When the 2016 schedule for OPTIMA's Search for the Ultimate Street Car, presented by Advance Auto Parts was announced, the inclusion of a stop at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) was definitely noticed by competitors in the series. COTA is as much of a bucket-list track as there might be in this hemisphere, and the field of 75 vehicles quickly sold out. Capacity for up to 100 was soon added and entries continued to flood in from around the country.
By the time early August rolled around, more than 90 street cars made their way to Austin, Texas, for an opportunity to run on the same track as Formula 1 competitors. The largest field of the year in this series saw plenty of diversity in the entries, but a familiar name quickly made his presence known: Danny Popp.
Popp has won the OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational three times, including the last two years in a row, and even though he's only made one previous appearance this season and isn't among the regular-season point leaders, he's always the man to beat. The competition is getting tougher and Popp isn't resting on his laurels. He is constantly looking for ways to make his 2003 Corvette just a little bit faster, a little more consistent, and just a little bit more reliable.
While Popp graciously helps his fellow competitors to improve both their cars and their driving ability, when the helmets go on, he's all about dominating. On Saturday, Popp claimed the GTL class win and overall quickest time in the Detroit Speed Autocross. Even though dips in the track surface in the PowerStop Speed Stop Challenge wreaked havoc on the ABS systems with the Corvette competitors, Popp still managed a top-five finish in both the GTL class and overall event.
However, the mounting competition we mentioned had Popp squarely in their sights, specifically Mike DuSold and his lightweight 1967 Camaro. DuSold took home top honors in both GTL and overall in the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge. That 100-point performance, combined with a runner-up performance in the autocross (99 points) and a 94-point performance in the Speed Stop gave DuSold a 12-point lead going into the final day and the Falken Tire Road Course Time Trial.
Each position on the track is worth one point and DuSold has steadily improved on the big tracks, so Popp knew he had his work cut out for him. Popp also knew he could only do so much to accumulate points on the final day. Even if Popp won the Time Trial, DuSold only needed to finish 13th overall to get the event win. Heading into the final sessions of the weekend, DuSold sat exactly in 13th place, which would've created a tie in points. However, the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge is the first tiebreaker, which would give the victory to DuSold. Fortunately for Popp, DuSold's position didn't hold and he dropped down to 15th place on the road course, giving the event win to Popp by just two points.
The competition was even tighter in the GTV class for vintage iron, where Camaros grabbed eight of the Top-ten finishing positions. However, the race for the top spot was one where a Mustang had a chance. Coming into COTA, Jake Rozelle's Camaro had won the GTV class in each of the previous three events he ran. Mike Maier's Mustang, which Rozelle beat by 60 points in the season-opener, wanted a different outcome this time and was looking for a little revenge and an invitation to the OUSCI.
Rozelle grabbed a three-point lead on the Autocross and added another three points in Design & Engineering. Maier battled back on Saturday, regaining two points on the Speed Stop. That left Rozelle with a four-point lead going into day two and the Road Course Time Trial. Both competitors are among the fastest in the series on road courses, but Maier was able to nab a faster time by 1.692 seconds over Rozelle. That may not seem like a big margin, but in a series this competitive, it was the difference between third and eighth place, giving Maier the one-point victory over Rozelle.
The GTS class at COTA was as competitive as any we've seen all season. While Brian Hobaugh's Corvette was able to hold off a Porsche Turbo S, a well-driven Mitsubishi Evo and a McLaren 12C, he didn't have enough this time around to top Curt Trawick's 2016 Porsche GT3 RS. It was still an impressive performance for a C5 Corvette to top a 2012 McLaren and give Porsche's latest and greatest a run for the money.
In the GT class, Jordan Priestley was eyeing up another victory in his 2016 Camaro, but struggled on the Speed Stop Challenge. Aaron Sockwell's 2015 Mustang picked up a 21-point advantage in that event and added two more points at Design & Engineering. Priestley bounced back on the autocross and road course but couldn't make up the deficit, finishing second.
In the season-long points chase, Jake Rozelle's '69 Camaro continues to lead the way in the GTV class, followed by three more Camaros and Jimmy Matthews' Nova. In the GTS class, Brian Hobaugh's 2003 Vette continues to hold it's lead over Lynn Proctor's Viper and Steve Kepler's GT-R.
The GTL class is starting to see some movement near the top. Rich Willhoff's 2006 Corvette still holds the lead, but with his runner-up performance at COTA, Mike DuSold's '67 Camaro now moves into second place, just 14 points behind Willhoff, and Robert DeuPree's Corvette moved ahead of Karl Dunn's Corvette with his run at COTA. Jordan Priestley couldn't close the gap on Ken Thwaits' Camaro in the GT class, but he'll take another crack at it later this month, where we may see a head to head match-up between the two.
If it happens, it will take place at Road America, as the series moves from one iconic track to another on August 28th. That event is sold-out for competitors, but spectators are more than welcome and local Advance Auto Parts will have 50-percent discount cards on VIP Pit Passes. The other two remaining events do have space available as of this writing. You can learn more about the series and sign up to compete at DriveOPTIMA.com
GTV Class (pre-1990, 3200+ pounds)
1. Mike Maier, 1966 Ford Mustang
2. Jake Rozelle, 1969 Camaro
3. Larry Woo, 1968 Camaro
GTS Class (post-1989, 3200+ pounds, two-seaters & awd vehicles)
1. Curt Trawick, 2016 Porsche GT3 RS
2. Brian Hobaugh, 20003 Corvette
3. Andy Hollis, 2012 McLaren 12C
GT Class (post-1989, 3200+ pounds, 2wd sedans, 4-seater coupes, trucks, etc...)
1. Aaron Sockwell, 2015 Ford Mustang
2. Jordan Priestley, 2016 Camaro
3. Jason Chinn, 2015 Camaro
GTL Class (anything under 3200 pounds)
1. Danny Popp, 2003 Corvette
2. Mike DuSold, 1967 Camaro
3. Ken Thwaits, 2006 Mitsubishi Evo
Spectre Performance Spirit of the Event Award - Kevin Tully, 1964 Plymouth Valiant