Winter still lingers in much of the country, but folks on the West coast are already hitting the track for OPTIMA's 2016 Search for the Ultimate Street Car, presented by Advance Auto Parts. Coming into the first qualifying event at Thunderhill Raceway Park in Willows, California, on February 27th and 28th, only the defending champion, Danny Popp, had secured an invitation to the 2016 SEMA Show and OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI). By the end of the weekend, four more competitors would have their tickets punched to Sin City in four different classes. K&N Filters also handed out a special Spirit of the Event invitation.
The field was huge, the competition was very tight, and new contenders looking to topple the Danny Popp juggernaut are emerging. The podium results may make this look like a Chevy-only affair, but all makes and models of production vehicles are welcome to compete. Nine more qualifying events will take place between now and November and everyone who qualifies for the OUSCI is also invited to display their vehicle at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas.
Fields are filling up quickly and some are already sold out. Get more information on the series and how you can participate at driveoptima.com.
GTV Class (pre-1990, 3200+ pounds)
1. Jake Rozelle, 1969 Camaro
2. Chad Ryker, 1968 Camaro
3. Efrain Diaz, 1969 Camaro
GTS Class (post-1989, 3200+ pounds, two-seaters and AWD vehicles)
1. Brian Hobaugh, 2003 Corvette
2. Carrie Willhoff, 2015 Corvette
3. Lynn Proctor, 2005 Dodge Viper
GT Class (post-1989, 3200+ pounds, two-wheel drive sedans, four-seater coupes, trucks, etc...)
1. Ken Thwaits, 2014 Camaro
2. Jordan Priestley, 2011 Camaro
3. Jordan Priestley, 2016 Camaro
GTL Class (anything under 3200 pounds)
1. Rich Willhoff, 2006 Corvette
2. Duke Langley, 2002 Corvette
3. Alexandra Zust, 2005 Lotus Elise
K&N Spirit of the Event Award - Sean Fogli, 1968 Ford F100
Bryan Battaglini's 1970 Camaro finished 18th in the GTV class, including an impressive Third Place overall finish in the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge.
While many competitors trailered their vehicles to and from the event, Chad Ryker had no such safety net. He drove his 1968 Camaro to and from Thunderhill, with a little wrenching in between. He also managed an impressive Second-Place finish in the GTV class.
Rules and scoring were once again tweaked for the 2016 season, which helped Efrain Diaz's 1969 Camaro make the podium in the GTV class with a Third-Place finish. His overall score was identical to that of Mike Maier's Mustang, but the tiebreaker went to the higher score in the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge. Maier had points docked in that segment for non-functioning lights (this is a street car event), giving the tiebreaker to Diaz.
Sometimes we’re amazed at the quality of the vehicles that run in these events. Gil Alfonso's 1965 Chevelle would've been just as well-suited to rotate on a mirrored display at the Detroit Autorama, but he decided to beat on it at a racetrack instead. Alfonso finished 11th in the GTV class, but was the overall winner in the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge.
Jake Rozelle is getting older every year, but he's still known as “The Kid” and he's not getting any slower with age. His 1969 Camaro won the GTV class and will return for a third consecutive year to the OUSCI. Competition was tough, as Rozelles's margins of victory in all three timed segments were measured in tenths of a second.
Jordan Priestley did double duty at Thunderhill, running both his 2011 and 2016 Camaros in the event. The sixth-gen had an impressive debut, as it finished Third in the GT class, with not much more than a set of wheels making it different than a bone-stock Camaro. Look for this platform to really put some distance on the Ponycar competition!
Ken Thwaits has now qualified a fifth-gen Camaro in each of the last three seasons. His Showtime Motorsports crew overcame some mechanical gremlins and stiff competiton from both of Jordan Priestley's Camaros to bring home the victory.
The competition in every class and every timed segment was extremely tight, with one exception. Rich Willhoff's 2006 Corvette gapped Second-Place Duke Langley's 2002 Corvette by more than four seconds in the Falken Tire Road Course Time Trial. No one was even close to Willhoff on the big track, and he could present a serious challenge to Danny Popp's title now that he won the GTL class and will be heading to Las Vegas.
It may be a Datsun on the outside, but David Carroll's 280Z is all Chevy under the hood. His LS1-powered Datsun competed in the 2015 OUSCI and he's looking to make a return trip in 2016.