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Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car Event Hits Charlotte

Hitting the high banks

Jim McIlvaine Aug 2, 2016
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The sixth of ten events in OPTIMA's Search for the Ultimate Street Car, presented by Advance Auto Parts, took place on July 29th and 30th at the legendary Charlotte Motor Speedway. The sold-out field of competitors spent two blistering-hot days under the Carolina sun, fighting for valuable season-long points and coveted invitations to the 2016 SEMA Show and OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI). Even though the series is deep into the season, there are still competitors earning Vegas invites in their first outing of the year.

Detroit Speed's Kyle Tucker dominated in his first time out this year, earning an invite in his 1970 Camaro in the GTV class. Tucker's Camaro took the top spot in the GTV class in all five segments and also recorded the top overall score at the event in the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge. Tucker also notched overall podium finishes in the Falken Tire Road Course Time Trial (second) and the PowerStop Speed Stop Challenge (third).

Tucker's 493 points was the second-highest total of the season, behind Mike DuSold's 494 points, but it shouldn't come as a surprise. Tucker is the defending regular-season GTV champion and always considered one of the favorites at the OUSCI. Tucker's class win was dovetailed with Detroit Speed-sponsored Bryan Johnson nearly equaling Tucker's performance in the GT class, with 492 points in his 2013 Camaro.

Johnson already earned an invitation to the OUSCI at the NCM Motorsports Park event, so GT runner-up Jay Payson received the invite. The same thing happened in the GTL class, where Ken Thwaits won the GTL class in his 2007 Mitsubishi Evo. Thwaits had already qualified the Evo at the previous event at Pike's Peak International Raceway, so the invitation went to runner-up Scott Budisalich's 2004 Subaru STi.

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The GTS class was a different story, where series veteran, Rick Hoback's 1999 Corvette, emerged from a very competitive class, powered by a strong performance in the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge. Hoback's heavily modified Corvette won the class and finished second overall, behind only Kyle Tucker's Camaro. That margin of victory proved to be insurmountable in the timed events, as Hoback notched Top-five finishes in all three, preventing anyone from closing the gap.

Eric Fleming's strong rookie performance in the timed segments gave him the Holley Performance first-timer award, which refunded his entry fee. If Fleming and the other Corvettes that finished on the podium with Hoback can repeat those performances at upcoming events, they'll likely either win their way into the OUSCI at an event or earn their way in on season-long points.

There were several changes near the top of the standings in the season-long points chase. Mills Robinson's 1967 Camaro and Jimmy Matthews' 1972 Nova both moved past Larry Woo's 1968 Camaro and into Second and Third place respectively in the GTV class. However, GTV points leader, Jake Rozelle, still holds a healthy lead. Fourth-place Larry Woo's '68 Camaro will be joining Rozelle at Circuit of the Americas, looking to climb back into Second place and close the gap on Rozelle. Chevys currently dominate the GTV class, holding the top-seven positions and eight of the Top-ten spots.

The GTS class may have the tightest points chase of the year, with the top-six competitors all within nearly 100 points of each other. West Coaster, Brian Hobaugh's 2003 Corvette still leads the way, but Lynn Proctor's Viper is just 15 points behind and Steve Kepler's Nissan GT-R is just ten points behind Proctor. Fourth-place Rick Hoback will be bringing his 1999 Vette to COTA, as will Sixth-place Toby Thompson in a 2010 ZR1. However, Thompson is the only GTS competitor in the Top-six, who has not qualified for the OUSCI. Hobaugh will make it tough for him, as he's looking to eat up points at COTA and keep Kepler and Hoback from closing the gap there.

The Corvettes of Rich Willhoff, Robert DeuPree and Scot Spiewak still hold the top-three spots in GTL, but Ken Thwaits made a significant move into fourth place in his 2007 Mitsubishi Evo. Thwaits has only run two events in the Evo, but scored very well in both of them. A third performance could move him past Willhoff and into the GTL lead. However, DeuPree and several other fast GTL cars are planning on running at COTA, which will make it tough for Thwaits (and everyone else) to pick up points. Willhoff isn't scheduled to run again until the season finale at Auto Club Speedway, so unless things change on his calendar, he'll be watching the results closely from the West Coast.

Thwaits hasn't won a regular season championship since 2014 and is currently leading the GT class with his 2014 Camaro. However, Jordan Priestley's sixth-gen is only 54 points behind and 2015 GT class champion, Bryan Johnson's 2013 Camaro just posted its second win of the season at Charlotte. If Johnson opts to run a third event, he could catch and pass both and successfully defend his GT championship.

There is almost no downtime before the next event, which takes place August 6th and 7th at yet another bucket-list track: Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. If you've ever wanted to take your street car on a world-class racetrack, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better opportunity. Learn more about the series at DriveOPTIMA.com

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GTV Class (pre-1990, 3200+ pounds)
1. Kyle Tucker, 1970 Camaro
2. Tony Grzelakowski, 1970 Chevelle
3. Dan Howe, 1984 Monte Carlo

GTS Class (post-1989, 3200+ pounds, two-seaters & awd vehicles)
1. Rick Hoback, 1999 Corvette
2. Toby Thompson, 2010 Corvette
3. Joe Gregory, 2007 Corvette

GT Class (post-1989, 3200+ pounds, 2wd sedans, 4-seater coupes, trucks, etc...)
1. Bryan Johnson, 2013 Camaro
2. Jay Payson, 2015 Ford Mustang
3. Jason Chinn, 2015 Camaro

GTL Class (anything under 3200 pounds)
1. Ken Thwaits, 2007 Mitsubishi Evo
2. Scott Budisalich, 2004 Subaru STi
3. Douglas Wind, 2004 Dodge SRT4

Spectre Performance Spirit of the Event Award - Jimmy Matthews, 1972 Chevrolet Nova

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Mills Robinson's 1967 Camaro took home the participant's choice award, which is voted on by the competitors and identifies the car everyone else would like to take home with them at the end of the weekend.

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Charlotte marked Eric Fleming's first track event...ever. How did he do? How about First in class in all the timed events? That netted Fleming a heap of points and a full refund on his entry from Holley Performance Products.

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Bryan Johnson's 2013 Camaro posted the fastest time of the weekend on both the Falken Tire Road Course Time Trial and the Detroit Speed Autocross. His Fourth-place overall finish (first in class) in the PowerStop Speed Stop Challenge gave him the GT class win and put GT class leader, Ken Thwaits, well within striking distance for the season championship.

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The quality of Detroit Speed components go on display every time Kyle Tucker's 1970 Camaro hits the track. The results speak volumes for what the DSE catalog can do to bring classic musclecars on par with modern performance. In a field of more than 70 vehicles, Tucker out-ran all but a select few in a car that first rolled off the line during the Nixon administration.

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Rick Hoback may have the most-versatile Corvette on the planet. His C5 is capable of exceeding 200 mph and setting land speed racing records but also knocks it out of the park in the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge, while holding its own in events where cornering ability is a premium.

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While this series has a class for every car, it doesn't hand out participation trophies to everyone who shows up, and the friendly competition is definitely tough. Buddy Buchanan's 1995 Z28 currently sits Eighth in GT points, proving a well-built and well-driven fourth-gen Camaro can hold it's own with the latest and greatest.

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We salute Rob Edmonds not just for his military service to our country, but his resilience under pressure. A wayward golfball took out his rear window on Friday, jeopardizing his ability to compete in the event. Rob located a replacement, made a four-hour drive to get it installed and still ran in every segment.

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Jimmy Matthews had himself a pretty good weekend. His 1972 Nova finished Seventh overall in the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge, he placed 10th in the GTV class, and Spectre Performance gave him the Spirit of the Event invitation to the 2016 SEMA Show and OUSCI.

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One of the nice things about this series is that it gives competitors the option to dip their toe in the water and see if they like the format. Bill Graves Sr. opted to run his 1966 Vette in just the Detroit Speed Autocross and PowerStop Speed Stop Challenge. He pushed it hard and ended up finishing Second in GTV in the Speed Stop.

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