The third stop in OPTIMA's ten-event series known as the Search for the Ultimate Street Car, presented by Advance Auto Parts, saw the series change coasts and head to New Jersey Motorsports Park. This event offered us a first glimpse at many of the series competitors who have been patiently waiting for the series to stop at tracks that didn't involve a 2,000-plus mile trek over the Rockies.
Even though the first two events took place in the Pacific time zone, five of the next six will be in the Central or Eastern time zones, before the regular season finale heads back out to Auto Club Speedway on October 8th and 9th. Since a competitor's best three finishes are counted toward their season-long point total, being competitive in this series doesn't necessarily require coast-to-coast travel, but it will typically involve some effort.
For instance, a competitor who might've considered New Jersey Motorsports Park their home track would find the next-closest tracks on the schedule to be Charlotte Motor Speedway and NCM Motorsports Park – both well worth the drive. NJMP is a new track on the series schedule, and with the Atlantic Ocean limiting the ability to draw from a radius, there was some question as to how many competitors would turn out.
Even with threatening weather in the forecast, 52 cars ended up registering for NJMP. While the GTS class for sports cars and all-wheel drive cars weighing over 3200 pounds was a bit light at just six entrants, the GT class for late-model musclecars saw a 22-car field vying for a win, valuable points and a shot at punching their ticket to the SEMA Show in Las Vegas and the OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI).
There was no dust to settle in New Jersey, as rain moved in on Saturday and lingered throughout the weekend, making it a challenging event for all involved. Ultimately, Chevrolet competitors prevailed on multiple fronts, although they were unable to net a clean sweep in the four classes. Ken Thwaits' Showtime Motorsports Camaro picked up it's third GT class win in as many events, but David Tyo's Boss 302 Mustang came very close to an upset that cost Thwaits a $3,000 bounty the last time it happened. Since Thwaits has already qualified for the OUSCI, the invitation in the GT class was extended to Tyo.
A second gen f-body took home the GTV class win for vehicles built before 1990, when series newcomer Bill Hudson's 1979 Camaro held off Michael Sorrentino's 1971 Dodge Challenger for the win. Sorrentino carried a hefty 22-point advantage in the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge and added another six points to the margin on the Falken Tire Road Course Time Trial. Hudson responded with the eighth-fastest time overall in the Detroit Speed Autocross and outran Sorrentino by 15 spots on the PowerStop Speed Stop Challenge to take the class win by just seven points on a 500-point scale.
A pair of C5s went after Steve Kepler's Nissan GT-R in the GTS class, but Kepler's all-wheel-drive entry ran a near-perfect weekend in wet conditions and held off Rick Hoback & Paul Curley's Vettes for the win. James Forbis' 2007 Corvette topped the GTL class for vehicles weighing less than 3,200, with a dominating performance that sets him up as one of the top contenders heading to Las Vegas.
This series also extends an invitation to SEMA and the OUSCI via the Spectre Performance Spirit of the Event award. That honor was given to Mark Golovin, who was piloting none other than Nick Licata's former project car, Black Betty, a super clean 2001 Camaro.
The next stop in the Search for the Ultimate Street Car is less than three weeks away at NCM Motorsports Park on June 10th & 11th. That event is already sold out for two-day competitors, but spectators are always welcome. If you'd like to learn more about this series and how your car can be a part of the action, please visit DriveOPTIMA.com.
GTV Class (pre-1990, 3200+ pounds)
1. Bill Hudson, 1979 Camaro
2. Michael Sorrentino, 1971 Dodge Challenger
3. Mills Robinson, 1967 Chevrolet Camaro
GTS Class (post-1989, 3200+ pounds, two-seaters & awd vehicles)
1. Steve Kepler, 2013 Nissan GT-R
2. Rick Hoback, 1999 Corvette
3. Paul Curley, 2003 Corvette
GT Class (post-1989, 3200+ pounds, 2wd sedans, 4-seater coupes, trucks, etc...)
1. Ken Thwaits, 2014 Camaro
2. Dave Tyo, 2012 Ford Mustang
3. Jay Payson, 2015 Ford Mustang
GTL Class (anything under 3200 pounds)
1. James Forbis, 2007 Corvette
2. Jerry Fink, 1973 Lotus Eurpoa
3. Robert Tameo, 2015 Porsche 911S
Spectre Performance Spirit of the Event Award: Mark Golovin 2001 Chevrolet Camaro
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