OPTIMA's Search for the Ultimate Street Car, presented by Advance Auto Parts held its fourth event of the season at NCM Motorsports Park on June 11th and 12th, and there was plenty on the line. Top finishers are invited to the 2016 SEMA Show in Las Vegas, as well as the OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI). This event was also held in the backyard of Corvette, and there were several Porsches and Mustangs looking to capture bragging rights on someone else's home turf. A massive field of more than 90 entrants converged on Bowling Green and the Bow Tie brigade made sure a blue oval didn't emerge on top.
Unlike the previous event at New Jersey Motorsports Park, which was held almost entirely in wet conditions, contenders this time around had to contend with oppressive heat that never dipped below 90 degrees. The heat took its toll on the field, but nearly 80 cars still managed to post results in the final standings.
In the GT class, Ken Thwaits of Showtime Motorsports drove into NCM on a three-event winning streak in his 2014 Z28, but that came to a screeching halt. Bryan Johnson, the reigning GT regular-season champion took home top honors in his 2013 Camaro and an invite for Las Vegas in his first outing of the season. Thwaits did make the runner-up spot, and Chevys captured seven of the top-10 positions in the class.
Thwaits also pushed past the 1,400-point mark in the season-long points chase, but that championship is far from decided. Six events remain and Johnson has already proven himself to be a worthy competitor if he chooses to pursue a second-consecutive GT championship, but he is far from alone. Thwaits is not scheduled to run at the next event at Pike's Peak International Raceway, which could open the door for several GT competitors who might not even be on his radar at this point. Cliff Elliott's 2016 Mustang picked up 461 points at the NJMP event and a repeat performance at PPIR could leapfrog him into Second place in the standings, less than 80 points behind Thwaits.
In the GTV class for vehicles built before 1990, Brian Finch's 1971 Camaro led a trio of F-bodies to the podium. This was Finch's first event of the year, so he hadn't received a Vegas invite. However, Finch is also an active off-road racer with BFGoodrich and has competed in and won his class twice in the Baja 1000. Due to his commitment to that race, Finch was unable to accept his invitation to the OUSCI. Larry Woo's 1968 Camaro finished in Second place, but he already secured his invitation to Las Vegas, which sent the invitation to Third-place finisher, Jim Stehlin and his 1973 Camaro.
The season-long points chase in GTV is also starting to take shape and Larry Woo's runner-up finish has elevated him to Second place in the class, narrowing the gap behind current points leader, Jake Rozelle's 1969 Camaro to just 70 points. However, none of the top-30 in GTV are currently registered for Pike's Peak, so we expect to see a significant shake up in the standings there.
The GTL class for any vehicle weighing less than 3,200 pounds was the smallest of the weekend at 12 entries, perhaps because the best cars in this class are some of the toughest in the entire series. That level of competition may have convinced more than a few competitors to add a few pounds to their vehicles, so they could move into the GTS class, where a 3,201-pound car could fare far better. Defending OUSCI champion, Danny Popp, made his season debut at NCM, which is practically his home track and he didn't disappoint.
Popp's 2003 ZO6 posted the fastest times of the weekend on the Falken Tire Road Course Time Trial and Detroit Speed Autocross and finished second to an all-wheel drive Porsche in the PowerStop Speed Stop Challenge. Runner up, Karl Dunn did his best to hang with Popp, but fell short by seven points on the weekend. Since Popp already has a Vegas invite as the defending champion, Dunn's 2002 ZO6 ended up receiving the invite for the GTL class.
Third-place Mike DuSold's 1967 Camaro made a significant move in the season-long points chase, narrowing the gap behind GTL class leader, Rich Willhoff, to just three points. DuSold is tentatively set to run at Circuit of the Americas and NOLA Motorsports Park, which will give him two more chances to top Willhoff's total. Willhoff is a West Coast-based competitor, who competed in the first two events at Thunderhill and Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but isn't planning to run again until the regular season finale at Auto Club Speedway.
Will DuSold's momentum compel Willhoff to enter an additional event or two in an attempt to open up a wider gap in the points chase? Will DuSold decide to enter the season finale rather than sit at home, hoping someone else will keep Willhoff from catching him for the regular season championship? Could Third-place Karl Dunn, Danny Popp, or someone else decide to make a run at the regular season title?
As many competitors evaluated the different classes in this series, the 3,200-pound weight break may have prompted at least a few Corvette owners to make sure they were on the high side of that number, which would place them in the GTS class. That strategy is really just picking one poison over another, as avoiding top GTL contenders like Danny Popp and Mike DuSold means taking on some incredible GTS competitors, including all-wheel drive Porsches and Nissan GT-Rs.
Paul Curley's 2003 ZO6 ended up being up to the task when it came time to square off against all-wheel drive Porsches. Clay Shearer's 2015 911 Turbo S absolutely dominated the PowerStop Speed Stop competition, but Curley was “Mr. Consistent” in that segment and every other timed event. Curley's trio of Fourth-place finishes gave him a six-point edge on a 500-point scale over Shearer for the class victory and the Vegas invite.
Curley's win also propelled him into the top position in the GTS season-long points chase. Brian Hobaugh's C5 Corvette is just two points behind him and both are signed up to run in additional events this season. As we saw in GTL, this is also shaping up to be an East Coast versus West Coast showdown and may have more competitors in the mix for the class championship than any of the other classes in the series.
The next stop is as close as the series will get to neutral ground, as it visits Pike's Peak International Raceway in Fountain, Colorado. Registration for this event is still open to all street-legal production cars and trucks, as well as spectators who would like to see some of the coolest all-around street cars and trucks in the country. If you'd like to learn more about the series, visit DriveOPTIMA.com or watch the series on MAVTV every Friday night at 8PM Eastern.
GTV Class (pre-1990, 3200+ pounds)
1. Brian Finch, 1971 Camaro
2. Larry Woo, 1968 Camaro
3. Jim Stehlin, 1973 Camaro
GTS Class (post-1989, 3200+ pounds, two-seaters & awd vehicles)
1. Paul Curley, 2003 Corvette
2. Clay Shearer, 2015 Porsche 911 Turbo S
3. Curt Trawick, 2016 Porsche GT3 RS
GT Class (post-1989, 3200+ pounds, 2wd sedans, 4-seater coupes, trucks, etc...)
1. Bryan Johnson, 2013 Camaro
2. Ken Thwaits, 2014 Camaro
3. Jordan Priestley, 2016 Camaro
GTL Class (anything under 3200 pounds)
1. Danny Popp, 2003 Corvette
2. Karl Dunn, 2002 Corvette
3. Mike DuSold, 1967 Camaro
Spectre Performance Spirit of the Event Award- Todd Rumpke 2006 Corvette
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