out Evo or GTR is serious competition. This year there were even more worked over imports on hand and they threw down some strong numbers, but, like last year, a Corvette fought hard and slid into the top spot. Mimicking last year, 11 of the top 20 cars were domestics and of the 11 American cars all but two were Chevys. The way things keep escalating we can only imagine what a battle next year will be.